4 Oct
Will America fall in love...or scratch its head?

Nissan invited Lost In a Supermarket up to Vancouver to testdrive their brand spanking new Juke, and this is the results…

Oh how I ponder your star-crossed fate, Nissan Juke. While I stare at your curious “crocodile” headlights, mounted high on your raised fenders and separated by feet of steel from your grill, I wonder what whimsical designer might have dreamt you up, and what possibly intoxicated executive rubber stamped you into existence. I also welcome your curious presence — as a gearhead who laments the grand blandification of the automobile landscape, I’m gleefully encouraged by the bravery that brought you forth. I only wonder one thing: will Underdog America greet you as the quirky, fun sub-compact crossover it’s been waiting for, and welcome you into its garages like a vehicular Michael Cera? Or will Close-minded America point at you mockingly, laugh at your obvious curiosities and leave your sales numbers flat-lined like the employment rate? Only time will tell.

It’s noteworthy to mention that the Juke was primarily designed by Nissan’s European studio where the subcompact crossover market is booming. So as it was built for Europe and China, Nissan’s decision to bring the car here — where its nascent segment is only finding its way — is a measured gamble.

Truth be told, the Juke is at its essence a very solid vehicle. Part of the growing sub-compact crossover market, which is essentially a smaller, lower version of compact crossovers (think Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson and Nissan’s own Rogue), the Juke is more of a raised-up car than a compact SUV (it shares its underpinnings with the diminutive Nissan Versa). As it is higher than a car, the Juke has good seating position with great overall visibility. Ergonomically it is sound: its shifter position is right where it should be, the controls are easy to read and smartly located, and the center console is shaped to emulate a motorcycle tank and painted in a glossy contrast color. In our case our graphite gray’s car sported a sparkly ruby red console, adding more flair to an already quirky vehicle.

Hit the Jump to continue reading the Nissan Juke: Unlocked test drive…

All images by Robert Kerian for Lost In a Supermarket

“The Juke is a zippy, tight-handling car that performs much better on winding roads than one would possibly guess…”

Performance-wise the Juke is surprisingly peppy. Driving through the wood-lined roads of the Sechelt Peninsula, only miles from the oldest closed-canopy temperate rain forests in Canada, the car is nimble, handling corners much tighter than expected. For the ride up we have a manual transmission, and for the ride back a CVT — for those unawares, a CVT (Continuously Variable automatic Transmission) is an automatic that winds steadily and continuously, unlike traditional automatics that shift in gears. Needless to say, the manual is much preferred to the somewhat sluggish CVT. Our Juke also comes with the Integrated Control drive-mode selector (I-CON), which is standard on SV and SL models, but optional on the base S model. Depending on how you drive, you can set the D (“Drive”) Mode to either Sport, Normal or Eco, and the I-CON will adjust accordingly.

In the SPORT mode, steering effort tightens, gets sportier. The gearing tightens as well, revving higher. And the throttle injects more fuel into the cylinders with same amount of push, which gives the Juke a potent torque on the low end of the RPM band — the results being a zippy, tight handling car that performs much better on winding roads than one would possibly guess.

The Eco setting has its own contrasting benefits, adjusting to lower shifts and pumping less gas with the throttle. Its climate control also uses more re-circulated air (as opposed to fresh air) to temper the thirsty petrol-sucking of the air conditioning. Of course this is a press trip with free gas, so our time playing around in the Eco mode was limited.

Nissan’s brand new 1.6-liter turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder is the brand’s only turbo-charged engine outside of the GT-R, and will surely be making its way into other vehicles in its line-up. It generates a respectable 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, while promising excellent fuel efficiency (24/31 mpg city/highway with manual and front-wheel drive, 27/32 with the CVT and front-drive, and 25/30 with the CVT and AWD). Its manual transmission is a 6-speed — the 6th gear adding a true overdrive which provides a relaxed and comfortable 80 mph cruise, with no pressure or pushing of the car. Considering it has an open compartment in the back (although marketed as an “anti-hatchback”) the cabin noise good, running quietly.

