Unusual shapes, decoratively stitched upholstery, and splashes of color in unexpected places announce that the new Juke is aware of its own coolness.
Unusual shapes, decoratively stitched upholstery, and splashes of color in unexpected places announce that the new Juke is aware of its own coolness.
Gerry Miles for The Boston Globe

If you’ve been juked, you’ve been fooled, deceived, and surprised. In football, a juke means that a player’s moves have been deceptive, allowing him to run freely, catch a pass, or simply avoid being caught.

The Nissan Juke is perhaps so named because it is also deceptive. It doesn’t react like the other small crossovers of its size, mostly due to its bug-eyed, polarizing style.

The Juke is unlike the competition with its small, stubby body; more than one onlooker thought it resembled a bulldog, with its ugly face and strong, muscular front shoulders that tail off to a slender, sleeker backside.

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While it may look more at home in a Toontown sequel of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” Juke is no mechanical and technical joke. Its face may well be the factor that draws in customers who don’t want a ride that looks like every other cute crossover on the road.

Regardless of whether it’s a hot hatch on large wheels or a sported-up crossover, Juke offers a competent small package with big appeal in the form of 188 hp, available in all-wheel-drive, and a separate, new 2013, NISMO high-output model that will likely have the largest appeal for those with the need for speed. The NISMO adds a turbo to boost output to 197 hp, 18-inch rims, a savvy AWD system, tuned suspension, a more friendly automotive façade, and an $22,990 MSRP.

For the mainstream crowd, every Juke is powered by the same 1.6-liter Direct Injection Gasoline (DIG™) turbo, 188 hp, 16-valve DOHC, inline 4-cylinder engine.

Buyers can select either the tested Xtronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) with S-Mode or a 6-speed manual in the SV and SL front-drive models.

Unlike most AWD systems that split the power and grip from front to back, Juke’s torque vectoring AWD also splits the grip from left to right across the rear axle. Through its technology, monitors, and sensors, torque can be boosted to the outside rear wheel in corners to reduce understeer and increase cornering. This means it’s more of an around town AWD system; without a true low range, it’s no rock crawler or mud bog maven.

The Juke’s accentuated exterior belies the snug subcompact interior and skimpy cargo room. Everything is within arm’s reach and the arched roofline creates a spacious feel, but it’s far less so in back. The Juke is supposed to seat five but sitting in the rear is an assignment to steerage. If it’s room you need, move up to the Murano.

Still, with its small, squat stance, this car is perfect for running around town. Three transmission settings—normal, sport, or eco—change the shift points to coax a more spirited intervention with the CVT. But pushing the pedal too far down induces torque steer and accentuates the light steering wheel feel when you’d rather have a firmer wheel.

Still, the Juke is fun to drive and easy to park—the bulging directionals on the fenders are like illuminated guides at night—and despite the downslope of the roof and narrow rear views, the sightlines are good, buoyed by oversized exterior mirrors that also contribute to the paradox in styling that is the Juke.

The engine is rated at 27 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway, but I found the motor to be thirsty, providing just 24.2 mpg on the computer for 485 mixed miles, and the first fill up produced a disappointing 23.58 mpg. No doubt having a turbo tucked under the hood and 17-inch tires underfoot for increased rolling resistance offsets the mileage numbers.

New for this year are three new colors. atomic gold, brilliant silver, and pearl white, and there’s a revised Rockford Fosgate audio system added to the navigation package on SV and SL models.

The ride was firm and compliant but rough roads rough meant its short, stocky wheelbase transmitted more bumps into the cabin that expected, even with the MacPherson independent front strut and multi-link rear suspension that came with our tester. Front and rear stabilizers are standard across the model line. Juke also carries a spare tire under its rear cargo floor in a neat bit of packaging.

For the package, performance, and price, the Juke is a pleasant surprise to anyone interested in the same size grouping of cute/crossovers.

My guess is that the performance crowd will embrace the NISMO edition very soon. If you never expected a vehicle to look like this, have a turbo, all-wheel-drive and a CVT with 32 mpg on the open road … the Juke may fool you too.

2013 Nissan Juke SL AWD CVT

THE BASICS

Engine: 1.6-L, DOHC, turbocharged, 4-cyl. Output: 188 hp. Transmission: Xtronic CVT. Curb weight: 2,939 lbs. Wheelbase: 99.6 inches. Length: 162.4 in. Width: 69.5 in. MPG: 27/32. Globe testing: 23.58 mpg. Base price: $26,650. Delivery: $780. As tested: $29,205.

THE GOOD

Fun, quirky, unique.

THE BAD

Gas mileage, high price, small interior room.

THE BOTTOM LINE

An alternative for the non-conformist in a crowded segment.