2014 Nissan Juke
MSRP
$19,170 - $28,120
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Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

New Nismo model adds sportiness to lineup.

Introduction

The compact economy crossover all-wheel-drive segment consists of the Nissan Juke. It used to include the pioneering Suzuki SX-4, but Suzuki has left the country and took the SX-4 with them. Take out the word economy and you could add the Mini Countryman that's the same size as the Juke. Maybe the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, but it's larger. There are others that might be considered, from the Honda Fit to Ford Fiesta to Kia Soul, but they're not all-wheel-drive crossovers. They're competitors for the base Juke with front-wheel drive. 

Juke has fun styling, sharp performance, and decent cargo space. It's fun car to drive, in a jaunty, engaging way. The name Juke suggests flitting around town, as a boxer might juke around the ring, and it does just that. It uses a 1.6-liter turbocharged direct-injection engine that makes 188 horsepower with 177 pound-feet of torque, and provides quick acceleration around town. It's a great car for running errands, hauling small stuff, jumping in and out, and parking in tight places. It hugs winding roads with its responsive steering. But with its short wheelbase and big 17-inch wheels, you feel the bumps. 

Nissan calls the Juke a sport cross, as in crossover between an SUV and sports car. It's built on the Versa platform, but for the sake of sport it's 7 inches shorter and 3 inches wider than the Versa hatchback. It's popular with folks who like eye-catching design. It's been described as looking like an Australian jumping spider, and it's been called the Lady Gaga of compact crossovers. 

It hasn't changed much in its three years, although in late 2013 the racy Nismo model was added, bringing action to those sport cross words. The Nismo offers 100 tweaks, including ECU re-mapping that increases the horsepower and torque a bit, a 10 percent stiffer suspension, and a cool presence with hot-looking 18-inch alloy wheels, a spoiler and more. Inside, there's synthetic suede trim with red stitching, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with shift knob. 

The Juke is offered in four trim levels counting the Nismo, with either front- or all-wheel drive, and a 5-speed manual transmission or 6-step CVT. The all-wheel-drive system divides the torque 50-50 front/rear, and can move the torque between left and right wheels to meet traction demands. 

The Juke seats five, but don't count on more than four for actually going anywhere. The standard rear seat is a fold-flat 60/40, so there's good cargo space behind the front seat, the easiest way to use Juke. 

The comfortable front seats are covered with a sporty fabric in the SV and impressive leather in the SL, with classy synthetic suede trim in the Nismo. The center console design is inspired by a motorcycle gas tank, and its hard plastic trim is painted a glossy silver or deep metallic red. It's distinctive and way cool. Center armrest, however, is optional. 

The fuel mileage with front-wheel drive and CVT is rated at 27 city/ 32 highway, and with all-wheel drive it's 2 mpg less. In 390 miles of driving with an all-wheel-drive Nismo, including freeway, around-town and a couple of spirited backroads runs with frequent full throttle, we averaged 25.8 mpg. The bad news is that premium gasoline is recommended. 

The continuously variable transmission, or CVT, is a good one. It can be used like an automatic, shifted into Drive and forgotten, or shifted manually with six speed ranges. However, in the awd Nismo at least, the CVT isn't sporty enough, because it does too much on its own. A 6-speed manual gearbox is available for models with front-wheel drive. The manual transmission wrings out the quickest acceleration and is the most fun for this car, but the front-wheel drive transmits torque steer and allows understeer. What the Juke needs is all-wheel drive with a manual transmission. Then we'd agree with Nissan and call it a sport cross. 

Lineup

The Nissan Juke is available with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive and a 6-speed manual or CVT automatic. All Jukes are powered by a 188-horspepower, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Standard equipment includes halogen headlamps, air conditioning, power windows, power locks and mirrors, 17-inch wheels, 6-way driver's and 4-way passenger's manual seats, AM/FM/CD sound system with steering wheel controls, Bluetooth, speed-sensing electric power steering, and 60/40 fold-flat rear seat. 

Juke S ($18,990) comes with the CVT, cloth upholstery, air conditioning, power windows, power locks and mirrors, cruise control, 17-inch alloy wheels and a six-speaker stereo with single CD, XM satellite radio hardware, auxiliary input jack and Bluetooth connectivity. The Juke S AWD ($20,990 adds the all-wheel drive system, which comes with the CVT in all trim levels. 

Juke SV ($20,990) comes with the six-speed manual gearbox, although the CVT is available ($21,990). The SV AWD with the CVT is $23,690. The SV adds upgraded fabric upholstery, power moonroof, rear privacy glass, automatic temperature control, proximity key with pushbutton ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and the integrated control (I-CON) system with Sport, Normal and Eco modes for programming engine, transmission and steering response. 

