The cars we loved.
What is it? The question comes to mind when you see the funky looking Nissan Juke for the first time in person. Its compact dimensions give it toy-like accessibility, yet the Juke can do many grown-up things in its role as a small crossover. Regardless of what the Juke is doing, the question of what is it always comes back. Is it a car, truck or small SUV-van thing? It tries to be all of those things and does a few of them rather well if a spacious interior is not your top priority.
The Juke design was oddly enough born in England and groomed in Japan as an answer to a question posed to those wanting a small efficient fun to drive vehicle that was not a SUV, pickup or traditional econo car. The “Qazana” concept vehicle, shown at the 2009 Geneva Motor Show was not too far off from the actual production model introduced in 2010 to the American market. Nissan’s global partner Renault would use the B platform as the basis for similarly funky looking cars like the Twingo, Clio and Nissan’s own monkey butt Cube. In America the concept of a small crossover vehicle began to take off with the Kia Soul in 2010, propelled in no small part by its cute rodent based advertising. It was as if someone suggested that funky was the new black and other strangely styled cars followed like the Hyundai Veloster. Before that most smaller crossovers were conventional looking appliances like the Honda CR-V. Was the second decade of the 21st century shaping up as the decade of funky style?
While the public was letting go of big SUV’s it was not completely willing to do so cold turkey as crossovers like the Juke promised SUV like utility on a smaller scale. There was seating for five and front or all-wheel drive utility for those who might have missed those virtues from SUV’s. As small near crossover like cars began to come to market, Nissan found a performance niche in the young market. And what a niche it developed. When the Juke came off the display stands of the auto show circuit and into dealerships in 2010, there were far more orders for them than Nissan had planned to produce, driving a demand that stretched from Arkansas to Armenia.
While the Juke was versatile, it was more so outside of the American market. There are multiple engine options, but stateside we have only one: a 1.6 L direct injection gasoline turbo that produces a healthy 188 hp. While the engine is small, it’s tuned more for performance more than economy with features like nano finished camshafts and twin variable valve timing. At just 32-33 mpg on the highway the Juke falls short as a fuel saver, but with optional torque vectoring AWD and rear multi-link suspension, it should be a lot of fun to drive. This is where Nissan has exploited and developed its niche.
With far more power than other fun boxes like the Kia Soul, the Juke puts its 188 hp to good use with snappy around town maneuverability and the ability to reach 60 mph in a bit over 8 seconds. Nissan ads seem to promote the performance aspects of their small crossover while they seemed to have abandoned those attributes in the Sentra, its traditional once sporty small car. Across the line all Jukes feature the same engine with only convenience and appearance options separating them. If you consider not shifting a convenience, the Juke offers a continuously variable transmission in lue of the standard automatic in lower end models. A 6-speed manual is available on the top of the line SL equipped with all-wheel drive. The leather clad,
moon roofed SL model is also the basis of a special edition trim level called the Stealth that comes in Midnight Black with colored keyed 18 inch wheels. Inside the tight cabin is decidedly less funky, but no less adventurous. The otherwise conventional control setup is highlighted by a console hump that Nissan claims was inspired by Italian motorcycles. It’s glossy metallic finish looks motorcycle like and frames the shifter nicely. The dash controls appear minimal and simplistic thanks to Nissan’s I-CON system, a centralized control and monitoring system that hides otherwise visible tactile buttons for car functions.
As is usually the case, there are other Jukes that take the performance theme much further but are off-limits to American buyers. With production centered on three points in Asia and the UK, it was bound to happen. Much of the forbidden fruit centers around engine choices that are more efficient, but appearance and high performance versions are on the horizon. For looks, there’s the Juke Nismo, a lowered, spoilered and ground effected monstrosity with 18in wheels that only a teen could love. Your local Nissan dealer could probably supply many of the parts for the determined local enthusiast. For the ultimate Juke junkie, Nissan promises that it’s Juke-R concept will make it to production. With only 21 planned for the 2013 model year, the Juke-R will use the GT-R’s 545 hp engine and other running gear. The combination of the Juke’s small size and that much power should make for a car that rivals the Skyline (in all but looks). Only the Jukes less than slippery aerodynamic profile will limit its ability to reach the GT-R’s 175 mph top speed. For now US Juke fans must settle for a 137 mph top speed from the standard engine.
Early sales numbers for the Juke have exceeded expectations, leading many to speculate that some future high performance model may reach US docks soon. The popularity of funky fun from the likes of the Juke, Soul and Voelster will fuel a growing brigade of quirky styled cars. Even GM has its version of a rat face runabout with the Spark. Currently the Juke seems to be a leader in the fashionably funky field of fun crossovers. Hopefully Nissan will endow its refreshed Sentra with some of the fun now associated with the Juke.