Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2011 Nissan Juke

The Nissan Juke is the latest new vehicle that aims to combine sporty driving dynamics with four-door practicality and all-wheel drive traction. It’s in the same vein, if at a much different price point, as the Acura ZDX and the one that started it all, the BMW X6.

Those two luxury models are odd enough in their execution, but like Matthew Good says in his song, The Future is X-Rated, “Things just keep getting weirder and weirder.”

The Juke is based on a subcompact platform, shared by Nissan and its parent company Renault, that also underpins the Cube, Versa and Leaf. That’s not so strange, but the Juke’s calling card is its whacked-out styling, which incorporates elements borrowed from the Mixim concept car, a high-performance electric coupe shown at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 2007.

Unlike the Mixim concept, the Juke is not electric (though some onlookers made faces like they were being tasered); instead, it’s powered by a direct fuel injected and turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that makes 188 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices are a six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT) in front-wheel drive versions, while choosing all-wheel drive gets you no choice but the CVT.

2011 Nissan Juke SL AWD
2011 Nissan Juke SL AWD. Click image to enlarge

The all-wheel drive setup is unique in this price range (MSRPs start at just under $20,000 and the top-line SL AWD, as my tester was kitted out, comes in under $27,000 to start) in that its “torque vectoring” ability can shuttle power to the outside rear wheel in corners to improve the car’s handling. It’s similar to Acura’s Super Handling (SH) AWD, but at a more accessible price.

The best part is that it works. Tackle a curve like a highway on-ramp with your right foot deep in the throttle and you can feel the rear end pushing the car through the corner, helping to negate the understeer that is the more common trait of most front-wheel drive-based vehicles when presented with a challenging turn. One trick, though, is to turn the stability control off first; otherwise, it and the rear differential fight each other, the diff trying to do its job, and the stability program assuming that dark times are surely nigh and therefore shutting down the party.

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