Review: 2011 Nissan Juke – The Compact Crossover That Doesn't Fit In The City

The Nissan Juke is a city-sized car that doesn’t work in the city.

It’s not a big vehicle, this, make no mistake. Its dimensions should lend themselves ideally to the concrete urban jungle. But beneath the controversial looks that fill your retinae and play magic tricks on your occipital lobe are shortcomings too damning to overlook.

The taillights are inspired by the 370Z.

The Juke is forgiven its speciously swollen exterior symmetry because it’s actually based on the Versa, a fact you can’t blame it for wanting to hide – like an ashamed hipster who doesn’t want to be seen in public with her unfashionably humble parents. Inside, the materials are surprisingly competent and show just how far the game has moved on in the compact class. Compare this interior to my Mazda Protege5 and the decade between them is as clear as the desert sky. Everything is well placed and the materials, fit, and finish are commendable. The only clue as to the Juke’s unpresuming roots is the standard CD player with block-letter screen.

Further differentiating this petite crossoveur, as they probably say in Montreal, from its proletariat origins is a torque-vectoring AWD system that shifts power to the rear tires when needed and then from side-to-side under cornering. It works as advertised, always keeping the Juke tucked and tracking. The AWD system has a toggle switch by the driver’s left knee that allows for FWD, on-demand AWD, or full-time AWD settings. The on-demand setting is the Goldilocks of the three, effortlessly keeping the sudden rush of power that the 1.6T provides from overwhelming the front tires.

The 188 hp 1.6L single-turbo Direct Injection Gasoline engine is seen here for the first time and it’s a spirited elation over 3000 rpm, but struggles to motivate the 3,177 lb bulk below that mark. In between the two polar extremes is a turbo lag to rival the four-on-the-floor Porsche 930 Turbo. At the low end of the rev range, there’s the sensation that the engine is too small and too unable to impart momentum, before it suddenly transforms into a wheel-tugging sorcerer. It’s an all-or-none deal, like a Boolean action potential in a neural cell’s plasma membrane.

We often hear that smaller displacement turbocharged engines are the future because they supposedly combine small engine fuel economy with big engine power and performance. And while manufacturers would seem to concur, my time with the Juke didn’t exactly instill me with optimism. On the contrary, I couldn’t wait to get back behind the wheel of a naturally aspirated car, such was my longing for linear power delivery.

But it wasn’t just the engine, the transmission is also to blame for my opposition. Dismayingly, the AWD Juke is encumbered as standard with a CVT with 6 electronically determined ratios – the 6-speed manual being only available on FWD models.

In Eco mode, the transmission feels like the disconcerting elastic band I expected a CVT to feel like. There’s plenty of throttle input, but not a lot of progress is made as a result.

In Normal mode, the transmission uses its 6 fake gears to move things along with a sense of normalcy. Normalcy, of course, implies that you want to sink your foot half way to the floor before abruptly zinging down the road.

Sport mode makes the throttle response such that you only have to go a quarter of the way to the floor, but overall, the throttle is unbelievably lazy until the turbo finally gets enough exhaust gases from the engine to wake up.

Not big, but big enough for my bike. Some disassembly required.

This frustrating character, regardless of driving mode, belays what is otherwise an enjoyable steer. The brakes are progressive, the steering is accurate if light, and the engine actually sounds quite good once it’s up and moving. But actually getting it moving, which is what driving around town is really about, is a lesson in futility.

Then there’s the fuel economy. The ever-unrealistic National Resources Canada rates the Juke at a comical 6.3/8.0 L/100km hwy/city. On over 300 km of Highway 2, I saw 10.3L/100km and not a soupçon more. In the city, I saw as high as 14.0L/100km over a week of commuting. With gas prices for the required premium grade over $1.25/L, the costs of ownership are prohibitive compared to other compact vehicles. To put 10.3/14 L/100km hwy/city in perspective, my 350Z drinks at a rate of 8/13 L/100km hwy/city. That’s flatly inexcusable for a vehicle this size with an engine this size.

