Without driving a Nissan Juke it would be easy to say it looks like a frog and leave it at that. Fortunately Nissan packed enough fun-factor into the little sports-cross to make the comparison seem like a good thing. None the less, the unusual styling makes for some polarizing first impressions.
“It looks like the monkey from Speed Racer should be driving it," a friend of mine texted me.
He scored points for an original quip, but after some light cajoling agreed to come along for a ride in the Juke to see what it could do on the back roads.
On the highway out of town he saw no reason to be impressed just yet and began to search for Ace of Base on the XM radio. This was a sign of impaired judgment. I turned the stereo down and explained the nuts and bolts of what sets the Juke apart from other mundane cars in its class:
Nissan’s all-new 1.6L turbocharged four-cylinder, good for 188hp. It’s feisty, and with the turbo whistling it’s hard to find a weak spot in the power band. A major reason for this is the Juke’s:
No joke. The Juke offers a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Instead of picking gear one, two, three, etc., the CVT can constantly change the engine RPM’s to maximize either acceleration or fuel economy over a limitless range. You never feel or hear the transmission shift and will always be in the right “gear” to make the most power or use the least fuel depending on how stampy you get with your right foot. When set to “Eco” mode the CVT helps the Juke reach 27mpg city, 32mpg highway.
ALL-WHEEL-DRIVE W/TORQUE VECTORING
To get the most traction out of its AWD system the Juke utilizes a wonderful technology known as torque vectoring, meaning power can be distributed between the front and rear corners of the car as well as left to right in fractions of a second to maximize grip. Think of it as having a limited slip differential on each tire controlled by a computer that makes even the keenest throttle foot seem like a club foot. The result is extremely flattering to drivers who want to push the car to its limit as well as ones who just want to keep from sliding off the road in foul weather and emergency situations.
To illustrate what all this technical jargon adds up to in the way of performance we exited the highway and made several hard runs through a winding backcountry road.
My skeptical friend was nervous at first, trusting his well-being to a frog car piloted by an auto-blogger, but the Juke didn’t fail to impress. Setting the drive-mode to “Sport” tightened the steering, sharpened the throttle response and dialed up aggressive RPM’s from the CVT.
Twenty minutes later another young man was sold on the Juke. Having proven it deserved to be regarded as one of the quickest small cars on the market I parked it alongside the road for him to reassess:
“You know, once you stand up close to it she's actually a pretty good looking little car,” he conceded.
Lucky for the Juke personality goes a long way.