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2011 Nissan Juke: When weird attracts

Posted by Glenn Gould  April 27, 2011 05:52 PM

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(All photos: Nissan) Click photo for larger version.

I'll admit I didn't know jack about the Nissan Juke. But with the 2011 Gun Metallic gray Juke SV sitting in the yard, I soon would.

I've noticed a few Jukes in passing traffic. That's not hard to do, as the Juke has a distinctive front-end style. Its headlamps are mounted low and wide on the nose. The accessory lighting pods, designed as clear plastic bubbles that rise above the fender, are the automotive version of bushy eyebrows. Then there's the pronounced grin on the Juke's grill.

Nissan says the Juke's front-end design pays homage to their rally cars (uh, don't see it). But I know being different can make marketing sense. Unusual looks can sell cars as long as they're not gimmicky, and there are several strange cars I admire, like the vintage Land Rover 88 (I've owned several of them) and the Hummer H1. Not pretty faces, but they get the job done.

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I must admit the Juke is kind of cute from certain angles. A couple of people even thought it was related to the Mini Cooper. The Juke, though, is much roomier inside.

Since there's no legendary performance like on the Rover or Hummer, the Juke had to offer more than quirky styling to get me on board. So I slid behind the wheel, pushed the start button, and headed for the open highway. The seating position was SUV-like, with upright seats that afforded a good view of the road ahead. As a tall hatchback, the Juke's interior had the feel, look, and utility of a small SUV.

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Our Juke also had the optional all-wheel-drive system. There is a three-position switch on the dash panel that allows you to select FWD, AWD, or AWDv. AWDv ("v" is for torque vectoring) is unique in that it allows each wheel to vary its torque load as needed. It also translates into surefootedness on the winding roads.

The Juke's 188 horsepower four-cylinder turbocharged engine was a real surprise. It was responsive and had gobs of power. Of late, it seems, buyers have had to chose between power and economy. However, with the Juke you get both. The Juke SV with AWD is EPA rated at 25 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. The engine has sport sedan response and the steering is precise with good feedback. Nissan calls the Juke a "Sport Cross" — the supposed mating of a sports sedan's performance with the utility of a SUV — and they're right on.

The Juke SV corners and responds like a sports sedan, yet handles our wet springtime roads competently. For those who like a comfortable sedan-like ride, the Juke also pleases. My wife commented on how well the Juke rode over some extremely rough winter-damaged roads. She also mentioned the upright seating and good vision as pluses.

During a five-hour road trip, I too found the Juke to have a comfortable ride. Fortunately, I discovered a lot of neat, boredom-fighting features. One was the optional I-CON system. It shares space with the climate control in a dash-mounted module. With I-CON you can chose normal, sport, or economy driving modes. There are also screens that provide real-time visual feedback as to engine performance, g-force, economy, and trip information.

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My favorite setting was sport mode. We also enjoyed the optional GPS navigation, satellite radio, and good speaker system with several auxiliary audio inputs (Call it the "Jukebox").

Our Juke was the SV trim level with the S below and the SL above. They all have a long list of standard features, including a Bluetooth hands-free phone system. The six-speed manual transmission is available only on the FWD models. The Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) is optional on the FWD and standard with the AWD version.

I found much to recommend when it came to our Juke SV Sport Cross. It was fun to drive and had a comfortable ride and unique styling. Nissan says the intention of the Juke is to "ride high, stand out, and move quickly." As strange as some may find it, I quite agree.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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