First drive review: If you don’t get the 2011 Nissan Juke…you’re probably too old


As a card-carrying baby boomer, I think I can speak for my generation when I say we thought we’d be different with our kids… unlike our parents, who never could relate to anything we did, we’d embrace our children, understand them, commune with them. We’d be hip. We’d take them to U-2 concerts, share a love of Levi’s, invite them to help save the whales.

Ha, fat chance. It never fails. No matter what efforts we make as parents, the kids still surprise. They listen to monotone word tirades over metronome-like beat machines and call it music. They wear jeans three sizes too big, which hang down in a crumpled mess over Moon-walk gym shoes.

And so it is with modern young-adult car design. Listen to how the brand manager for the new Nissan Juke describes their latest “cute ute.”


The headlamps are inspired by rally-cars, he says, while the turn signals, way up on the side of the front hood, have the look of a crocodile, lifting his head up out of the swamp. And the front grill looks a bit like a cell membrane. It’s a styling thing called “robiotic,” he says, meaning both robotic and organic, at the same time.

And it carries to the interior. He describes the dash as being like a surfer’s wetsuit, stretched over a frame.


Then there’s the Juke’s center console, between the seats, where the shifter’s mounted. It looks deliberately like a motorcycle’s gas tank, color-keyed to the exterior. And the main gauges in front of the steering wheel also look like they’re lifted from a motorcycle. A Japanese sport bike, says the brand manager.

But the “generation gap” award goes to the digital game-like programmer in the center stack, something called Integrated Control, or I-CON. Press the button for any of three power modes, Eco, Normal or Sport, and the display shoots you an instant readout of driving information. Then you can access arcane factoids like g-force and, get this, a daily fuel economy record.

Yes, folks, this is a vehicle designed by 20-somethings for 20-somethings. And if you’re of a generation that doesn’t qualify, don’t try to understand. Shop Nissan’s other, more traditional, entries in the sport-ute category, the Rogue and Murano.

No, the Juke is Nissan’s latest expressionistic do-anything tool. It’s for people who need more space than the Cube, the first asymmetric box on wheels, or people who can’t buy a Leaf because they don’t have a 220v line that stretches to their parking space outside their apartment.


Then there’s performance. Here, we’re lucky, because performance is a language every generation understands. With the Juke, here’s what you get. In any of the three trim levels, it’s the same 1.6-liter direct injection turbo 4-cylinder engine with 188 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque from 2,000 rpm on up. That low rpm torque delivery is significant because, with torque that low in the power band, there’s virtually no turbo lag.

The Juke comes in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the latter with “torque vectoring.” The term means that the power goes not only to the front or back, but to the corner as well, depending on grip. It’s sophisticated, and a selling point in this price range. The top of the line SL model carries an MSRP of $24,570.

While front-wheel drive can be had with a manual transmission, the all-wheel drive versions come only with Nissan’s Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) with Sport mode. What this means that, in normal and eco settings the engine will rev to an efficient point… and stay there. Yes, it’s efficient, but slow… and weird. Need power to pass? Shift to Sport mode, where the transmission runs up to redline like a traditional automatic.


Just don’t do it too much, or you won’t want to look at your daily fuel economy readout. EPA estimates are 25/30, city/highway.

Packing a moderate curb weight of about 3,200 lbs, the Juke really does feel of one piece. We weren’t able to try it on a handling course, but on some sporty back roads, the generous-for-the-category P215/55R17 all-season tires did hold up reasonably well.

And it’s all rolled into a package that, and here’s the brand manager again, combines the look of an SUV below the belt, and a sport coupe above the belt.

He’s right. I had to actually look to find the outlines for the rear doors, and their handles were even harder to spot. Just so you know, they’re sunken, literally, way up behind the rear windows.

Why? I think it’s a robiotic thing.

*Editor’s Note: This first drive review was written by Dick Badler…one of the newest members of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press. When not driving or writing about Porsches, Badler contributes to

BTW: You can also check out our first drive video review of Nissan’s other new car below: The all electric Leaf

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