Review and photos by
Greg Wilson, Autos.ca
We recently tested a Nissan Juke SL AWD with Nissan’s new “torque-vectoring” all-wheel drive system that transfers power both front to rear and side to side at the rear wheels for improved traction and handling – a similar system to Acura’s Super Handling All-wheel Drive. This is an excellent safety feature for driving on wet, icy or snowy roads, and hopefully, this technology will migrate to other Nissan vehicles as well.
Unfortunately, the Juke’s AWD system is available only when matched to a continuously variable transmission – the standard six-speed manual transmission comes only with front-wheel drive.
Still, you can save about three thousand dollars by choosing the Juke front-driver with a manual gearbox, and it’s arguably more fun to drive with a manual transmission; plus it’s about 118 kg (258 lbs) lighter, weighing in at 1323 kg (2917 lbs). Another benefit to choosing the front-wheel drive Juke is the addition of a large, removeable plastic storage bin under the cargo floor made possible by the absence of a rear differential. It’s a great place for keeping cold drinks, groceries or valuables you want to keep out of sight.
Another difference between the front-wheel drive Juke and the all-wheel drive model is the type of rear suspension: the FWD model has a semi-independent torsion beam setup while AWD models offer an independent multi-link suspension. Having driven both (at different times) I don’t recall any major handling differences, but in theory the AWD model is better equipped to handle uneven road surfaces and provide a better ride. Still, torsion-beam rear suspensions, like that used in the Golf for many years, are proven to offer good handling and ride qualities in small cars.
The Juke’s engine is a relatively small 1.6-litre DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder, but with the use of direct fuel injection, variable valve timing, and a turbocharger/intercooler, horsepower is a healthy 188 at 5,600 rpm and maximum torque is 177 pound-feet from just 2,000 rpm up to 5,250 rpm. Accelerating from a standing start, the engine feels a bit weak until about 2,000 rpm (turbo lag), but then it takes off with a surge of power that pushes the Juke from zero to 100 km/h in 8.0 seconds, according to AJAC. However, AJAC tested a Juke AWD with a CVT, and I suspect the lighter, front-wheel drive Juke with a manual transmission would be a least a half second quicker.The FWD Juke’s standard six-speed manual transmission has a meaty, shift knob that pokes out from what looks like a motorcycle fuel tank in the centre console. It’s easy to reach and easy to shift, and clutch engagement is generally smooth. However, the clutch is a bit sensitive when engaging First gear unless you give it some revs, and the first gear ratio is a bit too low, with the result that you need to rev it high before you move into second gear; shifting from second through sixth gears is a more progressive transition. At a steady 100 km/h in sixth gear, the engine turns over a quiet 2,600 rpm.
Juke SL models, both FWD and AWD, are equipped with a driver-selectable electronic performance adjuster called Integrated Control (I-CON) that gives the driver a choice of three different throttle and steering response settings, Normal, Sport and Eco. In the CVT-equipped Juke, Sport mode also includes simulated gearshifts and the ability to shift manually using the shift lever.
As you might suspect, Eco mode retards the throttle for slower acceleration and easier steering. Normal mode improves throttle response, while Sport mode offers a more aggressive throttle and steering feel. The one you choose will depend on whether you want to maximize fuel economy or enhance performance, but every time you start the Juke it defaults to Normal mode. Personally, I enjoyed the extra performance of Sport mode.
Perhaps because of this, my average fuel consumption worked out to about 10.6 L/100 km. Official Energuide figures are 8.3 L/100 km (34 mpg) city, and 6.4 L/100 km (44 mpg) highway when equipped with the manual transmission. The Juke with a CVT and AWD offers slightly better fuel consumption in the city, and slightly worse on the highway, but there’s not a significant difference. Premium gas is recommended for the Juke but not required.
Being a fairly small, light vehicle, the Juke stops quickly: AJAC recorded a 100 km/h to zero braking distance of 42.1 metres (138 ft.) in the dry. The Juke comes with standard four wheel disc brakes, ABS, Brake Assist, and substantial 215/55R-17-inch all-season tires.
With such a short wheelbase, the Juke is surprisingly nimble, has a good turning circle, and even though it has a high ground clearance, a tall roof, and a relatively narrow track, it feels quite stable when cornering aggressively. Understeer and oversteer are mitigated by standard electronic stability control and traction control. With a short wheelbase, the ride can be choppy and somewhat firm. However, its high ground clearance should prove an advantage on snow-covered side streets next winter.
The Juke driver has good visibility except at the right rear corner where a thick C-pillar and rear head restraint block the over-the-shoulder view. A variable intermittent rear wiper is very useful in keeping the rear window clean, and Jukes with the optional navigation system include a rear-view camera that’s handy when backing into a parking space. Interestingly, the driver can see the front turn signals through the windshield because they are on top of the front fenders under those bulging glass covers – this is the only vehicle I know where this is possible!
