The first time I ever saw a picture of the Nissan Juke, I thought it was a joke. I figured it was a photoshop and there was no way that it could possibly be a real car. Those headlights, those proportions. Something was all wrong. It looked like an abomination.
It's a crossover coupe sedan hatchback economy car that looks like it was styled by 13 different people with different ideas. But is it a bad car? I recently spent a week with a Juke to find out if it filled some sort of niche.
(Full Disclosure: Nissan wanted me to drive the Juke so bad that they gave me one for a week, for free. I took it to Washington, DC, which I recently heard is our nation's capital and isn't actually a state.)
The Juke is supposed to be funky in appearance to appeal to those millennials we're always hearing about. This is Nissan's attempt to get people who don't give a rat's ass about cars or driving interested. I'm a millennial and I'm still not entirely sure what the word means.
Surprisingly, the Juke ends up being a funky looking tall hatch that is actually quite well equipped and appointed. It doesn't drive as bad as you think it looks.
So, the first time I saw the Juke I was horrified by it. Mortified even. It was awful. I didn't understand and thought that Nissan was releasing it by mistake, like someone in the design department had signed off on the car on April Fool's Day.
The huge circular headlights and the brow lines that make up the indicators make the Juke disjointed and abstract. This is car design by Picasso.
Yet, I find something unavoidably cool about this car. I don't know, it grows on you. Sometimes I take a long look at the Juke and say "damn, that's a cool little ride." I'd say it happens 50 percent of the time. The other 50 percent I go blind for hours. Since 50 isn't really a passing grade, the Juke garners a six out of a possible ten on the appearance scale, with the disclaimer that it can cause blindness. Some people will consider it an eight, and that's ok. Adjust the exterior score to your own feelings about the car.
"Hey, this ain't all that bad." Those were the first words out of my mouth when I got in the Juke. The SL model that I was provided had leather seats which were quite supportive and comfortable. I spent about 13 hours in the car in the span of three days, and I didn't feel fatigued. Not too shabby.
The dash felt well put together and everything was intuitively placed as well. Best of all, none of it felt cheap, which is a true win in such a cheap car. Everything's laid out as if it were an actual sports car, with cues borrowed from the 370Z and a center console designed to look like a motorcycle gas tank. In this class, there's nothing quite like it.
You can measure acceleration on a quantitative scale or a qualitative one. By the numbers, the Juke is not close to being fast, but the little 1.6 turbo four is eager, and that counts for something. It has a broad powerband with maximum torque available over the brunt of the rev range. I'm always wishing for more power, and the Juke does need some. At some points, it seems tired, like a small child that has been dragging weights around all day. And no, i don't make children drag weights around... often.
The Juke gets to 60 in just more than seven seconds, which actually isn't bad at all in the grand scheme of things. It pulls pretty strong most of the time and feels like it wants to work hard. It's no Corvette ZR1, but it holds it's own, and I respect that.
It has brakes. The car stops when they're applied. I didn't crash into one thing while using them, which I think is pretty damn good.
That's...that's about it.
The Juke is supremely comfortable on the road. It absorbs bumps like nobody's business. It is a little soft, but it isn't tuned to beat the road into submission. Instead, its goal is to work together with the road to give the driver a great experience.
With all the time I spent in the car, I never felt like the ride was making me uncomfortable. Normally when I drive for four hours in succession, my right hip starts to hurt (I'm old on the inside). Not this time. I chalk it up to the comfort of the ride and the spaciousness of the interior. High praise for such an inexpensive ride.
The Juke has a large circular device in front of the driver that can be used to make it change directions. Turning it to the left will make the Juke go left. Turning it right will make it turn right. It has handling.
It isn't the greatest handling car, with prodigious amounts of understeer at the limit. Steering feel is vague and it doesn't inspire confidence to attack the corners. But I'm not surprised, I wasn't expecting all that much from the Juke in this department. The raised ride height and front-wheel drive aren't exactly indicative of a handing focused ride. It's no Juke R.
Surprisingly decent. The Juke that I got to drive was equipped with a six speed manual. Throws are a little long and notchy, but it felt direct and I never missed a shift.
The clutch also felt great. Compare this to other Nissan/Infiniti products, which feature an infuriating clutch that gives the kind of feedback one normally gets from stepping in dog shit. This was light, yet it had a very defined engagement point. Not shabby at all. The CVT, which we've previously tested, isn't bad for a CVT, but given the choice we'll take the manual. Unfortunately, the AWD version is CVT only.
Eh. The engine note is uninspiring. It's a wee little four banger, so I wasn't expecting it to be all that impressive.
The Rockford Fosgate unit is decent, but it just isn't all that great. Maybe it's because I don't listen to those bands that sound like they recorded their songs in a mall bathroom, but the lows, highs, and mids just weren't all that impressive on some good rock, like Bob Seger. Good thing it was standard and not an option. This car is impressively average in this department, and thus gets the average score of five.
The Juke is flat out impressive when it comes to standard kit. For a car that costs $24,335, it was loaded up the wazoo with navigation, satellite radio and traffic, iPod integration, keyless start and entry, Bluetooth, and heated leather seats. The base version comes with a decent set of cloth seats, a reasonable audio system, and starts under $20K.
That's pretty awesome. A lot of cars have these features, what makes the Juke stand out is the ease of use. Everything is in the right place, everything makes sense. When most cars come with these options what sets a car apart is the execution and the Juke has it.
The levels of standard equipment and the quality interior make the Juke an impressive bargain buy. You're getting an economical ride with a great interior... and a questionable exterior. It's like buying a hideous hairless dog and then realizing that he's affectionate, playful, and great with kids. The Juke may not win any beauty contests, but it sure is a good choice if you want to get from place to place in an econobox that doesn't feel econo.