2011 Nissan Juke Review – First Drive

Pretty it's not, but the Nissan Juke has a great personality

2011 Nissan Juke Review – First Drive

Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room. The Nissan Juke is ugly. On one hand, Nissan should be commended for going out on a limb and not producing yet another two-box crossover. On the other hand, it’s difficult to find a good angle from which to view the Juke at.


1. A 1.6L turbocharged direct-injection 4-cylinder makes 188-hp and 177 ft-lbs of torque.

2. Front drive is standard, while Nissan also offers a high-tech AWD setup that distributes power front to rear and side-to-side in the rear.

3. Cargo room is 10.5 cubic feet and expands to 35.9 cu.-ft. with the rear seats folded.

4. Pricing starts at just $18,960 for a front-drive model with a CVT transmission and tops out at $24,550 for an AWD CVT model in top SL trim.

While it does look masculine and assertive, the design is a bizarre pastiche of different shapes and surfaces which are visually jarring. The only possible explanation is that the Nissan stylist responsible for the exterior decided to sketch his vision of what a Suzuki SX4 would look like when crossed with a blowfish.

As our day with the Juke wore on, the initial shock of its styling began to fade, but there is a real danger of this car being perceived as the Son of Aztek. Nissan’s target demographic of “young, urban, connected males,” who are obsessed with signaling their social status with ostentatious Polo shirts may also react negatively to a vehicle that’s “so ugly, bro”.


The interior is another mixed bag, with some very innovative touches mixed with some equally nasty, cheap hard plastic. The dash betrays the fact that this car was built to a price, with its expanse of black, grainy material that could have come from a Versa, while the center console lacks any useful storage place for iPods, cell phones and assorted gadgets that people carry with them.

While Nissan touts the gearshift surround as being styled like a sport bike’s gas tank, complete with high-gloss paint, the money spent on this neat but useless feature should have gone into a high-quality, soft-touch dashboard, something that the average consumer is much more likely to notice and can be used by dealers as a selling point.

One neat feature is the available I-CON (Integrated Control) system, which allows the driver to change between the HVAC controls and three drive modes. The benefit of this system is that it allows Nissan to eliminate the mess of buttons that plague so many cars on the market today, while avoiding a frustrating, iDrive style knob.

The transition between the two modes is seamless, and seeing the change of labels on what appear to be physical buttons is a novelty that doesn’t wear off quickly. The display screen for the I-CON system is also clear and easy to read, with bright colors and graphics displaying the information.

Here’s how it works: In Climate mode you can adjust the temperature in the cabin using what appear to be buttons on the screen, while in D-Mode the buttons change to different drive settings. The three drive modes (Eco, Normal and Sport) adjust the throttle response, transmission and steering settings to suit the driver.


The rear seats, unfortunately, are quite cramped, even for someone under 6 feet tall, with little in the way of head or legroom. The seat design itself is rather upright and overly cushioned, and presents itself as an afterthought. For a weekend getaway with your friends it will suffice, but it’s not somewhere you would willingly spend time.

Cargo room is equally minimal (especially for a crossover) with just 10.5 cubic feet behind the cramped rear seats. Folded flat, the increase isn’t significant with a total of 35.9 cu.-ft. Then again, cargo room might not be all that important in this class with the MINI Clubman offering just 33 cu.-ft.


Where you really want to be in the Juke is in the driver’s seat. For all its crossover pretentions, the Juke is a wonderfully tossable car that would shame many second tier sport coupes, even with its high center of gravity and driving position.

It would be unfair to say that the Juke drives better than it looks – after all, merely moving under its own power would qualify this statement – but the Juke is an impressive vehicle to drive.

The 1.6-liter, 188-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine emits an unpleasant whine, like a child’s toy, but behaves like the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinders found in cars like the MINI Cooper S or Volkswagen GTI.

On the two-lane back roads outside Vancouver, Canada, where passing areas are few and far between, the Juke squirts in an out of slower traffic and works its way up to extra legal speeds faster than it has any right to. The 6-speed manual, available on front drive models only, isn’t as good as the MINI gearbox, but is enjoyable to use, with crisp throws and a clutch that is easy to modulate around town and provides adequate feedback.

A CVT is also available on FWD or AWD models, and will be fine for most buyers, but it still has the motorboat effect of holding a constant rpm. When combined with the Juke’s whiny engine note, it becomes tiresome fast. The manual mode alleviates some of these concerns, with six “gears” to choose from, and a reasonable facsimile of a throttle blip, but it still pales next to the manual.


The Juke is an enthusiastic handler as well, eager to dive into corners, but the limits are noticeably lower than a traditional sporty compact. The Juke FWD and Juke AWD are two different animals, with the front-driver utilizing a torsion beam rear suspension and the AWD model using a multi-link.