Juke SL FWD ($24,290) with manual transmission, and SL AWD ($25,590) with CVT, add leather, navigation, heated front seats, rearview camera and foglights. The front-drive SL comes standard with the manual while the CVT is available. ($500). Options include a Midnight Edition ($1200) that includes sexy black alloy wheels, black spoiler and mirrors; and a Sport Package ($1,350) that adds a rear spoiler, stainless steel exhaust finisher and gunmetal wheels. 

The Juke Nismo offers powertrains like the SV model, with FWD ($22,990) using a 6-speed manual gearbox and AWD ($25,290) using the CVT. Nismo tuning increases horsepower to 197 and torque to 184 foot-pounds, adds 18 alloy wheels with 225/45R18 summer tires, and stiffens the suspension. Outside, there's a tweaked grille and spoiler, and LED accent lights. Inside, there are sport seats with more bolstering and synthetic suede trim with red stitching, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and a sportier tachometer. 

Safety equipment on all Jukes includes front-impact airbags, front passenger side-impact airbags, full cabin head protection curtains, Nissan's Vehicle Dynamic Control, or stability control, antilock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), and a tire-pressure monitor. The rearview camera is available only on the SL. 

Walkaround

The Nissan Juke is a functional, practical package in a compact vehicle that stands out in the crowd for its styling, heavy on the humps. It couldn't be called pretty, but it definitely turns heads. Women especially think it's cute, in an ugly duckling sort of way; in fact, it's become a chick's car, call it the Miata of SUV's. But there's nothing girlish about the Midnight Edition, which looks plenty macho with its 17-inch black Wheels, black spoiler and dark tinted glass. 

The design shouts originality. Raked windshield, high beltline, broad shoulders, roundish nose, low bugeye headlamps inspired by rally lights, with round foglights in the air dam. Amber running lights and turn signals are slapped onto big-arched fenders, a brilliant effect whether you like it or not. Rarely have turns signals so shaped the look of a car. 

High ground clearance hints at Monster truck. Aggressively edged fender flares hang over standard big 17-inch wheels that still don't fill the wheel arches. The 18-inch wheels with summer tires on our Nismo did, though; its black paint swallowed the gap. 

There's a family resemblance to the Nissan Murano and Infiniti FX, and even the Infiniti G sedan. The taillights borrow their boomerang shape from the Nissan 370Z sports car. The vertical door handles hide in the pillars, so it looks like a two-door. 

The available Midnight Edition, black everything including dramatic spoked wheels, makes it look really hot. It looks beautiful in 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

The Juke offers more comfort and space than its compact exterior suggests. The seats are just right in the standard rugged fabric, and marvelous in the Nismo's perforated cloth (with suede door trim and steering wheel). The fabric looks best in dark charcoal, and the leather is terrific in rich brown. There's good bolstering to keep the driver's body in place, although the suspension allows upper body sway. 

Overall, it's a nice driver's cabin. The gearshift is high and the seat is high, making the car feel bigger in the world, and enabling the driver to see over the tops of the big round fenders with their bugeye turn signals. There's more good visibility in the mirror, as the rear glass looks small from the outside, but it fills the rearview mirror. 

Naturally there isn't much legroom in the rear seat, only 32.1 inches. The Juke is a 5-seater, but three people in the back seat will be squeezed in every direction but up, and maybe that too. So the Juke works great for one or two people, with the 60/40 seats folded flat and the rear doors to access stuff. With the seats up, there is 10.5 cubic feet of cargo space in the hatch, comparable to a fairly small trunk. 

However there's 35.9 cubic feet of cargo space with the 60/40 rear seat folded flat, which it does with one touch. That's more than the Nissan Versa hatchback, but quite a bit less than the Kia Soul (50.4 cubic feet) and way less than the Honda Fit (57.3). Closer to the Mini Countryman (41.3). 

Front-wheel-drive Jukes have a couple more cubic feet of storage in a bin under the load floor. On the awd Juke, the space is used by suspension and drive bits. 

Disappointingly, the door panels and dash covering are hard, scratchy and hollow-sounding. The trim is hard glossy plastic, painted silver or candy-apple red; it looks great and has been well-received. 

The gauges have clear black faces with white lettering and red needles, with brushed aluminum-like rings around the speedometer and tach. In the Nismo, the tack turns red at 6000 rpm, which in our opinion is just stupid. Trip info is digitally displayed in a little window between them, but to scroll through the items you have to reach around behind the steering wheel to a small dial, and that's quite distracting–some will stick their arm through the steering wheel to reach it. It's been that way for four model years, and we think Nissan should fix it. Some cars have info scroll on the steering wheel. 

The center stack is beautifully big and wide, squarish with rounded corners. At the top sits the audio system or the 5-inch navigation screen. The buttons, knobs and dials are all easy to use, including climate control on base models, or the I-CON (for integrated controls) system on all other Juke models. I-CON is like a central command, with different display colors and functions, depending on the mode it's in. A screen shows useless information, from g forces to eco scorecards. 

