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Published on Sat, May 28, 2011

By: The LACar Editorial Staff


2011 Nissan Juke

Review by Brian Kennedy Last summer when it was time to buy a car, the idea of a Nissan cube (yes, the small “c” is correct) floated into our lives. We waited out a recall and bought it. We still love the little thing nine months later. This isn’t likely to change. But shortly after we took delivery, the Nissan Juke came out. “Oh, man. Maybe we bought too soon,” was said one night at the dinner table. The curves on the outside of the Juke and the massive effort Nissan had obviously made on the inside looked so good in pictures. Over at Downtown LA Nissan for an oil change on the cube at Christmas time, I saw a Juke. It was every bit as nice as it had looked in print. But I didn’t think it was for me. Too small inside, compared to the storage-unit-on-wheels size of the cube.


Still, I wondered what life with Juke might be like. After having had one for a week, now I know. The Juke is a screamer of a little wagon, ambitious in its styling and solid in execution from interior, to exterior, to the mechanicals. But it’s just not the car for me. It’s not that it misses in any one area, or that the package all added up isn’t right. In fact, the Juke is a hot rodder’s dream, if your idea of a hot rod is a car that turns the front wheels with its movitating power. And that, in short, is my trouble. For me, a tuner car is a rear-wheel-drive monster, loud and hard to tame. I am, when it comes to the Juke, of the wrong demographic. Its torque steer is, and this is not an exaggeration, prodigious. But the flip side of that is that the car is fast, boasting 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque.


The sound is aggressive, with a rorty noise from the exhaust. Actually I found this kind of off-putting. But did I mention that the car is fast? Jam the throttle in any gear in sport mode, and you’re likely to get planted back in your seat as the turbo hooks up. Try that on slightly uneven ground, and you’ll induce wheelspin galore. There’s no doubt you could have a lot of fun wheeling this thing around, and at 24/31mpg numbers, you’re not likely to go broke doing it. Reading a magazine review of the MazdaSpeed3 wagon, a car similar to the Juke, I learned that this car, and thus this category of cars, is meant for people who grew up tuning similar imports when they were teenagers. The Mazda was described, if I recall correctly, as what one’s tuner car was on that best day when everything worked together properly. But that would have happened only for one day, and so the contemporary model is a version of that car, only better, because it would do its tricks properly every day. The problem with me and the Juke, then, is that I am not the guy they built this for. My dream rides are old muscle cars. I drive one of those, or an updated version of one, most days, when the cube is in service with the other half of the family.


But don’t assume that my opinion is one you should share. You should put the Juke on your shopping list. I myself could own one as my alternate new car quite happily if I hadn’t ever had a cube. If I did, I’d drive the Juke like heck, because as near as I could tell, it’s screwed together right. I’ll bet 100,000 miles would pass without a whimper. And those miles would be fun ones, with satellite radio, firm leather seats, and lots of nooks and crannies for sports drink bottles (no, wait, I’ve never had one of those) energy drink bottles (not that either), OK, diet Coke bottles to sit while I whizzed my way through the gears. I’d get a never-ending thrill out of its display, which allows for custom drive setting (econo, normal, sport) and tells you how hard the car is working. It would, however, annoy me that this display, which shares a screen with the climate control, is impossible to read properly with polarized sunglasses on. On the negative side, I really don’t get this 6-speed gearbox thing (manual transmission version). I know it’s not Nissan’s idea, and that most manufacturers are going to it, but really—why do we need to change gears every 10mph? Is the gain in mileage all that important? I find it a pain.

The Juke comes standard with a CVT auto (with quasi-shift mode), but a manual is available on the SV and SL

Then there’s the fact that the Juke is actually quite large outside but it offers no more than small-wagon utility inside. The size may be used to create an illusion (or reality) of solidity, but it feels like the car is too big for its interior capacity, leaving me wondering where all the space went. One place is in the radical slope of the rear roof, a “problem” shared by the Ford Focus. Swoopy is in, but it’s not very functional. Neither are the big bubble-shaped curves on the outside of the Juke, which to some eyes lean to caricature. Now, it’s probably no business of a cube owner to talk about love it or hate it styling, but if I had to pick which one of those the Juke is closer to, I’d lean toward hate it. Many others may not, and anyway, to me, that’s not the point. Import company cars are too often criticized for looking so much like each other that they look like nothing at all, so I’m not going to give Nissan grief over making an effort at busting out of the box on this. Still, had I first owned a cube (as I have), owning the Juke just wouldn’t satisfy, even though the cube is considerably slower and somewhat more tinny due to its super-econo car genesis. Is it silly to say that I like the cube more than the roughly $25K (sticker) Juke? Probably, and irrelevant, too, but Nissan didn’t ask me to write a review that told you why the Juke is perfect. In fact, all they ask it that I review it.


For you, the Juke might well be perfect, the embodiment of the dream car. For its segment, it’s probably the best combination of value, features, and price. So if this is your kind of car, buy one. But drive the cube first if you’re at all unimpressed by the import tuner scene. Oh, there I go talking about the cube again. What’s so great about the little bugger? The car has just enough horsepower to be fun, rides with a back-and-forth bounce that somehow feels just right, and can take bikes, AC units in big boxes brought home from Target, two dogs, or whatever, else you want to stuff into it. Plus, it has all kinds of electronic gizmos for around $20K out the door. But if it’s ugly to you, or too boxy, or whatevs (as my friend’s kids say), then maybe you want to look outside of the traditional sedan segment and think about a Juke. I’d bet you can get one for under $25 grand out the door (just a guess), and if so, you’d have something that would probably make you pretty happy. Just keep a firm grip on the wheel when you mash the gas, because that thing will get away from you in true high-school-tuner-dream fashion. For more information about Nissan products, go to


SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2011 Nissan Juke Price: $19,570 (includes turbocharged engine, air conditioning, one-touch power windows, AM/FM in-dash single CD player with CD MP3 Playback stereo and auxiliary audio input and iPod integration) EPA fuel economy rating: 27 city/32 highway Engine: 1.6 liter turbocharged DOHC 16 valve direct injection gasoline engine Horsepower: 188 at 5600 rpm Torque: 177 pound-feet at 2000 rpm Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with quasi-shift manu-matic mode (6-speed manual available) Drive configuration: Front-wheel drive Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion Suspension Front: Independent MacPherson strut with stabilizer bar Rear: Torsion beam with stabilizer bar Brakes: Four-wheel ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution Wheels and tires: 17-inch gunmetal alloy wheels with all-season tires Dimensions Width: 69.5 inches Height: 61.8 inches Length: 162.4 inches Curb weight: 2959 pounds


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