First Drive: 2011 Nissan JUKE
By Aaron Robinson of Car and Driver
Besides being a type of box that exchanges money for music, "juke" is a football term, a fake-out in which a runner seems to go one direction when actually he's headed in another. Juking is man's work, and the little Nissan JUKE crossover is likewise targeted toward men because, well, the similarly priced Nissan Rogue crossover just isn't.
Based on Nissan's global B platform, which is under the Nissan Versa and Cube and Renault Clio (remember, Nissan and Renault are one), the JUKE was designed primarily by Nissan's European studio and is a product mainly targeted at Europe. There, the B segment is red hot, and sales volumes can support all sorts of experimentation. The JUKE is also wanted in China, where the small-car segment is growing faster than mold on month-old fruitcake. Nissan's U.S. operations decided to take the JUKE as an experiment to see if a new subsegment could be chiseled out of the already crowded crossover market.
The Other Compact Nissan Crossover
The JUKE, which will start within a few dollars of $20,000, or just over a grand less than the Rogue, is somewhat smaller and pitched at buyers of the Mini Cooper S, Mazda 3, and Scion tC. The wheelbase is 6.3 inches shorter than the Rogue's, and the overall length is 20.5 inches shorter, with a substantially smaller cargo area. The downsizing is most noticeable in the rear seat, which is fairly snug. But there's generally only one circumstance in which guys worry about back-seat space, and that one's rare anymore.
Party in the Front
It's a small engine for a car whose lightest version starts at about 3000 pounds, but output will be "over 180 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque," says Dominique. The company won't reveal the official power numbers until closer to the car's on-sale date in October. One thing we can reveal is that the JUKE doesn't feel slow. In fact, the bells-and-whistles version we drove with a CVT and all-wheel drive JUKEs through traffic with a punchy throttle and welcome lack of turbo lag. The driver can select from normal, sport, and econ modes with the optional I-CON or "integrated control" mode selector, which tunes the throttle and transmission response and steering weight to the setting.
What's in a Name?
On dry roads, the clutch packs on either side of the aluminum-case rear differential are clamped tight for a 50/50 torque distribution (a dash switch allows you to disable the system for two-wheel-drive running). In corners or when starting from a dead stop, the system clamps and unclamps the two sides as needed, shifting more engine torque to the outside wheels to help push the nose in the desired direction. Just as in upscale SUVs with similar systems, the net effects are a livelier helm and a distinct lack of understeer. Nobody who loves a Mini's hyper-reactive steering will think it anything special, but a Mazda 3 owner might.
Like a Mini, the JUKE is highly stylized. The interior theme is "robobiotic" says Nissan, meaning a fusion of organic and mechanical. Maybe, but the best aspects are the motorcycle cues, such as the center console that looks like a crotch rocket's fuel tank. The best thing the JUKE has going for it is its unique package. A small pseudo-crossover with extroverted styling, satisfying power, and competent handling at a relatively low price is territory that hasn't been explored yet. We see a compelling combination.
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