The peppy and (possibly) misunderstood Juke in action…

“Long story short the Nissan Juke is quite simply one of the most polarizing cars I’ve ever witnessed…”

Now for the shortcomings. First off, Nissan recommends premium gas for its turbo-charged engine, otherwise deposits build in the valves and effect performance. Premium gas also obviously optimizes efficiency which partly explains its admirable mileage numbers. But seeing as the car is aimed at young, first-time car buyers, the question pops: is this extra expense a price they’ll be willing to pay weekly at the pump…?

Also Nissan’s marketing seems way off, as they’re strategizing a program aimed at young males in the market for a car like the Mini Cooper or a used BMW 3-series. Do I see a man who’s in the market for a 3-series or Mini being lured by the Juke? Unlikely. When on the ferry crossing to Vancouver Island we witnessed a man and his wife walking around the car, and the wife was clearly enamored. “I love it! It’s so cute!” she gushed as she got into the driver’s seat and started tinkering around. “I love the shiny metal console!” From behind the car, however, her husband seemed considerably less amused. “It’s a bit weird,” he scowled, and then pointed to its 370Z-lifted “Boomerang” taillights. “But I dig the Z taillights.” Although clearly a small sample bias, I see the Juke appealing much more to young women and empty nesters than young strapping men eyeing a Bimmer. I will say this though: market a car to a woman and no man will ever look at it again. Market a car strongly to men and it will raise the eyebrow of many an ambitious young woman. So who knows, maybe it’s marketing genius.

Another big shortcoming is the Juke’s “crocodile” headlights, which seem out of place and jarring, disturbing the otherwise strong shoulders of the car. Yes they partly give the car its distinctive quirky looks, but I frankly don’t like them. At all. In fact if removed, and just the large round fog lights were kept and adapted to headlights, the Juke would have a much sportier, smarter, almost classic Fiat-like looks. There are also some intersecting body lines where the top of the rear door meets the C-pillar that just look messy. Then there is this bowtie-looking sun guard that covers the gauges over the steering wheel, which instead of blending into the dashboard sits on top of it like a disjointed Tucker Carlson accessory. There are holes so you can see the windshield through it, so much so that it looks superfluous. To me, it just looks sloppy. Now some people may like or even love these quirks — these complaints are purely aesthetic, and therefore subjective. But for someone who appreciates simple, elegant lines and clean design, the Juke will definitely be a visual Indian burn.

[Side note: It’s not that the Juke is ugly, far from it. From many angles the car is quite attractive, such as the ¾ perspective from behind. The wide set wheels and broad haunches give the Juke a very muscular, stocky look. Strangely, it almost looks like an old fashioned baby buggy from this angle, but a surprisingly good one.]

Long story short the Nissan Juke is quite simply one of the most polarizing cars I’ve ever witnessed — from the journalists invited to drive it, to the pedestrians who curiously stumbled upon it, to the hotel employees hired to care for it. Reactions were rarely tepid — you either fall in love immediately, or you react like the car show audience did when Homer’s brother unveiled the Homer 3000 in that oh-so-epic episode of The Simpsons. How American buyers will react is anyone’s guess, but I tip my hat to Nissan for having the savvy to market a car outside the oh-so-predictable clichés of modern mass-production auto design.

The Nissan Juke hits showrooms this month, with base prices ranging from $19,710 for the manual S to $25,300 for the SL with AWD.

No Responses to “Nissan Juke Unlocked: the LIAS Test Drive”

  1. Kdog says:


  2. […] Nissan Juke Unlocked: the LIAS Test Drive | Lost In A Supermarket Here is a test drive that mentions the shift changes in both Eco and Sport. What is odd is that you believe that it is being done in sport yet say that CVT's don't work that way when you talk about it being done in ECO. […]

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