Enthusiasts with a penchant for reading the technical columns of car magazines will tell you to go for the AWD model, with the aforementioned suspension and the torque vectoring all-wheel drive system, but this isn’t necessarily the case.

While it’s impressive that you can get the Juke with such a high-tech torque vectoring AWD system that distributes power front to rear and side to side in the back, and it’s true that it only adds an extra 60 lbs of weight, the AWD system does feel a bit unnatural while the stiffer rear springs deliver a slightly less comfortable ride; plus, then you’re stuck with the CVT.


While pricing does start at $18,960 for a front-driver with the CVT, our pick of the range is the manual, FWD model that starts at $20,650 for the mid level SV trim or $22,550 for a fully loaded SL. The Juke’s closest rival, the MINI Countryman, will likely start at this price, if not more, and offer far less power (buyers wishing for a turbocharged engine need to step up to the S model) and equipment (the Juke comes standard with premium features like Bluetooth connectivity, an iPod jack, steering wheel mounted audio controls and cruise control).

On the other hand, the MINI has more interior room (despite having only four seats) better quality materials, and less polarizing styling. As a value proposition alone, it’s hard to justify the Countryman’s extra cost of entry, but the Juke is also worth a look for those who want a sporty compact, but aren’t quite enamored with the idea of a coupe.

Sure, the Juke may not have the outright performance of a Civic Si or Hyundai Genesis Coupe, and buyers of these cars may not be willing to cross-shop the Juke, but the modest trade-off in performance combined with the added utility of the Juke make it an interesting proposition. Nissan lists the Mazda3 Sport and Toyota Matrix as its chief rivals, along with the MINI, and has done an excellent job of besting the two Japanese offerings.


As a vehicle for thrifty non-conformists, the Juke succeeds admirably. While not without its aesthetic shortcomings, the driving experience delivers enough thrills to put a smile on anybody’s face.

With a starting price of $18,960, the Juke might even be the rare combination of cheap, fast and reliable, with a dash of practicality thrown in for good measure. The only stumbling block is that rather than being packaged in a sleek, sexy wrapper, it comes to the public in the guise of an awkward, ungainly package that superficial types may write off without justification.


2009 MINI Cooper Clubman Review

2010 Mazda Mazda3 5-Door s Grand Touring Review

2010 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS Sportback: First Drive 2009 Suzuki SX4 Crossover

2010 Kia Forte Koup SX Review 2011 Scion tC Review: First Drive

  • Genki

    I’m guessing you’re not familiar with nissan ATESSA like torque vectoring AWD systems?

  • guest

    Hideous car!

  • Bugnuts14

    Looks like a Vega and a Corvair had sex – B  U  T  T    UGLY

  • Flowerdago

    love the look, love the drive, buying one

  • Bill Foss

    My wife hates it, but It’s my car…she says it looks like a VW Beetle on roids

« Back

AutoGuide.com’s Monthly Overlay Newsletter Signup – By subscribing to our email newsletter, Entrants are eligible to win one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card (value of $100.00 USD). One (1) winner will be chosen every month at random and contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. *Amazon.com is not a sponsor of this promotion. Except as required by law, Amazon.com Gift Cards ("GCs") cannot be transferred for value or redeemed for cash. GCs may be used only for purchases of eligible goods at Amazon.com or certain of its affiliated websites. For complete terms and conditions, see www.amazon.com/gc-legal. GCs are issued by ACI Gift Cards, Inc., a Washington corporation. All Amazon ®, ™ & © are IP of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. No expiration date or service fees.


2. PRIZE: One (1) Winner will be randomly selected every month to each receive: one (1) $100.00 Amazon.com Gift Card (the “Prize Supplier”). Total approximate retail value of all prizes is approximately $100.00 USD. Prizes are not transferable and no cash or prize substitution is allowed. Prize package is awarded "as is" with no warranty or guarantee, either express or implied.

3. ELIGIBILITY: From the time of entry through the final date of prize fulfillment, each contest entrant and selected entrant must be a permanent lawful citizen and resident residing in the 50 United States or the District of Columbia or in Canada, and be twenty one (21) years of age or older. VOID IN PUERTO RICO, THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS, IN ALL FOREIGN COUNTRIES OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES, AND ALL OTHER U.S. TERRITORIES OR CANADA AND POSSESSIONS AND WHERE PROHIBITED OR RESTRICTED BY LAW. Employees, officers, directors, agents and representatives, of the Sponsor and the Prize Supplier and each of their respective parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising and promotion agencies, promotion partners and any entity involved in the development, production, implementation, administration or fulfillment of this Sweepstakes, and the immediate family members (e.g., spouse, mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, grandparent, in-law, daughter and son, regardless of where they live) and persons living in the same household (whether or not related) of such individuals are not eligible to participate or win. Only one selected entrant per household. All decisions of the Sponsor with respect to this sweepstakes are final. The Sponsor shall have the right at any time to require proof of identity and failure to provide such proof may result in disqualification from the Sweepstakes.

