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September 20, 2011 > Auto Review: Nissan JUKE: No Joke

Auto Review: Nissan JUKE: No Joke

By Steve Schaefer

The JUKE is the new baby of Nissan's line of crossover vehicles which includes the midsize Murano and compact Rogue. Its emotional and even radical design directly relates to the all-electric LEAF and whimsical Cube too.

Aimed at the Urban Sport Compact Crossover set (read: youth), it drives tautly, gives a broad view of the road (ahead at least) and is comfortable for hours on the freeway when you decide to leave the urban scene. Apparently, young people are less enamored with the low-slung convertible sports cars that captivated drivers in earlier days.

The JUKE's interior evokes the feeling of adventure, with a central tunnel and door armrests in a metallic sparkly plastic that reminds me of a painted motorcycle tank. The instrument panel looks like it's made of billet metal for a custom accent. The gray gloss finish on the center console serves as a rich backdrop for the silvery dials and flat black buttons. A little plastic "leaf" shades the instrument panel. In my test car, the deeply bolstered seats featured a honeycomb design gray cloth with black mesh accents. The total effect is cool and hip, or so Nissan's product planners believe.

I was happy that my Graphite Blue JUKE SV came with a manual six-speed, adding to the feeling of sportiness. Shifts were crisp and gave more feeling of control than you get with an automatic - even the manual paddle shift type that is becoming ubiquitous. A surprisingly robust 188 horsepower comes from the JUKE's turbocharged Direct Injection Gasoline (DIG) 1.6-liter inline four, so you can move the 3,000- to 3,200-pound ride along fast - and quickly. There's 177 lb.-ft. of torque on tap as well.

The EPA gives the JUKE ratings of 24 City, 31 Highway (average 27). I earned 25.6 miles per gallon (on Premium fuel!) during my weeklong test. The EPA Green Vehicle Guide gives the manual-equipped JUKE a 6 on both Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gas-easing it into the desirable SmartWay category.

If you choose the Continuously Variable Transmission (automatic), JUKE actually gets higher EPA ratings-mileage numbers of 27 City, 32 Highway and Green Vehicle Guide numbers of 6 and 7. This demonstrates that computers can be more careful drivers than people. My experience with this automatic in the Cube has been positive-it feels fine and doesn't sound too strange going about its gearless business.

There's an all-wheel drive version of the JUKE available, in case you do want to hit a dirt road or snowy pass, but this car is not meant to be a serious off-road machine. Nissan offers other options for that, notably the rugged XTerra SUV and Frontier pickup.

The Integrated Control (I-CON) system drive mode selector offers three different throttle/transmission/steering response settings: Normal for everyday driving, Sport for a more intense performance feel and Eco for maximum efficiency. It adjusts throttle, transmission (CVT only) and steering feel for a particular driving experience. I kept it in ECO mostly, hoping for a positive effect on the fuel economy numbers.

You also get a screen in the same panel that shows torque and G Forces. During acceleration or cornering, the centered square in the G Force graph moves significantly - but hey, why aren't you watching the road?

It being a hatchback, the JUKE lets you drop the back seats and stuff in plenty of gear, making it a perfect car for all uses.

The JUKE is sold in three grades: S, SV and SL. They come with manual or CVT automatic transmission and with front- or all-wheel drive. You can get a manual transmission on the SV and SL front-wheel-drive versions only. The base car is CVT only, but Nissan doesn't really intend to sell many of the base car anyway and they save costs by building fewer model variations.

Every JUKE includes a 6-way manual driver's seat and 4-way manual front passenger seat, speed-sensitive automatic door locks, an AM/FM/CD audio system with steering wheel controls, Bluetooth(r) Hands-free Phone System and an Interface System for iPod(r) (virtually a necessity as far as I'm concerned).

Moving up from the S model, you add premium cloth fabrics or leather-appointed seats, heated front seats, RearView Monitor, Nissan Intelligent Key(tm) with Push Button Ignition, XM(r) Satellite Radio, up-graded speakers with Rockford Fosgate powered subwoofer, power sliding moon roof and privacy glass. A Nissan Navigation System is optional.

Prices start at $20,330 for the S with front-wheel drive and move up to $25,960 for the SL with all-wheel drive. These numbers include a $760 destination charge.

The JUKE is a blend of sport utility and rally car that is stylish and EPA friendly... and affordable too. That sounds like a recipe for success-as long as you like its extreme styling.

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