2011 Nissan Juke SL Review [video]

More than a crossover, it’s a philosophical argument

2011 Nissan Juke SL Review [video]
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There are those who will tell you that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That it’s subjective. They are wrong. Ignore their post-modern psychobabble.

Beauty is objective. Great minds from Plato to Kant had it right. Need proof? The Nissan Juke. It is not, in any sense of the word, beautiful. In fact, one can definitively say it is the opposite.

FAST FACTS

1. The Juke is powered by a turbocharged 1.6L direct-injection 4-cylinder that makes 188-hp and 177 lb-ft of torque.

2. The Juke sits below the Rogue in Nissan’s crossover lineup.

3. With a 7.0 second 0-60 mph time, it also gets as much as 27/32-mpg.

If there’s a philosopher out there with an objective theory of fun, well, that’s where the Juke fits in. It is, without a doubt, a thoroughly enjoyable driving machine. Many, many crossovers promise car-like driving dynamics. The Juke delivers and then some. In fact, it might be the first instance where the crossover version has less body roll than the sedan it’s based on – with the Juke sharing its underpinnings with the wallowy Versa.

Now do your best to ignore you ever read the word ‘Versa’ because even the remotest of comparisons between that oversized sub-compact and the Juke will create preconceived notions in your head about this SportCross that should not be there.

With a thoroughly solid chassis, a 3,000-lb curb weight, some big 17-inch wheels and 188-hp of turbocharged goodness, the Juke will have you tackling on-amps with serious speed and not even a hint of tippyness. Sure there’s understeer, but that’s pretty much unavoidable in modern cars – especially our front-drive tester.

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It’s a segment-buster. Other crossovers are designed for utility and compromise, competing in the compact segment and based off compact cars. The Juke is a sub-compact crossover by definition, and its best rival is more likely to be the Honda Civic Si, Scion tC or some other sport compact machine.

INNOVATIVE I-CON SYSTEM CUTS CLUTTER, UPS FUN

Making it even more enjoyable is the Sport button on the I-CON (Integrated Control) system that firms up both the steering and throttle response, requiring just the slightest tip-in to bring on plentiful amounts of torque. Expect a 0-60 mph time in just about 7.0 seconds from a stop, with some tests dropping that into the six-second range. Plus, there’s even a built-in G-meter to tempt you into juvenile displays of speed.

If, however, you do find yourself stuck in traffic, or you’re just feeling green, press the Eco button with a throttle so stiff and unresponsive you’d think it was a Prius. Using both turbocharging and direct-injection, fuel economy is much better than you’d expect considering the fun-quotient it delivers. Rated at a best of 27/32-mpg for the front-drive model with the CVT automatic, the manual offers a 24/31-mpg rating, while AWD versions (available only with a CVT) come in at 25/30-mpg.

More than just a drive-mode selector, the optional I-CON system is as innovative as the car itself. Touch the Climate mode button and instantly the buttons and screen change from the drive controls to climate controls. A bit of a gimmick, it will have you scratching your head for a second or two, but it’s also a solid idea, significantly reducing the number of buttons on the dash. Only mid-level SV trim and up models come equipped with it though.

CAN A SPORT-CROSS BE FUNCTIONAL TOO?

Designed as a performance crossover, you expect the sort of useless utility we’ve seen before in vehicles like the Acura ZDX and yet the Juke surprises with adequate space for passengers and cargo. Despite the sloping rear roofline, there’s actually enough headroom for adults in the rear, and legroom is also sufficient, though hardly abundant.

Cargo room behind the second row is a modest 10.5 cu-ft, which is more than enough to haul the groceries for an urbanite couple. Drop the 60/40 split and it opens to 35.9 cu-ft.

As for the quality of the interior, it doesn’t really live up to the rest of the car’s impressive engineering. Sure the I-CON system is well put together and has a premium look and feel to it, but much of the cabin feels like the budget Versa. Even when it’s outfitted with all the goodies, including leather seats like in our SL tester, it’s hard to shake that econo-car vibe.

Reasonably well-equipped with all the power goodies in stock trim, mid-level SV models and up get Nissan’s Intelligent Key with keyless access and a push-button ignition, while SL models also include goodies like heated seats, a rear-view camera, and a sunroof.

THE PHILOSOPHY BEHIND THE JUKE

On the theme of philosophy, the Juke is driven by a smart marketing plan. Despite the increasing popularity of crossovers, the Juke will never be the next Corolla, but it will win the brand fans. Positioning itself in stark contrast to dull competitors, Nissan is making a statement that it’s a different sort of automaker that’s anything but conventional.

And win fans the Juke will, particularly with young males, who’s opinions often drive the market perception of a brand; the Juke’s very existence a commentary on Nissan in general.

As good as the Juke is, there’s one thing missing: the pairing of a manual transmission and AWD. From a product perspective, it’s clear there wouldn’t be much demand, but from that all-important marketing viewpoint, it’s worth it. True, only five hard-core fans would ever order that combo, but they’d be sure to spam the internet, telling anyone who will listen that it is the single greatest vehicle ever made. And besides, the Countryman can be ordered with AWD and a manual.

THE VERDICT

Even performance enthusiasts will have a tough time loving the juke, however, and not just because it’s ugly. They’ll get philosophical about what a sports car should be, and what a crossover is; the Juke an unholy mash-up of the two. And the argument that a vehicle with a high center of gravity, designed for utility should in no way try to adopt driving dynamics is a hard one to overcome.

To this there’s only one counter point; that if people want crossovers, let’s at least make them fun. And that’s what Nissan has done.

In a way, the car’s shape makes it more attractive to those who ‘get it’. Why? Because chances are anyone who would buy such an ocular monstrosity also appreciates the machine for what it is and not how it looks. Either that, or they’re legally blind, have a sick fetish for abusing their eyes or are a philosophy prof who doesn’t even know what an autocross is and is just trying to prove a point about Nietzschean relativism.

If that’s the case, tell them its ugly, you love it and point them to the nearest Volvo dealership.

LOVE IT

  • Powerful engine
  • Extremely tossable for a crossover
  • Unique i-CON system

LEAVE IT

  • No manual available with AWD
  • Simply hideous to behold

RELATED READING

2011 Nissan Juke Review – First Drive

2011 MINI Countryman Review – First Drive 2009 Honda Civic Si

2011 Scion tC Review: First Drive 2010 Kia Forte Koup SX Review 2010 Mazda Mazda3 5-Door s Grand Touring Review

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