2011 Nissan Juke Review

2011 Nissan Juke - Nissan Juke stands out in a crowd of subcompacts.


Just when Nissan's showroom looked filled to capacity; yet another new model finds its way to center stage.

Compact and subcompact vehicles have evolved into hot commodities as fuel economy targets grow and value purchases remain paramount in a volatile economy. Already, Nissan boasts the subcompact Versa, compact Sentra, compact Rogue five-door crossover and cubesque Cube, a subcompact five-door casting a box-like silhouette.  For off-road enthusiasts, Nissan offers the compact Xterra sport utility and arriving later this fall to Chicago dealers, the highly-anticipated, all-electric-powered Leaf.

Well, Nissan's not through proving big news comes in small packages.  All new for the 2011 model year is Juke, another subcompact five-door entry that's best described as anti-cubesque.  A polarizing, (either one likes it or doesn't) exterior some say resembles a bug-eyed tad pole readying to pounce on the evening's dinner.

While Versa and Juke classify as subcompacts, they're intended for distinct tastes; the former appealing to vanilla palettes with the latter gearing towards pralines and cream.

The sole engine powering all Juke trims (S, SV and SL) is a 1.6 liter, four cylinder with direct gas injection turbo technology providing an impressive 188 horsepower.  Direct gas injection refines the conventional fuel injection process by directly maneuvering high-pressure fuel into the combustion chamber of each cylinder (rather than pre-mixing with incoming air in an inlet port). Turbo charging reuses engine exhaust to rotate a turbine connected to a compressor which pressurizes the air for  direct gas injection. Benefits of these dual technologies include increased fuel economy and a higher power output.  Juke's relative light weight and generous horsepower combines with tight handling characteristics and speed-sensitive electric power assist steering for a very un-subcompact like driving experience along the Northwest Tollway.

Compare Juke's 188 horses with the 122 generated by Nissan's own subcompact Versa and Cube (a 1.8-liter, naturally aspirated four cylinder) and Juke becomes the one enthusiasts all scream for.  Direct gas injection helps mitigate 'turbo lag,' a hesitation sometimes experienced with a turbo engine when drivers summon the accelerator pedal for added power. Nissan's direct injection gas turbo is similar thinking to what Ford Motor Company markets as Eco Boost engines.

Front drive or all-wheel drive is available. Juke also offers a choice of manual transmission or continuously variable transmission (CVT) providing an infinite number of gear ratios without feeling the sensation of up or down shift 'jolt.' Nissan's was one of the first major automakers to roll out CVT on a large-volume basis and has a great handle on this technology.  Six-speed manual transmission is offered on front-wheel-drive SV and SL trims.

Our all-wheel drive tester with CVT transmission registered 25 mpg city and 30 mpg highway which resonates well, but it's not the segment topper. Keep in mind Juke recommends higher-priced, slower burning premium fuel (for the 13.2-galon tank) to keep direct injected gas advancements running a peak performance.

Rivals including the all-new 2011 compact Chevrolet Cruze and Ford's 2011 subcompact Fiesta have dug deep to squeeze every ounce of fuel economy out of their respected four cylinders.  Cruze's six-speed manual Eco trim reaches 40 miles per gallon highway while Fiesta with dual clutch, power shift automatic transmission averages 38 mpg.

With a $22,260 starting price, the bottom line of our SV all-wheel-drive tester added up to $24,260 with $750 destination charge.  Extras included carpeted floor mats ($170), illuminated kick plates ($280) and $800 navigation package with upgraded speaker and USB port for portable electronics.  The navigation package (the only option grouping Juke offers) is available only in SV trims. The lowest-priced Juke, a front-drive S with CVT starts at $19,570. Options are lean since standard features are plentiful and now almost expected, a growing phenomena in compacts and subcompacts. The top-level SL comes with heated front seats and in-dash navigation standard.

Rear doors incorporate hidden pull-type handles high atop the side window black molding of the curvaceous side door, contrasting nicely with strap-like front handles. When opened, a narrow entryway awaits row two.  With 60/40 split seat backs folding flat onto the cushions once tabs atop back get yanked up, the back best accommodates two adults, three just wouldn't cut it for long treks.  While seats in back were deemed comfortable and tush-friendly by guest test subjects, those six-feet and taller may find head room compromising because of the roof's rear-sloping projectory.

Inside, the black interior, with brushed aluminum nuances joins bright red accents on doors and the center floor console.  Manual sliding front bucket seats also include a twinge of red weave. Dual cup holders reside behind the floor-mounted transmission.  The dashboard's vertical center console featured the optional, relatively small, five-inch color, user-friendly navigation screen with built in audio controls. Below resides the ventilation system with two dials; one for temperature the other, fan speed. Push buttons monitor fan direction. Between push buttons is a window displaying graphics of temperature and speed. Directly under the bulge-out center console is a USB port and 12-volt power outlet for portable electronics.

The instrument panel borrows a 'here's looking at you' theme with two large, circular analog gauges shielded from the sun by a double hump brow. A "Y-shaped" digital message window squeezes in between. A pull-release lever unlocking the fuel door is under dash on the far left side, a better location to the floor. The top center of the dash is home to the circular, hazard button, easy to locate when time is of the essence. Circular air vents are found at each end while vertical styles flank the navigation screen. No ignition key is needed in SV and SL trims as Juke opts for a push button start as long as the brake is engaged  and electronic key fob resides on the person, pocket or purse of an occupant.

Cloth front bucket seats (leather is standard in top SL trims) situate relatively high, at comfortable entry and exit points.  Some subcompacts offer a sitting position mimicking a bathtub experience. While small, the interior is welcoming.  Both an octogenarian and a nineteen-year-old commented favorably about color schemes and comfort. Behind the second row, a relatively small 10.5 cubic feet of space is available.  With the 60/40 split back seats folded, the cave opens up to 35.9 cubic feet.

Juke incorporates an on-the-prowl presence. Long, narrow, bulging turn signal housing flanks the hood high atop flared front fenders while circular, headlights below sink into the grille.  Back side windows narrow to an arrow-head shape while body overhang fore and aft of arched wheel wells is minimal. Front fenders include small circular side blinkers helping alert other road warriors of your intention. Check-mark shaped tail light housing climbs up the sides of the manually-operating rear hatch (with standard wiper) which when opened, allows surprisingly ample clearance for those six-feet, two-inches and shorter. Moon roofs are standard in SV and SL trims.

Juke delivers a welcome array of standard safety nuances including brake assist, traction control, anti-lock brakes and a host of inflatable safety buffers  like roof-mounted side air bags, dual threshold front air bags and seat-mounted side air bags for front seat occupants.

At a glance:

2011 Nissan Juke

Price as tested:  $24,260

Engine:  1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder

Horsepower:  188

Fuel estimates:  25 city/30 highway

Length:   162.4 inches

Wheelbase:   99.6 inches

Curb weight:   3,183 pounds

Assembly:  Oppama, Japan

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.