As the SUV craze has waned somewhat, just about every car company has tried to come up with some kind of variation on the same old box that many have become tired of, while keeping the functionality in the process. From larger van-like crossovers to boxy compacts, there are lots of things with built-in usefulness yet lots of personality.
Nissan is the latest company to enter the fray, with a sporty SUV-like car that they named Juke. Yes, like the jukebox, that illuminated party machine that plays tunes on request after coins or bills are deposited into it. This car with a slightly odd name is actually a practical compact sedan underneath, though nobody who sees it has to know that. To them, it can just be that funky, cute car which at first glance appears to be a coupe.
It’s actually a four door, with the handles for the two rear doors kind of hidden in the bodywork. The sloping roofline combines with this pseudo-coupe theme to make the Juke seem like a sporty compact car that got some kind of lift kit installed.
Think of the Juke as Nissan’s answer to the successful Scion line from Toyota – vehicle that’s a little bit of an oddball at first glance, but with an economy car sticker price and fuel efficiency. True, Nissan already has the aptly-named Cube as its real Scion copycat, so the Juke is kind of Act II.
One thing that makes it stand out against the likes of the Scions, the Kia Soul and even the Cube is a standard performance-oriented engine. A smooth, turbocharged 1.6 liter four cylinder scoots the little car around quite nicely. One little fly in the ointment is what’s known as torque steer, which I experienced in a front wheel drive manual transmission example I took on a brief drive some weeks back. That’s the sensation of the car pulling itself to the side as the engine accelerates hard, with a firm grip on the steering wheel necessary to keep it pointed straight ahead.
But the version I more recently got to sample for a few days had all wheel drive and Nissan’s much improved CVT automatic. With all four wheels helping get the boosted engine’s 188 horsepower to the ground, the torque steer was almost non-existent. And the continuously variable transmission does a great job of being very efficient, yet also feeling like a conventional automatic when sporty driving is your wish.
Along those lines, selecting the “sport” setting on the drive mode selector allows both the engine management system and transmission to offer better response and performance, while the two other modes — normal and economy – are available for when you just want to commute or save as much fuel as possible, respectively.
The Juke does in fact make a great commuter car. The front seats are plenty comfortable (leather trimmed in my SL grade test car) and offer lots of adjustments. The rear seat? Not so much, as with both front perches pushed all the way back there’s very little leg room for anyone sitting behind them. Better to think of the Juke as a two-seater with lots of room for belongings and cargo.
Base price for the 2011 Juke is $18,960, and that’s for a fair amount of standard equipment like 17” wheels, CVT automatic and Bluetooth phone connectivity. Even my loaded-up AWD example came in at a reasonable $24,550.
Just like a jukebox, the Juke offers lots of fun for the relatively small amount of money you’ll put into it.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.