Review: 2011 Nissan Juke SL AWD
By Kevin Miller
At first blush, Nissan may seem like a typical Japanese automaker. Looking from a different angle, though, shows Nissan offering vehicles in a few segments where no other automakers do. Nissan’s Cube redefined the JDM box in North America. The Versa proved to be a spacious and versatile car, decidedly affordable with a value-leader version offered at $9999.
Nissan’s latest left-field entry is the Juke. Dubbed a “Bold Urban Sport Cross” by Nissan’s marketing group, the Juke is the size of a compact hatchback, but rides on a taller suspension than other compacts, to give it a compact-meets-SUV flavor. SUV attributes include wheelarch cladding, all-wheel drive. Compact attributes include a minuscule trunk inside of the hatchback, incredibly tight turning radius which makes the Juke incredibly easy to park.
While a compact crossover is not a common vehicle type (the Suzuki SX-4 Crossover is the only other one currently available in the US market), what really sets the Juke apart is its unique styling. At the back, its curvy contours and lamp shape seem to borrow from Volvo’s C30 hatchback. At the front, it bears a passing family resemblance to Nissan’s Rogue and Murano while still managing to look like absolutely nothing else on the road. During my week in the Juke, I actually drove past an Isuzu VehiCross, and decided that the Juke was one of the strangest looking crossovers since that unique vehicle. My wife said the styling of the minuscule Nissan is “all Juked up.”
Inside, the Juke has a sporty appearance; my SL tester featured perforated black leather upholstery with red stitching, body-colored interior trim with an ersatz-metallic-fishnet appearance fabric on the doors, and red instrumentation lighting to match the leather. The front seats are heated, nicely bolstered, and remained comfortable until seat-time hit the two-hour mark. Back seat passengers get the same stylish accommodations, though they don’t get a center armrest nor cupholders. Deeply sculpted front seatbacks meant that even adults can fit in the back without too much discomfort, though headroom is minimal. Large C-pillars limit backseat passengers’ eye space (as well as rearward visibility). Rear door openings are quite narrow; it was cumbersome to squeeze my size 13 shoes through the opening.
My test vehicle was equipped with a navigation head unit with a smallish five-inch touchscreen. It is the type of system that doesn’t speak street names; instead it tells you that you are going to turn right or left and displays the street name on the screen. It worked well enough, getting me to unfamiliar addresses around Washington State and British Columbia without incident. The system works well enough for controlling audio too, with a quick iPod interface. It does have Bluetooth phone connectivity, though I as unable to find a way to use the system to scroll through my iPhone’s address book to find a contact, though contact names were displayed on the screen when I received calls. The screen also displays the image from a backup camera when reversing. At night, I was unable to find any way to turn the screen completely off.
Below the head unit is Nissan’s I-CON (Integrated Control System) controller. The unit controls both climate and drive modes; when climate is selected, orange symbols on the buttons depict their function, when D-MODE is selected, the orange symbols are replaced by white words for selecting ECO, NORMAL, or SPORT modes, which adjust throttle response and CVT shift points accordingly. The other buttons allow selection of fairly ambiguous fuel consumption data.
When I reviewed the Suzuki SX-4 Crossover way back in 2008, I was very impressed with the amount of usable space in the compact AWD car. My impression was quite the opposite in the Juke. Unlike the SX-4 and the Ford Fiesta hatchback I reviewed a few months ago, the Juke has no clever tricks to take advantage of space… it is simply small inside. At 6’ 4” tall, I felt that I had insufficient room for my legs behind the wheel. Rear door openings are incredibly narrow. The trunk was full with just a roll-aboard suitcase and a computer backpack inside. No cargo hooks are present for securing smaller cargo like grocery bags, and no cargo cover is present to hide luggage in the boot. In fact, Ford’s compact Fiesta had significantly more interior space (both in the backseat and in the trunk) than the Juke offers.
In rainy weather, water drips from the roof and onto seats (or kids’ car seats) when the doors are opened. On the road, aerodynamics (or the lack thereof) cause water spray to accumulate and “dance” at the front bottom of the side windows, obscuring the view in rear view mirrors.
The Juke features a CVT and 1.6 liter turbocharged direct injection 4-cylinder engine delivering 188 HP. Selecting ECO mode in the I-CON controller delays throttle response and and and selects a program fo the CVT making the Juke scary-slow off the line. The CVT also felt felt as thought it surged a bit at low speeds, providing a “jerky” feeling in stop-and-go traffic. Even in Normal or Sport modes, the Juke never felt terribly quick pulling away from a stop, though in wet conditions it was possible to spin the front tires if AWD wasn’t engaged. Note that the AWD is controlled by a rocker switch inconveniently located in front of the driver’s left knee where it is difficult to see. Available modes are FWD, Automatic AWD, or locked AWD. Selecting the automatic AWD mode mitigated any front wheelspin.
In a week of driving, I found the juke to be entertaining and competent on the road whether driven conservatibely or pushed. When driven vigorously, the turbocharged four delivers plenty of power, which is put to good use by the all-wheel drive system and a nicely-tuned chassis and better-than-average steering feel. Forward visibility is good thanks to the Juke’s tall stance, though the parking lamps set high on the fenders were visible from the driver’s seat, and I found them to be distracting.
For a small vehicle, the Juke returned terrible fuel economy. The AWD Juke with CVT transmission is rated 25/30 MPG city/Hwy by the EPA. Regular unleaded is allowed, though Premium is recommended for maximum performance. Surprisingly, even on a 200 mile highway trip with the cruise control set between 65 and 80 MPH, I wasn’t able to approach those numbers, with returned fuel economy of just 23.7 MPG over those 200 miles, with the car’s drive mode in ECO mode and the drivetrain in 2WD mode. Other than those 200 test miles, I typically kept the car in Normal mode with Automatic AWD selected. The Juke’s small 13.2 gallon tank meant that I was able to go only 250 miles between fill-ups, and also means that Juke owners will be making plenty of stops at the gas station. I covered 480 miles in my week with the Juke; 300 of those miles were on the freeway with the cruse control set between 65 and 75, and I saw an average of just 21.6 MPG. That consumption puts the Juke on par with much larger vehicles.
Although the Juke is a fairly well-equipped vehicle in its price range, a few glaring oversights exist.The steering wheel tilts to adjust, but is not adjustable for reach. There is also no armrest between the front seats, leaving the driver’s elbow to dangle in midair when behind the wheel. When deployed, the sun visors leave a sizable gap between the A-pillar and the edge of the visor, which can be a blinding experience. Too, although the Juke I tested features the optional automatic climate control, the heater is the kind that seems to direct all of the heat onto the driver’s left foot.
The 2011 Nissan Juke SL AWD CVT I tested comes with generous equipment levels, including the all of the aforementioned technology plus power moonroof, Nissan Intelligent key with keyless entry and pushbutton starting, heated front seats, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, at a base price of $24,550. The only options on the car were carpeted floor/cargo mats for $170, and rear roof spoiler for $390. With a $750 destination fee, the total MSRP for the Juke I tested was $25,860.
That price is below the average price for a new car, and though the Juke is small, it does offer some innovative styling and premium features for a car of its size. People who buy the Juke are likely to be looking for an individualistic vehicle, and in that regard they are unlikely to be disappointed. Whether the Juke will become a sales success remains to be seen, but it has already succeeded in showing Nissan is unafraid to bring unique vehicles to consumers in the US market.