2013 Nissan Juke SL FWD M/T Road Test and Review By Carey Russ
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2013 Nissan Juke SL FWD M/T
You want a sports car, but you need something practical. A small crossover is practical, but not much fun. Maybe some sort of quick, small hatchback? But the roads in your part of the country are poorly-maintained and full of holes and cracks and decayed pavement. And perhaps improved dirt and gravel forest and fire roads are on your menu, as ways to get to outdoor activities. More than car clearance would be good, not to mention a useful amount of cargo and/or people space. What to get?
Try a Nissan Juke. It looks different, like something between a compact hatchback and small crossover. There is more ground clearance than a car (about seven inches), and the styling may be best described as "whimsical". Built on Nissan's B-segment platform and so a close relative to the Versa, the Juke is very different from the Versa or the slightly larger Rogue crossover.
What is it? It's the world's first four-wheeled supermotard.
Next question, unless you're familiar with motorcycles is’ "what's a supermotard?" Take an off-road motorcycle, motocross, enduro, or dual-sport depending on intended end purpose, and replace the stock wheels and knobby dirt tires with 17-inch wheels shod with high-performance street tires or racing slicks. Dial in the suspension, long travel so capable of dealing well with poor surfaces but firm enough for control, and the result is something that can only be out-cornered by a MotoGP bike yet still deal happily with rarely-maintained roads. It looks exceedingly unlikely, but works exceedingly well.
Changes since its debut for model year 2011 have been minimal. Trim levels are still S, SV, and SL, with a continuously-variable transmission (CVT) and front- or all-wheel drive in all and six-speed manual with FWD available in the SV and SL. New for 2013 is a "Midnight Edition" appearance package. A rear-view monitor has been added to the Navigation Package in the SV, and is standard in the SL. The Rockford Fosgate audio system optional in the SV and standard in the SL has been upgraded. And there are some changes to color choices.
I first met the Juke at my local automotive journalists' association track day two years ago, in front-wheel drive, six-speed stick SV form. I was pleasantly surprised by its performance and handling, and when it appeared as the weekly test car a few weeks later, it was none the worse for wear. History repeats itself - two weeks ago I was flogging the 2013 version, SL FWD, around the track. It was one of the few cars I took out multiple times, yes I liked it. And I've just finished a problem-free week with that same car. Other than 2300 miles on the odometer and what looks like 23,000 on the outer portions of the front tires it's no worse for wear. And while it got about 9 mpg on the track, mostly third gear and often near redline, I got 27 for the past week, and still exercised it well. The Nissan Juke is tractable, practical, comfortable, useful, and far too much fun.
APPEARANCE: France meets Japan? Renault owns Nissan, and so the Juke combines the most charmingly bizarre styling cues of French and Japanese cars and culture. Think Saoutchik meets anime’ If the basic proportions say "baby of the Nissan crossover family", the details say "What?!??". And then you smile. You expect the headlights to be on top of the fenders, with the turn signals beneath. Just the opposite is found here, with the round headlights below turn signals that sit under triangular fairings atop the front fenders. The grille and fender treatments are identifiably Nissan crossover, the relatively low greenhouse is semi-coupelike, with a windshield that, interestingly, doesn't extend to the leading edge of the roof. The L-shaped taillights are a nod to those on the 370Z. The Juke sits high, with lower trim that can be interpreted as either skid plates (SUV/crossover/rally car) or hot hatch aero kit.
COMFORT: Inside, the Juke is as stylistically interesting and pleasantly different as outside. Fashion doesn't trump function. Instruments are easily visible, with no glare problems, and controls are well-marked and easily used. The Juke's high stance means a comfortably upright seating position, with good support and easy access despite high side bolsters. Given the thick rear roof pillars, the backup camera is very useful. At SL level, seating is leather, with manual adjustment, including driver's cushion height. The leather-rimmed steering wheel is adjustable for tilt only but has cruise and auxiliary audio controls. The shift lever is placed well for use, and if the console looks like a sportbike tank, someone at Nissan has an old Ninja in the garageâ€¦ The glove box is larger than usual, and an optional front center armrest/storage box is available. Being top of the line, the SL has navigation and the premium Rockford Fosgate audio system standard, with AM, FM, and XM/Sirius radio, CD, and external audio via a jack and USB port at the bottom of the center stack.