4. ENTER BY INTERNET: You may enter this sweepstakes via the Internet by logging onto AutoGuide.com and subscribing to our email newsletter via the pop-up overlay.

5. SELECTION OF WINNER: One (1) Entrant will be selected by random selection who have subscribed to our email newsletter. The winner may be announced publicly on AutoGuide.com and will be contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. The winner will be required to provide a mailing address (that is not a P.O. box) to receive the prize which will be shipped free of charge.

6. ODDS OF WINNING: Odds of winning a prize are determined by the total number of eligible entries received.

7. RESTRICTIONS: The prize package consists of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card with an approximate value of $100.00 USD. If prize cannot be awarded due to circumstances beyond the control of the Sponsor or Prize Supplier, no substitute prize will be awarded due to the unique nature of the prize. Sponsor and Prize Supplier shall not be liable to the winner or any person claiming through winner for failure to supply the prize or any part thereof, by reason of any acts of God, any action(s), regulation(s), order(s) or request(s) by any governmental or quasi-governmental entity (whether or not the action(s), regulations(s), order(s) or request(s) prove(s) to be invalid), equipment failure, utility failure, internet failure, terrorist acts, threatened terrorist acts, air raid, blackout, act of public enemy, earthquake, war (declared or undeclared), fire, flood, epidemic, explosion, unusually severe weather, hurricane, embargo, labor dispute or strike (whether legal or illegal) labor or material shortage, transportation interruption of any kind, work slow-down, civil disturbance, insurrection, riot, or any other cause beyond Sponsor's or Prize Supplier's control (collectively, "Force Majeure Event"). Sponsor shall not be responsible for any cancellations, delays, diversions or substitutions or any act or omissions whatsoever by the performers/events, other transportation companies or any other persons providing any of these services and accommodations to passengers including any results thereof such as changes in services or accommodations necessitated by same.

8. CONDITIONS: By entering the Sweepstakes, entrants agree to be bound by the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions and that Sponsor has the irrevocable right to use in perpetuity entrants' names, user names, likenesses, photographs, voices, home mailing address, biographical and prize information, and entry materials, without notice to entrants and without compensation or obligation, in any and all media now or hereafter known throughout the world, in any manner whatsoever, to advertise and promote Sponsor, its products and services, the Sweepstakes, and for any other purpose except where prohibited by law. Entrant waives the right to assert as a cost of winning a prize any and all costs of verification and redemption or travel to redeem said prize and any liability which might arise from redeeming or seeking to redeem said prize. Sponsor is not responsible for fraudulent calls or emails made to entrants not by the Sponsor. If the Sweepstakes is not capable of running as planned by reason of damage by computer viruses, worms or bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention, fraud, technical limitations or failures, any Force Majeure Event or any other cause which, in the sole opinion of Sponsor, could corrupt, compromise, undermine or otherwise affect the administration, security, fairness, integrity, viability or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes, Sponsor reserves the right, in its sole and absolute discretion, to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend all or any part of the Sweepstakes, and to select a winner from among all eligible entries received by Sponsor up until the time of such cancellation, termination, modification or suspension, as applicable. Sponsor reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any individual that (i) tampers or attempts to tamper with the entry process or the operations of this Sweepstakes in any manner, (ii) violates the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions or (iii) acts in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner, or with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any other person. CAUTION: ANY ATTEMPT BY AN ENTRANT OR ANY OTHER INDIVIDUAL TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THIS SWEEPSTAKES IS A VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS. SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, SPONSOR RESERVES THE RIGHT TO SEEK CIVIL AND/OR CRIMINAL PROSECUTION AND/OR DAMAGES FROM ANY SUCH PERSON TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW. Any expenses and receipt and use of the prize and federal, state and local taxes and fees applicable in connection with the prize awarded are the sole responsibility of the winner. An IRS Form 1099 will be issued in the name of the winner for the actual value of the prize received. This Sweepstakes is subject to all federal, state and local laws of the United States. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED. Sponsor, Prize Supplier, and their respective officers, directors, parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries and advertising and promotion agencies, employees, representatives and agents are not responsible for and shall not be liable for (i) any injuries, losses or damages of any kind caused by a prize resulting from acceptance, possession or usage of the prize, or (ii) printing, distribution or production errors. Sponsor or its affiliates may rescind any promotion found to contain such errors without liability at its or their sole discretion.

9. SPONSOR: The Sponsor of this contest is VerticalScope Inc. (the owner and operator of AutoGuide.com), 111 Peter Street, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2H1.

Subscribe to our email newsletter and automatically be entered to win.
*Restrictions apply. See offer for details

Get Breaking Automotive News, Reviews and Video in your Facebook Feed!

Already Liked