2013 Nissan Juke SLPosted on November 25th, 2012
Compact crossover for driving enthusiasts
By Nina Russin
Nissan has attracted legions of devotees through its development of unique niche products. The Xterra, Leaf, 370Z and GT-R are all models that appeal to relatively small groups of buyers. Think about it: small slices of a pie can have as much of an impact as one big one, assuming that there are enough of them.
This isn’t to ignore the significance of the popular Altima, but rather to explain that Nissan, while not the largest automaker, has much more depth than many people give the company credit for. The Juke compact crossover is yet another example of Nissan’s marketing finesse. Available in both front and all-wheel drive platforms, the Juke stands apart from the crowd with its funky styling, an available manual transmission and exceptionally good fuel economy: up to 32 miles-per-gallon on the highway.
Its styling alone means that the Juke is not for everyone, but for some buyers, it’s the perfect machine: affordable, versatile, fun to drive, and with enough ground clearance to work well in snowy weather.
The Juke is small enough to fit into parking spaces on the street, yet has enough room inside for five passengers and their gear. If I still lived in Chicago where winter is ferocious and parking spots are at a premium, I would seriously consider buying a Nissan Juke.
Priced from $20,000
Pricing for the base model starts at $19,900, excluding the $780 delivery charge. The upscale SL front-wheel drive model tested with a manual transmission begins at $24,000.
Standard comfort and convenience features on the test car include keyless entry and start, leather upholstery with front seat heaters, navigation with rearview camera, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface and a Rockford Fosgate audio system.
A sport package adds special 17-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler and stainless steel exhaust, bringing the MSRP to $26,555. For anyone living in snowy areas, the stainless exhaust makes this option a worthwhile investment.
Peppy turbocharged engine
It’s hard to believe that a 1.6-liter engine could produce enough power for a 3000-pound crossover, but in this case, it does. Direct injection delivers gasoline directly into the engine cylinders rather than passing through the valves.
Turbocharging adds extra boost at wide-open throttle for better acceleration, and reduces power loss at altitude. I’m sorry to see that the all-wheel drive Juke is not available with the six-speed manual transmission, because it is really the car’s ace-in-the-hole from a performance stance.
Small engines need to rev high to produce power. Having the manual transmission makes it easy to keep the engine in its sweet spot, without a huge sacrifice in terms of gas mileage.
Test drive in Arizona
I spent the past week behind the wheel of the Juke, driving it around the Phoenix metropolitan area as well as through the Gila River Indian reservation southeast of town. While I have to admit that the exterior styling doesn’t exactly grab me, I have come to enjoy the Juke more and more each time I get into the driver’s seat.
Although the Juke has a tall, truck-style gearshift lever, performance from the manual gearbox is more like that of a sports car, with quick, crisp gear changes. The clutch pedal is light enough to be workable in rush-hour traffic, and there is plenty of range in the gears to prevent the driver from having to shift constantly in urban areas.
Visibility to the back is not particularly good due to the car’s thick rear pillars. The rearview camera eliminates these blind spots, as well as those below the rear glass. Over-the-shoulder visibility is adequate, though not exceptional. I had no problems monitoring traffic when merging onto the highway, but had to strain to see around the B-pillar to check on vehicles in adjacent lanes.
The Juke has a high cowl, which might limit forward visibility for smaller drivers. Being a front-wheel drive platform, most of the vehicle mass is up front. This combined with the car’s high center of gravity and relatively short wheelbase makes it somewhat unstable in the corners.
I had no problems at average speeds on dry pavement, but drivers pushing the envelope in wet weather might notice a tendency towards understeer. A torque vectoring feature on the all-wheel drive platform gives the driver better control under these conditions.
The variable-assist electric power steering system offers good response at all speeds. An I-CON drive select feature allows the driver to switch between normal and sport modes, for quicker response during aggressive driving. The Juke’s 36.4-foot turning circle makes U-turns a possibility on wider suburban roads.
The suspension consists of independent struts up front with a torsion bar rear for the front-wheel drive model, and multi-links in back for the all-wheel drive car. The multi-link suspension gives second-row passengers a more compliant ride than the torsion bar set-up, adding additional appeal to the all-wheel drive model.
Inside, the Juke has a remarkably spacious interior for a car with a 99.6-inch wheelbase. Buttons on the door handles enable the driver to unlock and enter the car as long as he has the key fob. A push button on the dashboard fires the ignition.
I found the manual seat controls easy to use. The seat heaters are a nice benefit not typically found on cars in this price range.
A small center stack screen displays radio, navigation and vehicle information. Redundant cruise and audio controls on the steering wheel minimize driver distraction.
Access to the second-row seats is somewhat restricted by the Juke’s large wheel wells. Because of this, and limited head and legroom, the area is best for smaller adults.
Designers did a good job of including plenty of cup and bottle holders for both rows of passengers. USB and auxiliary ports are located at the base of the center stack. The standard sunroof brings additional light inside the vehicle and increases the impression of spaciousness.
Rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern to extend the cargo floor, making the Juke bicycle-friendly.
The Nissan Juke comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock braking, traction and stability control. A rear wiper and tire pressure monitoring are standard on all models.
The compact Juke is on display at Nissan dealerships nationwide.
Like: The Nissan Juke is an affordable, fun-to-drive compact crossover with a versatile interior, making it a good choice for urbanites with active lifestyles.
Dislike: Front-wheel drive model tends to push during aggressive cornering.
Model: Juke SL FWD M/T Year: 2013
Base price: $24,000
As tested: $26,555
Horsepower: 188 Hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 177 lbs.-ft. @ 2000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 25/31 mpg city/highway
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