2011 Nissan JUKE — Review
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
Crossover utility vehicles are all the rage these days, and for good reason. They combine the size and versatility of an SUV with the performance and fuel efficiency of a car. For 2011, Nissan is introducing its own unique take on the crossover, the JUKE. Small, sporty and uniquely styled, the JUKE is in a class by itself. It blends the ride height and looks of a crossover with the soul and sensibility of a hot little hatchback, making for a truly fun-to-drive machine.
Standard safety equipment consists of dual-stage front airbags, curtain side airbags, front side airbags, active front head restraints, a tire-pressure monitor, antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, traction control and electronic stability control.
Under the Hood
The JUKE's torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system runs with 100 percent of the power through the front wheels under normal driving conditions. However, the system can send up to half of the power to the rear axle under acceleration, when the front wheels begin to slip or during cornering. The system can also send all of the rear torque to the outside wheel in corners to help the vehicle maintain stability and traction in turns. It's similar to systems used by BMW and Acura, and it is an unexpected level of technology for a vehicle at this price.
The most interesting aspect of the interior is the new I-Con (integrated control) system in the dash. The setup utilizes a small LCD screen flanked by six buttons and two large knobs. A colored LED filtering system handily switches button labels between the climate controls and a drive-mode selector that also displays pertinent driving dynamics information. Press the "Air Con" button on the center stack and the six buttons below it become dedicated to typical climate-control settings. Press the "D-Mode" button and those same buttons control three drive-mode settings: Normal, Sport and Eco.
In Sport mode, a circular five-segment display conveys turbo-boost levels, while Normal mode translates torque. A two-axis G-force display can also be summoned. Though Normal and Sport modes offer only mildly different steering- and throttle-response feels, the Eco mode feels dramatically different, more sluggish. The Eco mode also rates driving habits based on throttle input, and can recall a history of fuel economy with a bar chart.
One thing we applaud Nissan for is making navigation systems more affordable. Standard on the top-line SL trim and available for $800 on the SV trim is an SD-card-based Bosch navigation system with real-time traffic information.
The front seats are supportive, with enough bolstering to keep passengers in place during hard cornering. Headroom should be good for all but the tallest drivers, and legroom is plentiful, thanks to lots of seat travel. The steering wheel tilts but doesn't telescope, so not all drivers will find their ideal driving position.
The rear seats should fit a pair of adults (and three in a pinch), provided the front-seat occupants are not tall. Headroom is tight for anyone over 5 feet 10 inches, and rear legroom can disappear quickly as the front passengers get more comfortable. Getting in and out of the back seat is also a chore, because the rear-wheel arch intrudes on the door opening.
The rear seats fold mostly flat via pull-up knobs that can be reached from the side doors or the rear liftgate. That creates a fairly useful 35.9 cubic feet of cargo space, which is more than the trunk of any sedan, but less than most hatchbacks. The angle of the rear window eats into that space, however, precluding loading some larger boxes. All in all, it's a useful cargo area, but small for a crossover.
On the Road
The available 6-speed manual transmission is a joy to drive. It has short, positive throws and fits with the JUKE's sporty character. The CVT is a bit less engaging, but it is the choice for the best fuel economy. When the D-Mode's Sport setting is chosen, the CVT has six preset gear ratios that the driver can access through the gearshift. Adding steering-wheel shift paddles would be another sporty touch, but Nissan has opted not to do so.
The engine isn't the only sporty element of the JUKE; the vehicle handles well, too. The steering is light and quick, yet a bit numb. However, it firms up nicely in Sport mode. Nonetheless, we'd like more feel and weight, given the JUKE's sporty aspirations.
Though it has the body height of a crossover, the JUKE feels more like a sporty hatchback. There is impressively little body lean in turns, and the vehicle feels as if it sits lower than it actually does. It turns in quickly and tracks well through corners without a propensity to plow when pushed hard. With its short wheelbase and fairly light weight, the JUKE also gathers itself quickly to handle slaloms. The available all-wheel-drive system helps here by sending power to the outside rear wheel in a turn. It's not meant for off-roading, though, as there is no low-range gearing.
The ride quality, however, is a bit firmer than Rust Belt customers would prefer. Sharp bumps intrude on passenger comfort, and the short wheelbase can make the ride busy on broken pavement.
Right for You?
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Nissan provided MSN with travel and accommodations tofacilitatethis report.)
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, andcurrently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.