Nissan's newest trucklet, the Juke, a fun car in many ways
You might call Nissan's newest trucklet, the 2012 Nissan Juke, ugly. Or the Nissan Joke.
Really. As I first sized up the Juke, thoughts flooded my head, ones sure to upset the folks at Nissan: 'you can't drink this car pretty' and 'maybe they should call it the Nissan Puke.'
Certainly, its style is polarizing. It's meant to be.
The main inspiration for the front seems to be rally cars, but the effect of stacking three headlamps -- especially the secondary ones that run along the top of the fenders -- makes it seem more like an alien life form than a seriously fun truck. There were plenty of people who agreed, saying that they thought it looked like a frog. This is not a great adjective for any automobile.
Meanwhile, others couldn't believe that anything so cool was so inexpensive.
Some kudos should be tossed to the Juke's stance, with wide fender flares and muscular shoulders that play against its sloping roofline. From the rear view, this is a seriously sporty little vehicle.
But its diminutive size, questionable looks and a platform used for the Nissan Versa hatchback and Cube didn't promise anything remotely fun.
So color me more than a little surprised by how entertaining this little squirt is to drive.
Is it a Juke• You bet it is.
After driving the Juke, a word that means "to deceptively outmaneuver something or someone," I was caught off guard at this brilliant bit of marketing.
Nissan refers to the Juke as a "sport cross," meaning that the Juke combines the agility and power of a sports car with the increased ground height, practical body shape and all-wheel drive of an SUV.
But its personality is clearly that of the Nissan Rogue's smaller, punk brother, with a rowdy 188-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable transmission, or CVT.
That may not sound like much, but consider this: the Juke is 21 inches shorter and 365 pounds lighter than the Rogue, which uses the larger Sentra platform. But the Juke is blessed with an extra 18 ponies in its corral.
So once again, the name fits. You'd expect this motorized tidbit to be about as slow as any economy car, yet it proves to have an amazing amount of power and the CVT takes advantage of every pony, squeezing every ounce of juice from the Juke's four-banger.
The driving experience isn't serene, although you wouldn't expect it to be. There's a lot of road and tire noise. The short wheelbase contributes a choppy ride and the suspension is tuned for firmness. The trade-off is incredibly flat cornering, with little, if any, discernible body lean.
There are other bits of dichotomy at work here as well.
The Juke's well-bolstered bucket seats prove comfortable, even after many hours in the saddle. They're covered in a durable, quality fabric that seems expensive next to the many cheap, hard plastic surfaces throughout the cabin.
Then there's the weird climate control system, which shares its readout with that for a silly item called the vehicle dynamics gauge. Worse, the automatic climate control shuts off every time the car does. When the car restarts, you have to turn the climate control on again.
Given its small exterior, you may not be surprised that most of this vehicle's interior space is in the front seats; the rear seats offer little. Thankfully, they fold to expand the cargo hold, which is big enough for a bachelor. Credit for the meager space goes to its high liftover height and sloping rear hatch glass.
Quibbles• Only two: the steering wheel tilts but doesn't telescope, and there's no center armrest, front or rear.
If you want a Juke, it comes in S, SV and SL trim levels with front- or all-wheel-drive models. The test vehicle, an SV all-wheel-drive with CVT, returned an impressive 27.5 mpg, good for an all-wheel-drive vehicle, even if it does require premium gas. The base price is $19,990; the price as tested: $24,965.
Bet you wouldn't expect a small truck to require premium. But you wouldn't expect a lot of things from this ugly little truck. Neither its handling, nor its power. It's provocative, and ultimately endearing. It's a vehicle with a distinct point of view, one that hasn't been sanitized for your protection.
The Juke is juke, in every sense of the word.
And the more you consider it, the more beautiful a proposition it becomes.Larry Printz is auto editor of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk.