The Nissan Juke has been a polarizing vehicle ever since it launched, and unless Nissan changes things up, it will remain that way. Some people will love it, some will hate it. For most of its history in the United States, the small car segment was pretty much devoid of style. Expressions of design and standout features were left for more expensive (usually luxury) segments further above. With a new generation of buyers coming up that doesn’t regard being small as inferior, manufacturers are looking to reach these demographics with more stylish options.
There are different ways of going about that. Using Nissan as an example, there is the upcoming next-generation Sentra. For some though, cars are desired as louder expressions of individuality rather than just point A to point B transportation. Buyers of the Nissan Juke definitely fall into the first camp – it isn’t for those who want to blend in. Nissan has a diverse lineup going on right now: mainstream models like the Sentra, Altima and Maxima, along with funkiness in the form of the Murano CrossCabriolet, Juke and Cube.
We had a bright blue 2013 Nissan Juke for a week, and everything about it screamed “look at me”, from design to color. With the Juke, it is easy to forget that it is a essentially a unique take on a small hatchback – in a form Americans can accept. It’s like a hatchback Sentra – only far funkier, wider, taller and wait….maybe it isn’t at all. In all seriousness though, the Juke’s ride height affords it more capability and it returns good fuel economy – the EPA rates our tester at 27 city, 32 highway.
As far as the funky factor, the Juke is truly unlike anything else on the road. There’s the big, bulging haunches and of course that front end. Beautiful it isn’t, but we’ve come to appreciate the Juke for what it is – unconventional. That lends it a coolness factor that has remained since it’s launch. It’ll be interesting to see what judgement history passes on this car. The combination of the design and bright blue paint is pretty overpowering – we’d pick a more sedate color and let the design do the talking. As far as aesthetic considerations, one thing we really could do without is the lower front plastic grille cover. With all the stuff going on in the front, the odd circleish inlet shapes are too much. Simple horizontal lines would suffice.
Remember the part about the Juke being more like a hatchback than a crossover? That is evident once behind the wheel. While at a raised ride height (which we think is a nice advantage for more rural areas), the Juke doesn’t drive like a crossover. Its wide track and planted stance affords it a stability that carries through to the handling. There was little in the way of body roll around corners, and the steering firmed up as speeds climbed.
The Juke’s willingness to corner surprised us; its fun-to-drive factor isn’t readily apparent at a glance. The package works together really well: Nissan’s turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder finds a great partner in the Juke. With 188 horsepower on tap, there is an ample amount of boost available for the relatively lightweight (2912 pounds) Juke. The 1.6-liter has something of a split personality.
It begs to be pushed, and if you give in you’ll see mileage drop significantly. Drive it conservatively and you get EPA-like figures. We will now get to the obligatory part of a Nissan review that nearly every enthusiast touches on: the Continuously Variable Transmission. Nissan has an affinity for these, and has made it the only option on the Juke. On an ICE car (electrics are a different story), we like the feeling of having a transmission row through the gears when we mash the pedal. Like every other CVT, power is delivered without interruption, although you can feel additional squirt when the turbo kicks in. The downside of the CVT is the consistent drone it produces from the engine. Obviously this makes for a different feel overall than a traditional automatic. We’d like to see a standard automatic offered in the future as an option – the CVT does offer benefits like improved efficiency though.
As Nissan’s market research proves, most customers don’t care either way. Inside, the Juke is a nice place to spend time. Material quality is generally good, and we applaud the trend of manufacturers offering more interesting seat fabric than just cloth. As far as design, the dominating feature is the Juke’s motorcycle-inspired center console, which is covered in metallic paint. It is able to be painted body color if you so choose, and that adds another element of fun to the interior. The gauges are sunken into the dash and the sculpted appearance of their hood is a nice touch. One detail Nissan left out was inner seat arm rests; it is noticeable on long drives and we think that’d be a nice addition. Visibility is great – looking forward, anyway. Out back there are some blind spots as a casualty of the thick pillars and rakish design. Thankfully, Nissan installed some large mirrors as a counterbalance.
Overall, the Nissan Juke is really a vehicle you need to live with to experience. We liked the Juke more after a week with it than at the beginning, and that isn’t often the case. The funky design grew on us as time went on too; it has a funky coolness to it. The larger point being: Juke starts at $19,990 and proves you don’t have to spend a lot of money to stand out. The driving experience is also genuinely entertaining, which we can’t say about many others in the class – compact crossovers and C-segment small cars alike. Nissan made a bet with the Juke, and in our estimation it paid off.