2011 Nissan Juke

Nissan Juke

Juke-Box Hero: Nissan Brings Sassy Back at a Plain Jane Price

Hard to believe the whole toy car era is almost 20 years old now. It was 1991 when Nissan introduced the Figaro, a limited production home market only job with the exaggerated look of a fifties French commuter car. It sold out instantly, with dealers holding a lottery to see who would win the right to buy one. The Figaro became an instant collectible, and inspired other vehicles whose design seemed to either look directly in the rearview mirror or possibly in the comic books, and above all to value whimsy over function.

Nissan JukeVolkswagen brought out their Retro Concept One, which came to market as the New Beetle. Ford took the license to bring out an exaggerated retro version of anything that had sold more than a few thousand copies in the first place, with retro Birds and retro- ‘Stangs. Chrysler Corporation brought out a pair of cars to market in the Plymouth Prowler and PT Cruiser which, in case everyone else missed it, looked MUCH more like miniature ’37 Fords than anything the blue oval itself ever created. The trend created variants, with the Scion xB bringing the chest freezer to the automotive showroom, the Nissan Cube paying homage to the Kodak Flashcube, and the Kia Soul demonstrating that the parallelogram isn’t just for geometry class anymore. All are highly styled products based on existing platforms for cost effectiveness.

But the new Nissan Juke refines the game. Call it Toy Car 2.0, or the Toy Car goes to College, because the Juke combines whimsical styling with a very sophisticated little chassis and a level of content and sophistication heretofore unseen in whimsical motoring.

The Juke is scheduled for introduction in the fall and is based on the Nissan B platform (think Versa) but with completely unique styling. The overall profile is that of an exaggerated LEAF, with the same contours applied on a smaller scale and greatly enlarged wheel openings. The overall roof shape is similar, but the Juke conceals its rear door handles for a coupe look. Nissan’s boomerang tail lamps are utilized, but add a twist by racing up the C pillars. The Juke comes in only one style, a four door hatchback, but its unique shape should appeal equally to both coupe and sedan lovers. But it’s the Juke’s front end styling that sets off the whole car- I find it rather froglike, if frogs happened to have parking lamps for eyebrows. I for one found the parking lamps (bi-directional and visible from the driver’ seat) to be a work of art; overall a very fun and whimsical, definitely youthful, but nicely executed little car.

Nissan JukeSimilar sophistication was evident in the chassis as well. While based on the B-platform, the wheels are pushed out for a wider stance and greater stability. A 60-inch track front and rear with a 99-inch wheelbase creates a large footprint and is the basis for a very stable chassis delivering handling characteristics of a much larger vehicle. The standard powertrain is a 1.6-liter four cylinder engine featuring direct injection and a turbocharger that develops 188 horsepower and 177 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s mated with a standard six-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive. A CVT automatic transmission is optional, and Nissan’s Advanced Torque Vectoring AWD is available, but only with the automatic transmission. This system splits torque not only front to rear, but also side to side across the rear axle. It marks the smallest chassis on which Nissan offers an AWD, and incidentally adds only 64 pounds to the Juke’s overall weight. In addition, AWD cars come equipped with a rear multi-link suspension that substitutes a stabilizer for the base car’s rear torsion bar setup. ABS, front disc brakes and Vehicle Dynamic Control (with traction control) are standard, as are 17″ allow wheels and all season tires.

Nissan JukeAlthough the base Juke comes nicely equipped, there are three trim levels from which to choose. All models have the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, 17-inch alloy wheels, iPod connector and Bluetooth, remote keyless entry and speed sensitive electric power steering as standard; they also feature six air bags and active headrests as well. The mid range SV adds Intelligent Key keyless start and entry, XM radio, automatic climate control, a power moonroof and upgraded cloth. The top-of-the line SL adds leather seating, heated front seats, standard navigation (optional on other models at $500) upgraded audio and a rear view monitor. A five-speed manual transmission is available on S and SV only, and AWD is offered on all three models. Pricing is expected to range from a base S CVT at $18,960 to a fully equipped SL CVT AWD at $24,550.

I spent a day driving the Juke along the picturesque Sunshine Coast of British Columbia on a late summer day. I sampled the SV AWD and the S FWD, both with automatic transmissions. Both cars impressed me a lot. The smooth powertrain displayed no noticeable turbo lag and demonstrated a very even torque curve. The CVT was wonderfully responsive and it even has artificially induced shift points so you don’t feel like you’re driving a car with an infinite gear ratio. The Juke has a great, surefooted feeling, owing both to the wide stance and to Nissan’s electric power steering, which offered considerably more road feedback on the twisty rural roads than other systems I have sampled. By far and away I preferred the AWD, both for the better ride resulting from the multi-link suspension, and for the extra torque from the Torque Vectored AWD. Kudos also to Nissan’s “low cost” navigation; at roughly $500 it’s a simplified but effective navigation system which omits the fancy features most people never use.

For all its turbo goodness, its sure-footed traction and its economical price, it seems that the appeal of this car is going to come down to the styling. If you like the whimsical look, there’s an excellent car beneath that will deliver great economy, road comfort and some pretty impressive handling characteristics (especially with the AWD.) My biggest down side with the exterior is the relatively drab color palate – only blue and a red in a sea of grey metallics. A “Look At Me” car in a dull color is like Britney Spears in sweats driving a Camry, and this car simply screams for some seventies colors- a bright yellow, lime or metallic orange.

So call me when the Lime Green ones come in.