The subcompact Nissan Juke is a sporty small car that tells people you stand out from the crowd. It’s an outsider among small crossovers, with different priorities; in other words quirky. It was 2014 Car of the Year in Latvia, how’s that for quirky?
Other crossovers like the Honda HR-V, Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Jeep Renegade, and Mazda CX-3 are mainstream. But the Juke sells well with its attitude. Its competition might be seen more in the three-door Hyundai Veloster, or even the Kia Soul. Or if you want a Mazda MX-5 but need a hatchback, you might look at a Juke.
The Juke is a genre-bender. Nissan calls it a bold urban sport cross. It does mix city crossover with adventure, performance, and out-there design. The cabin is small and the ride stiff, like a sports car.
The base engine is a 188-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, with a continuously variable (CVT) transmission standard, and 6-speed manual available.
Juke is front-wheel drive with available all-wheel drive, not to make it an offroad vehicle but to give it better handling and traction onroad. But all-wheel drive means you can drive it on the beach or in snow, for sports or camping.
Then there’s the Nismo RS with 215 horsepower, a formidable contender in the hot hatch field.
All models past the base Juke S come standard with driving modes, Nissan’s I-CON control system. The driver selects the steering, throttle and transmission response, its level of aggression. Economy or performance, driver choice.
At full-on economy, the Juke gets 28/32 miles per gallon City/Highway, and 30 mpg Combined with front-wheel drive. Interestingly, the 6-speed manual gets 34 mpg Highway, metal gears gripping, not belts slipping. Subtract 2 mpg for all-wheel drive, but it’s worth it, unless you live in the South and just drive back and forth to work.
The Juke doesn’t score so well in the small front overlap test, so don’t hit a telephone pole. The IIHS gives the Juke top Good ratings in every test except that one, where it got the worst rating of Poor. If you’re going to crash a Juke, it’s best to be T-boned; the NHTSA gave Juke five stars for side-impact crashworthiness. Down to three stars in the frontal crash test, and four stars for rollover resistance.
For 2016, Juke gets available Siri Eyes Free control of iPhones.
Juke SV ($22,300) is better equipped and comes with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive ($24,150); even better equippd are the Juke SL ($25,240) and SL all-wheel drive ($26,940).
Options for the Juke include or black or gunmetal 17-inch alloy wheels, rear roof spoiler, stainless exhaust tips, and interior illumination package.
Juke Nismo RS comes with front-wheel drive and 6-speed manual ($24,830) or all-wheel drive with CVT ($27,230). The Nismo RS is also available with front-wheel drive, 6-speed manual and limited-slip differential ($28,020). Besides the more powerful engine, Nismo adds sport seats and trim, red seat stitching, 18-inch wheels, and aerodynamic and cooling bits for the body.
It’s about hips, bulges and swells, swoops and angles. Front fenders are tall and lights low, including blade-like turn signals. It’s bug-faced. The grille looks predatory. It looks playful and menacing at the same time.
Nissan makes it easy to customize the Juke, with a Juke Color Studio program. Choose outstanding bright colors for the wheels, spoiler, sills, fascia, door handles and headlamp trim. Don’t choose too many.
The gauges are inspired by motorcycle design, which you can see if you try real hard and have a great imagination; in any event, they’re clean. You can get the metal dashboard in a color, it looks way cool in anodyzed red, and makes the Juke feel racy, especially since the switchgear is straightforward. The nylon upholstery can also be chosen in colors, but be careful, it can take things over the top toward tawdry.
All but the S model have a touchscreen, where the i-CON driving system is programmed. Climate controls are done there too. The plastics and buttons are inexpensive, but they fit well and are positioned well, so we’ll take it.
If the Juke is a crossover, its interior space is lacking. If it’s a small hot hatch, its interior space is impressive. Don’t be thinking it’s a Honda Fit, or even a Nissan Versa.
It’s a tight fit, front and especially rear, where there are technically three seats but we’re talking three three-year-olds; we squeezed two six-foot adults back there, and they were not happy. The front seats are fairly upright, nudging the driver into a sporty mood. There isn’t much cargo space. Technically the Juke is a crossover, but cargo-wise it’s basically a hatchback. Keep the back seats folded down, and you’ve got 35.9 cubic feet; plus, with no worries about rear passenger headroom, you can get a sunroof. With the seats up, there’s a slim 10.5 cubic feet.
The 188-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine is turbocharged and direct-injected, with 177 pound-feet of torque, but it’s maybe not as quick as it sounds. It can do zero to sixty in seven seconds, but it can still feel slow to accelerate in traffic, especially with the CVT. There might be times when you want more horsepower.
The Juke SV and SL models come with driving modes. On the freeway, it’s hard to drive smoothly in Eco, because it’s so slow you have to floor it to keep up with traffic. Normal seems a workable compromise, while in Sport you can feel the quicker throttle response and sharper steering.
The seating position is nice and high, but the center of gravity isn’t; balance-wise, it’s not your regular crossover. The steering is quick, responsive, and well-weighted, with feedback on the level of a sports car. But the suspension combines rigidity with long travel, so the Juke bounces and bounds, and doesn’t like rough roads. So the all-wheel drive isn’t about trail riding.
The all-wheel-drive rear suspension is independent, compared to the front-wheel drive’s torsion beam. When you push the Juke like a sports car, the CVT just drags it down, at the least by shifting on its own at all the wrong times for spirited driving.
If you need more speed, there is the Juke Nismo RS with 215 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque. It has the six-speed manual transmission, strengthened with more synchros for hard downshifts, and a limited-slip differential, to resist torque steer. It looks good in black, with red mirrors and a thin red trim line on the fascia and sills. It also has Recaro seats, along with tweaks to the suspension, aerodynamics, exhaust, and brakes with bigger front rotors.
The regular Nismo comes with the 6-speed gearbox with front-wheel drive, or CVT with all-wheel drive, and uses the same 188-horsepower version of the engine. But there are still nearly 100 revised components, including the same alloy wheels and aero parts as on the Nismo R.
The Nissan Juke is a small car with style. If the Juke fits, wear it.