Front headroom won't be a worry, even with the power sliding moonroof. The rear seat is adequate for two or sometimes three people under 5-6 or so. There's plenty of cargo space behind the rear seat, and a 60/40 fold for the seatback when more is needed. There is a bit more storage under the load floor in front-drive models, and a space-saver spare beneath that.
SAFETY: The Juke is built with Nissan's "Zone Body Construction" with front and rear crumple ones. The Nissan Advanced Air Bag System protects front passengers with frontal and seat-mounted side impact airbags and all side passengers with roof-mounted side curtain air bags. Vehicle Dynamic Control enhances stability, and also includes traction control. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist ensure good stopping abilities.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Theoretically, seven inches of ground clearance and a long-travel, moderately supple suspension shouldn't be the ticket for good handling response. And theoretically, bumblebees shouldn't fly! Body roll is minimal, even on the track, despite the front-drive car's MacPherson strut front, torsion beam axle rear suspension's long travel and ability to comfortably soak up ruts and hole and other fine features of maintenance-deferred alleged pavement. Steering effort is moderate, with a slight quickening in response by use of the "Sport" mode. Interior noise levels are average for the Juke's price and class.
PERFORMANCE: If, at just over 2900 pounds, the Juke manual is no ultralight, its 1.6-liter turbocharged and intercooled engine packs enough punch -- 188 horsepower at 5600 rpm, with 177 lb-ft of torque between 2000 and 5200 rpm -- to make that a non-issue. Direct fuel injection, called "Direct Injection Gasoline" or DIG by Nissan, allows a high compression ratio for optimum efficiency and power production. Variable phasing of both camshafts further improves efficiency and response throughout the rev range, and helps reduce emissions. It's a fine example of all that is good about turbos, with no noticeable lag if revs are kept up, and instant and strong torque when desired. With that sort of torque, gear choice is often not critical, and one gear will suffice at a variety of speeds. But when it comes time to shift, it's a pleasure, with one of the best shift linkages I've experienced in a front-drive car. The engine pulls hard all the way to redline (with commensurate thirst), but can be short-shifted for economy when wanted. Yes, there can be torque steer at times. But no surprise, there's plenty of torque. Need to move, quickly? A 0-60 time in the seven-second range sees to that.
The I-CON (Integrated Control) system takes advantage of drive-by-wire electronic throttle control and electric power steering to allow three levels of re-programming. Default mode will be fine most of the time, with moderate throttle travel for easy modulation and a moderate weight to the steering. Sport reduces throttle travel for quicker response, and slightly increases steering weight. Eco mode increases throttle travel and didn't seem to affect steering noticeably. Despite liberal use of Sport mode and as much enthusiastic driving as possible, I got over 27 miles per gallon during my week, and many more smiles per gallon. EPA ratings are 25/31.
If the standard Juke sounds interesting, but you want even more performance, check out the NISMO version. NISMO is NISsan Motorsports; with functional aerodynamic upgrades and improved power (197hp and 184lb-ft) and suspension, it should be even quicker -- and, allegedly, with no detriment to fuel economy. If you can keep your foot out of it; good luck on that!
CONCLUSIONS: Nissan's Juke is a most unlikely performance hatchback.
2013 Nissan Juke SL FWD M/T
Base Price $ 24,000 Price As Tested $ 26,555 Engine Type turbocharged and intercooled aluminum alloy DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection Engine Size 1.6 liters / 99 cu. in. Horsepower 188 @ 5600 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 177 @ 2000-5200 rpm Transmission 6-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 99.6 in. / 162.4 in. Curb Weight 2939 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 15.6 Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline recommended for maximum performance. 87 octane unleaded regular acceptable with decreased performance. Tires P215/55 R17 93V Goodyear Eagle RS-A all-season Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / semi-independent torsion beam axle Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 25 / 31 / 27 0 to 60 mph 7.0 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Carpeted Floor Mats and Cargo Mat $ 180 Center Armrest $ 245 Sport Package - includes: rear roof spoiler, 17" gunmetal alloy wheels, stainless steel exhaust finisher $ 1,350 Destination Charges $ 780