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Weidel on Wheels: Nissan catches the eye with Juke

Funky-designed crossover delivers on performance
By: Jeffrey Weidel
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After giving this rather odd-looking vehicle a quick once over visually, I was prepared to dislike it. What had Nissan done? This vehicle reminded me of a sawed-off shotgun and left me wondering what the heck happened to the back end of the car. However, as I quickly discovered once driving it, the Juke is not a joke. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed test-driving the new 2011 Nissan Juke for a week, and even got used to the quirky appearance. Yet it was the performance that really won me over. The Juke is one very fun vehicle to drive. This tiny crossover or four-door hatchback (whichever term you prefer) measures nearly two feet shorter than the Nissan Rogue, which was the Nissan’s smallest entry until the Juke arrived. Besides the smallish rear end, the Juke features a grille that extends to the width of the car, some very hefty fender flares and stacked front lights. Obviously, Nissan is not afraid to take a few chances. The Juke joins the Cube and Quest minivan as examples of Nissan’s design team making a bold statement. The Juke platform is the same one used by the Nissan Versa subcompact and the Cube wagon. But enough about appearance, back to the real reason one might consider purchasing the Juke — performance. This lively crossover offers sporty handling and has available all-wheel drive. It corners skillfully and provides a smooth ride at high freeway speeds, or just cruising around town in moderate traffic. All three Juke trim models feature a turbocharged, 1.6-liter inline-4 engine that produces 188 horsepower. That might not sound like much, but it’s plenty. The estimated 0 to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds actually sounds high to me — the Juke seems faster than that due to its quick acceleration. Two other aspects to really admire about the Juke are gas mileage and price. The Juke gets between 24 to 31 miles per gallon, so a tank of gas can go a long way. The vehicle is also priced inexpensively, ranging between $18,980 and $24,570. The SV model driven here went for $20,260. Appealing to the young driver who wants performance and good gas mileage at a low price, Nissan has done a great job of positioning the Juke among its competitors. It definitely has a higher fun factor than other small hatchbacks, such as the Kia Soul, Mitsubishi Outback Sport and Scion xB. Due to its funky size, note that the Juke does have other negatives. Its sloping roofline offers insufficient headroom for rear passengers, so tall people might not enjoy a ride in the back seat. And the cargo space is small, although putting the seats down creates 36 cubic feet. The cabin has a lot of hard plastic, but the Juke does feature a smartly done dashboard with large knobs that are easy to master. __________ 2011 Nissan Juke SV Price: $20,260 Power: 1.6-liter, turbo-charged 4-cylinder engine with 188 horsepower Mileage estimate: 24 mpg city; 31 mpg highway Standard features include: Stability and traction control; keyless entry access; 60/40 split-folding rear seats; tilt steering wheel; six-speaker stereo with CD player, iPod integration, auxiliary audio jack and Bluetooth connectivity; rear privacy glass; center console; climate control.