No American automaker would have the nerve to style anything like the controversial-looking, oddly named Nissan Juke.
Based on the proven Nissan Versa platform, the new four-door hatchback crossover has a slightly raised body with "hidden" rear door handles," bulging fenders over big 17-inch wheels, high beltline, pinched tail and a coupe-like "falling" roofline.
But most will notice the Juke's front end, which looks as if it came from four people who never saw what each other was doing.
Cars with controversial styling aren't new-just look at the 1948-50 Gatso from the Netherlands with it transparent "bubble" roof and a central headlight in the radiator grille. Never heard of it? Just as well. How about the far more widely known 1965 British Jensen, which had offbeat front styling, to say the least. And don't forget those limited-production fiberglass sports and race cars from "designers" who found that the then-new fiberglass material could be used to make all sorts of body shapes.
But the funky Juke's appearance grew on me. For one thing, it doesn't look like anything on the road. It's definitely a younger person's car, certainly not one for introverts. Rivals include the Mazda3, Scion tC and Mini Cooper.
The Juke is a blast to drive. Credit much of the car's fun factor to its generally smooth, fairly quiet 1.6-liter direct injection turbocharged 16-valve engine. It has nearly imperceptible turbo lag and generates 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque.
Available are a six-speed manual transmission sold only with front-drive or a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). A sophisticated all-wheel drive (AWD) system is on most of the eight versions of the car.
The 0-60 mph time is 7 to 8 seconds, and the 65-80 mph passing time is brisk, despite the fact that the Juke isn't especially light for its engine size at approximately 2,900- to 3,200 pounds.
Estimated fuel economy tops out at 27 mpg in the city and 32 on highways with front-drive CVT versions and dips to 24 and 31 with the six-speed manual. Premium fuel is called for.
Also salute the Integrated Control system,which lets a driver select Normal mode for everyday driving, Sport for a more intense performance feel and Eco for maximum efficiency. The system adjusts throttle response, transmission mapping and power steering boost. The AWD versions have a switch by the driver's left knee to select among the three modes.
The ride is firm, but fairly supple. The best selection is Normal mode for most driving, although Sport mode brings quicker throttle response and higher-effort steering. The Juke has quick steering, agile handling and good-feeling anti-lock brakes. The responsive CVT has an easily used manual-shift feature.
The Juke lists from $18,960 for the front-drive S model with the CVT to $24,550 for the SL AWD version with the CVT. I drove the near-top-line $22,260 SV with AWD and the CVT.
The AWD system consumes some trunk space but splits torque up to 50:50 between front and rear wheels and also can split torque from side-to-side across the rear axle. When cornering, the system helps reduce understeer and enhances the Juke's cornering feel.
Options include leather-appointed seats, rearview monitor, push-button ignition and a navigation system.
Standard safety features include six air bags and vehicle dynamic control.
Visibility is good from the driver's seat, and outside mirrors are commendably large. The Juke has easily read major gauges, but smaller digital displays for such things as the fuel level are hard to read in sunlight. The console is inspired by a motorcycle fuel tank and cupholders are well-placed. Doors have storage areas for items and bottles, and the glove compartment is roomy. However, there's a lot of hard interior plastic.
It's roomy up front, but a 6-footer with long legs will find himself cramped behind the driver. A tall rear outboard passenger has a little more space, but the center of the rear seat is too stiff for comfort.
The cargo opening is low and wide, and split rear seatbacks fold flat to make room for more items.
Yank the hood release and you hear a tinny sound and then must use a prop rod to hold open the hood. But fluid filler areas can be easily reached.
The Juke was mainly designed for the European market, where all sorts of small cars are bought, but I can see a fair number of Americans falling for this little charmer.