2012 Nissan Juke
Engine: 1.6L turbocharged 4-cylinder
Power: 188hp, 177 lb.-ft.
Fuel Economy: 27 city/32 highway
Price as tested: $19,990
By now you've probably peeped video of the squatty, bulbous Juke-R—a gecko-sized crossover with the heart of Godzilla—careening around a test track at breakneck speeds. In the interest of an early full disclosure, that's not the vehicle that recently set up camp outside my crib. No, there were no racing harnesses in the eye-popping electric blue ride that found its way into my life, and no roll-cage either. Trying to forget about youtube clips that my eyes couldn't un-see, I vowed to give the pint-sized 'ute a fighting chance. But it had some pretty big shoes to fill.
Nissan's promotional paperwork for the Juke makes early use of the adjective, “bold.” “Polarizing” may be a better choice. While some may be quick to label the car an ugly duckling, it's fair and commendable to say that the brand's styling department went at the car's design balls-out. Even it matte black, the Juke's front end is unmistakable. Sporting a similar grille to its siblings, the Rogue and Murano, the distinction lies in its giant, rotund headlights, which resemble fog lamps that have been given a brow lift. More striking than that are the utility lamps and indicators, which reside in clear assemblies that arc into the beefy front fenders. Out back, the aesthetics are a bit more subdued, again echoing cues from other members of its family tree. The real treat in the Juke's appearance comes when viewing it at a profile. Borrowing the sloping roofline and broad fender flares, it does bear resemblance—if only slight—to the GT-R. As expected, however, it's apples to watermelons for anything beyond that.
Inside, the cabin won't blow your mind, but the layout is neatly Spartan and for the most part well thought out. Opt for the push-button start, and depending on how you like to angle the wheel, you may actually have some trouble finding it. At average build and height in a non-extreme driving position, I found the ignition to be completely out of my line of sight. Of course, it’s the kind of motion that becomes second nature in a couple of days, but it's the kind of quirk that'll illicit frustrated phone calls or texts from anyone you hand the keys to. Once fired up, all other controls are well placed and easy to use. Echoing that sentiment a bit further, the ride's climate controls have moved away from the trend of elaborate and confusing to incredibly simple—without looking like a downgrade. The iPod/iPhone interface is plug-and-play, and the Harman/Kardon sound system will have you turning heads of even those who have given its looks a pass. But while the Juke excels in driver/passenger form and function, it hits the brakes in the all-out utilitarian aspect. Even with the plunge in the roof, the backseats will accommodate a couple of grown adults with little problem. Want to head out with said adults on more than an overnight trip, though? Fuhgedaboudit. The crossover's sparse storage space barely puts the U in CUV. Groceries? Cool. Day at the beach? Awesome. Major run to Home Depot or back-to-school trek? Yeah, not so much.
On the road, the Juke is no GT-R, or even Juke-R, but if you expected it to be, you got problems, son. However, for what it is, the car's get-up-and-go is more than adequate. The torque-y, 188hp four-banger responds well when prodded. And it is much more fun to hammer than a CR-V or RAV-4. But its dismal gas mileage seems almost illegal in this day and age. Its sticker says 27/32 MPG, and while I can't provide any scientific evidence to refute those numbers, my only justification for what I experienced would be if it had a five-gallon fuel tank. An overall fun car to drive, it is also no vehicle to be thrown into a high-speed corner. But if that's what you're counting on it to do, you're probably better off remaining a pedestrian. At night, the aforementioned light clusters on the hood take on an amber glow that is visible from the driver position. A touch distracting at first—more so because of their unique placement than anything else—they actually work well to frame the lane and assure that you don't cross over into oncoming traffic.
Overall, the Juke is a unique car, purpose-built for a unique individual. Love or hate, it's a reiteration of Nissan's dare-to-be-different mentality, which has the competition eyeing the company’s every move, no matter how crazy or unexplainable. And in today's automotive climate of cookie-cutter CUVs and hybrid wedges, a good dose of WTF here and there can be refreshing.