The shape of the center console was inspired by a motorcycle gas tank. It's lovely and adds contour and color to the car's interior. The console is a shapely tube, painted rich and glossy in candy-apple or silver. Sharing the space between the seats, there's an E-brake lever, two cupholders, a coin holder and a stash bin. 

Driving Impression

The Nissan Juke steers nicely in most circumstances, with accuracy and quick response, and it hugs every bit of the road. The standard big 17-inch wheels use tires with a large footprint, 215/55 tires. The 1.6-liter turbocharged engine accelerates convincingly up to 6400 rpm, where the rev limiter gently chokes the engine. There's an exciting surge at 3500 rpm, and not much torque down low (the specs say otherwise, but our butt's not lying). Eighty miles per hour is a casual 2600 rpm, with a tall sixth step in the CVT transmission. 

As for the Nismo, our driving impressions are memorable. We had a blast on our favorite fantastic untraveled road. But we'll jump to the deal-breaker. The Nismo needs a manual transmission to go with its all-wheel drive, but Nissan says it's not gonna happen. We didn't drive the front-wheel-drive Nismo, but others have and they report that the torque steer is strong. 

The CVT is fine for around town and in the other Juke models, but in the Nismo, a CVT doesn't meet the demands. It tries, and it's not bad for a CVT, but it can't keep up. The CVT steals some life from the spirited engine. At the least, there should be paddles. 

The front-wheel-drive Juke SL comes standard with the six-speed gearbox, and so does the fwd Nismo, but the Nismo needs its all-wheel drive, which does an almost unbelievable job in ending torque steer and understeer. It uses what's called torque vectoring, a 50-50 split from front to rear, and also between the left or right wheels, as needed. This system can rotate the vehicle through a curve and keep it tracking on the path determined by the steering. 

In street terms, we could not get that sucker to push, pitching it into slow corners and hammering the throttle coming out, on its beefy 225/45R18 summer tires. One downside to all-wheel drive is a smaller fuel tank because the awd components need the space; only 11.8 gallons compared to 13.2 in the fwd, so there's about 40 less miles in a tank of gas. 

Don't get us wrong about the CVT; except for our wanting it to overachieve in the Nismo, it's really good, with smooth kickdowns and six sharp steps in manual mode (well, the step between second and third is kind of tall). It's not terribly obedient in manual mode, and it's slow to figure out your driving technique in changing conditions, but still, for a CVT it's progress. Some CVTs still feel like a big rubber band. 

And the manual has its drawbacks. For one thing, there's torque steer (a sideways tug on the steering wheel) that doesn't exist with the CVT; and for another, this particular six-speed isn't a crisp one, so it makes the Juke feel bigger because it responds slower. And the manual transmission transmits more engine noise. But wait, that's a good thing in the Juke. 

The I-CON system, standard in all but the base Juke S, gives you three modes: Eco, Normal and Sport, that change the settings for available power, CVT, and steering effort. Sport mode makes the gas pedal more responsive, sharpens the CVT and quickens the steering. In Eco mode, the gas pedal is way less responsive, the transmission works to optimize fuel economy rather than acceleration, and the cornering gets duller. Don't expect immediate acceleration on a freeway in Eco mode, although you could hum along at 65 mph with the cruise control set, no worries. And if you're lightfooting it around town, Eco mode is great. 

In any car with a short wheelbase, the cabin is going to feel the bumps. In the Juke, they're not sharp or harsh, but they are plentiful. A couple hours on a rough freeway, and you'll know it. But overall, the ride is good, and the Juke isn't uncomfortable in rough spots. We loved those Nismo seats. 

Summary

The Nissan Juke is unique as an all-wheel-drive (or fwd) compact crossover with distinctive fun styling, sharp sporty performance, and good cargo space. The interior is tidy and sporty, with rugged and comfortable fabric seats. The zippy turbocharged 1.6-liter engine brings about 25 mpg. 

NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses contributed to this report. 

Model Lineup

Nissan Juke S CVT FWD ($18,990), Juke S CVT AWD ($20,990), Juke SV 6MT FWD ($20,990), Juke SV CVT FWD ($21,990, Juke SV CVT AWD ($23,690), Juke SL 6MT FWD ($24,290), Juke SL CVT FWD ($24,790), Juke SL CVT AWD $25,590), Juke Nismo FWD ($22,990), Nismo AWD ($25,290). 

Assembled In

Japan. 

Options As Tested

Nismo carpeted floor mats ($215); Center armrest ($245); Navigation, premium audio system, rearview camera ($1170). 

Model Tested

Nissan Juke Nismo AWD ($25,290). 

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