As other reviewers have reported, the Juke is a fun vehicle to drive with a playfulness you won’t find in slightly larger crossovers like the Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-7, and even the Acura RDX. That’s partly because the Juke is smaller and more nimble than those vehicles with a small, but lusty turbo engine that loves to rev. There isn’t really another vehicle on the market similar to it.
The Juke’s small size has some disadvantages. The cargo area behind the rear seats is a joke. The floor height is very high and the sloping hatchback eats up a lot of vertical space. However, as mentioned earlier, the FWD Juke has a hidden storage bin under the cargo floor which measures about 90 cm wide by 15 cm deep. And once you fold one or both of the split rear seatbacks down, there’s plenty of cargo room. But if you want to transport four passengers and their luggage, you’re out of luck unless you have a roof carrier.
Another disadvantage of the Juke’s small size is access to the rear seats. The curvature of the wheelwell and the slope of the roof make for a rather narrow door opening when compared to the front doors. And while rear headroom and legroom is sufficient for adults and the raised front seats provide generous footroom, the rear seat does feel tight.
Up front, it’s a different story where there is more headroom and legroom. The driver’s seat is height adjustable but the front passenger seat is not, and neither have lumbar adjustment. The sporty leather wrapped steering wheel tilts up and down but doesn’t telescope in and out. Cloth seats are standard, but my Juke SL had the optional leather seats with seat heaters that are bundled together with the optional Navigation package and premium Rockford Fosgate audio system ($2,600). That’s a very good deal when you consider what’s included. One thing missing in the Juke is a centre armrest.
Between the speedometer and tachometer is an orange backlit information display with small fuel and coolant displays, odometer, outside temperature indicator, and trip computer which can be toggled between average fuel economy, instant fuel economy, time to destination, and distance to empty.
The Juke’s optional five-inch colour screen in the centre console provides audio and navigation functions and a rear-view camera when the transmission is put into Reverse. Though the screen is smaller than some of its competitors’, I found the letters and graphics easy to read and touch-screen ‘buttons’ easy to operate. Most of the audio controls – volume, Seek, Tune, Station – are traditional manual buttons anyway. And the steering wheel includes separate controls for Volume and Seek as well.
I also liked the navigation system’s ease of use and direction instructions, both visual and audible. After warning the driver of an upcoming turn, the map displays a large arrow and distance to the turn so that you don’t miss it. Inputting a destination can be done a number of different ways, and drivers’ can choose fastest or shortest route that minimizes toll booths, freeways or ferries. A real-time traffic information alert also shows road construction and delays. The map also shows points of interest. The navigation system can be set for English, French, or Spanish.
Commercial-free XM satellite radio, with a limited time subscription, is also included with the optional Navigation package, and that’s what I listen to when it’s included. Auxiliary, 12-volt and USB ports are also included on the lower console in front of the shift lever and Bluetooth hands-free phone system is standard in all Jukes.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the instrument panel is the dual climate control and driving mode display. By pressing the ‘Climate’ button, the illuminated display buttons switch to climate functions like fan speed and ventilation choices and the display shows climate functions. By pressing the “D-Mode” (Driving Mode) button, the same buttons switch to the I-CON mode with Normal, Sport and Eco, and the display shows performance functions. The latter even includes a turbo boost gauge, engine torque display, G-force meter, and fuel economy history.
The only drawback with this system is that if you want adjust the climate controls while in D-Mode, you first have to switch back to Climate mode. However, since it’s an automatic climate control system, this is not usually necessary.
My Juke SL test vehicle had the keyless door unlocking and keyless start feature which enables the driver to lock and unlock the doors and start the vehicle without using the ignition key. The driver simply pushes a black button on the door handle to lock and unlock the doors, and once in the driver’s seat, pushes the ignition button to start the engine. This is a useful, time-saving feature, but there is a flaw: if you hand your Juke over to your spouse and forget to give them the key, and they drive away and stop the engine, they won’t be able to start it again. Yes, this has happened to me!
Those who prefer a traditional manual transmission will have to give up the advantages of all-wheel drive if they want a Nissan Juke, but they will save money on the price-tag, and still enjoy the Juke’s unique combination of weird looks and driving fun.
Pricing: 2011 Nissan Juke SL FWD
Base price: $23,548
Options: $2,600 (Leather seats, navigation system with five-inch colour touch-screen, rear-view monitor, Rockford Fosgate audio with subwoofer and upgraded speakers, XM satellite radio, USB connector)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $27,808
Buyer’s Guide: 2011 Nissan Juke
Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)