Walkaround and Interior

By January 16, 2012

Walkaround

Pretty, the Nissan Juke isn't, but it certainly shouts for attention. We'd call it cute, in an ugly duckling sort of way. It's a functional, practical package in a compact vehicle that stands out in the crowd.

The Juke is a small vehicle, with about the same footprint as the subcompact Ford Fiesta. Juke is substantially shorter in length than the subcompact Nissan Versa, though the Juke is slightly wider. Juke's exterior dimensions closely match similarly conceived crossovers like the Kia Soul and Mini Cooper Countryman.

There are lots of trendy themes in this so-called sport cross. From the side, especially the window outlines, the Juke appears to have borrowed from the reverse-wedge Soul. There's a family resemblance to the Nissan Murano and Infiniti FX, and from some angles you can also see the Infiniti G sedan. The Juke's taillights borrow their boomerang shape from the Nissan 370Z sports car. The camouflaged rear door handles, which we like, might fool you into thinking Juke is a two-door. There's a raked windshield, high beltline and broad shoulders.

The Juke also has design cues that shout originality. Its nose is full of circles, namely the big round headlights inspired by rally lights, and fog lights in the air dam. Nissan calls the amber running lights and turn signals integrated, but we'd argue that definition. They're slapped onto the tops of the fenders like barnacles.

Hyper-aggressive edged fender flares outline big wheel arches and suggest room for monster tires, making the standard 17-inch wheels look small. The 12-spoke wheels are fancy (not a bad thing) for a little car, but still lost in the cavern. The conspicuously high ground clearance adds to this effect.

The Juke looks best in the metallic charcoal brown, with gold specs in the paint catching the sun. There's also a nice metallic blue, and four different shades of gray. The optional Gunmetal finish wheels emphasize the somber effect, while the optional chrome package counteracts it.

Interior Features

The Juke offers more comfort and space inside than its compact exterior suggests. It's stylish (and dare we say a bit unusual), but its unique design features don't come at the expense of easy operation or practical function. Its overall finish is decent.

The weak link inside is the plastics. The door panels and dash covering are hard, scratchy and hollow-sounding. They're sturdy, and probably durable, but you can do better in this price range when it comes to appearance and pleasant surface feel. The decorative trim is even harder plastic, though it's painted deep and glossy in either silver or candy-apple red depending on the color scheme, and it looks terrific.

The seating position is high, and that affords good forward visibility. There's also a good view in the mirror through the rear glass. If it looks like it should be pinched, there's no problem. It can get a bit noisy in the Juke, especially when it's powerful little engine is working hard, but the standard audio system is up to the task, masking the noise at fairly low volume without sounding tinny.

The gear-shift is set fairly high, rally car style, and the seats are comfortable in either grade of fabric or the superb optional leather. The fabric looks best in dark charcoal, and the leather in a rich brown. There's good bolstering that does its best to keep the driver's body in place, but the suspension allows a lot of upper body sway, or head toss, as it used to be called in the older Jeep Cherokees.

The gauges behind the steering wheel are good: black faces, white lettering, red needles, with brushed aluminum-like rings around the speedometer and tach. A range of useful information can be displayed in a little window between them. We like this feature, until recently reserved for much more expensive vehicles, but there's a problem in the Juke. In order to scroll for info, you have to reach buttons near the display, sort of like the trip-odo reset buttons most drivers are familiar with. That means either sticking your right arm between the steering-wheel spokes or wrapping it around the wheel while you're driving. The Juke isn't the only car with this poor design, but a scroll button on one of the spokes would sure be helpful.

The center stack is nice and big and wide, more like a square with rounded corners. At the top sits the audio system, or the optional navigation package and its 5-inch screen. All the buttons, knobs and dials allow simple, low-distraction function. Below are the climate controls on base models, or the I-CON (for integrated controls) system on all other Juke models. Think of I-CON as a central command center and display, adopting different display colors and functions depending on how it's used. In climate mode, the display shows the interior temperature settings, and the buttons control air-flow preferences. In D-Mode, the buttons change the three driving modes (Econ, Normal or Sport), while the display shows engine- and drive-related information.

The small screen shows turbo boost or g forces measured by the on-board accelerometer in Sport mode, and engine torque in Normal. It took a while to figure out what was showing in Eco mode. Our best guess is that it tells you how far your foot is down on the gas pedal, and it's useless. You don't need to take your eyes off the road and refocus them on a small screen down at the bottom of the center stack to know that.

We played with the navigation a bit, and we liked the way it gives ample notice before a turn. It wasn't challenged much, to be sure, because our route kept us on one highway, and a waterway, which the navigation lady who lives in the center stack couldn't see. Stay on the road for 28 miles, she said, as the ferry pulled away from the dock and headed 28 miles across the water.

Nissan says the center console was inspired by a motorcycle gas tank. Fair enough. It's awfully pretty, and it adds shape and contour to the car's interior, as opposed to the more typical, long box with levers and crannies on it. The Juke's console is a shapely tube, painted that rich, glossy finish. It begins at the bottom of the wide center stack, where the shift lever rises out the top. From there ii flows down and back and narrows, with a long black E-brake lever on the left and two cupholders and a coin holder on the right, before ending with an open bin between the seatbacks.

The Juke is a 5-seater, and the back seat works fine for kids into their early teens. Not surprisingly, there isn't much legroom in the rear seat, only 32.1 inches. Three people back here will be squeezed in every direction but up, and maybe up. too, if any of the three are taller than six feet.

With the rear seat up, there is 10.5 cubic feet of cargo space, comparable to a fairly small trunk. When the 60/40 rear seat is folded flat, which it does with one motion, there's a lot more room for stuff: 35.9 cubic feet. That's plenty of boxes or luggage, and slightly more room than you'll get in Nissan's Versa hatchback. On the other hand, there's quite bit less space in the Juke than in the comparable Kia Soul (50.4 cubic feet), and less than what's available is some compact five-door sedans like the Ford Focus (44.4).

When it comes to storage, front-drive Jukes add a secret stash that isn't available in all-wheel-drive models. There's an extra bin under the load floor, with a couple of cubic feet of empty space that's occupied by running gear and suspension attachments on AWD Jukes.