Rear door handle is out of reach of troublesome tots.

The looks of the Juke may subjective, but it firmly falls into the Third School of Design. The Nissan Juke’s not a two-door either, despite the deceptive profile. The rear door handles are placed vertically on the C-pillars, keeping them out of the prying hands of children. At this point it’s still not clear why Nissan hates children so much. Their PR department hasn’t returned my calls, although I suspect that it has something to do with the target demo (18-34 year old males who make $45k+ per year) not having children.

Since the Qazana concept in Geneva a few years back, I’ve suspected that the Juke might hit something of an urbanite sweet spot, especially considering the reasonable $28,363, as tested, price. But it just plain misses the mark with the ponderous transmission, premium fuel thirst, and Boolean engine.

Ever the optimist, I’m still holding out hope for the manual-equipped version.

CarEnvy Rating: 6.5/10

[Photo credits: author]

5 thoughts on “Review: 2011 Nissan Juke – The Compact Crossover That Doesn't Fit In The City

  1. JukieMcJukerson says:

    Factual errors:
    1 – Premium is RECOMMENDED, not required.
    2 – Normal mode does not use the simulated gears.

    If you are going to compare/contrast a CVT with a different transmission, it has to be vs an automatic and NOT a manual. Since most people would buy the auto, even if a manual AWD version was offered, your critique of the CVT based on it’s supposed shortcomings vs a manual transmission amounts to nothing more than a public stroking of your enthusiast ego. Nostalgic sentimentality for certain sounds and sensations means nothing. Performance is what matters. A well sorted CVT, like the one in the Juke, is far better than a slushbox could ever hope to be. If you overtook anyone while driving the Juke I’m sure you must have seen that.

    Also, our Juke has proved perfect for the city. Keeping out of boost increases mileage and there isn’t any reason for gobs of power in stop and go traffic anyway, thus turbo lag is a non-issue (especially since with the CVT there is no way to go off boost once spooled up…duh! no gears!). The overhangs are short and in the front it is swept upward, keeping parking blocks, steep ramps, and curbs from scraping the car accidentally. The AWD and improved ground clearance get us out through the alley after a heavy snow if the city snow plows have buried our driveway. A feat no coupe, sedan, or hatch has ever managed. It’s also maneuverable and easy to park in tight spots.

    Lastly, there is no reason to “hide” the underpinnings of the Juke out of shame. The platform might be the same as the Versa and Cube but it’s also the same as the Renault Clio Cup, a proper hot hatch, beloved by all, including Jeremy Clarkson and his ilk.

    • Peter says:

      “Nostalgic sentimentality for certain sounds and sensations means nothing.”

      Perhaps to you, but it certainly matters to some car enthusiasts, myself included.

      “Performance is what matters.”

      Agreed, but performance means different things to different people. For some, it means straight line speed. For others, it means a lap time. For others yet, it means fuel economy.

      As for the platform, the Juke clearly had a very competent chassis and it handled with aplomb. There’s no denying that. And thank you for the factual corrections, even I make mistakes sometimes.

  2. Ron says:

    I talked to Nissan about the same poor fuel economy I am experiencing. I’m told the advertised numbers are under ideal conditions in a test environment.

    I told them I am not driving in ideal conditions in a test environment, I’m driving in the real world. Why would they advertise a fuel efficiency that is not obtainable by anyone under NORMAL driving and REAL LIFE conditions. It is false advertising I told them and I will follow up on this. If they can’t show me how they get 6.1/100km under any condition I will take legal action. Currently the fuel economy is more then 60% off their advertised rating.

    I am not an idiot and I am driving normally. The best I can get is 10L / 100km under highway driving using cruse control.

  3. Justin says:

    This has to be the ugliest vehicle I have ever seen. Looks like Nissan redesigned the Pontiac Aztek.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>