February 6, 2013
Review and photos by Lesley Wimbush
2013 Nissan Juke SL AWD
When the Nissan Juke debuted in 2010, it left many faces – including mine – screwed up in bewilderment.
They couldn’t be serious – could they?
During a media round-table discussion at the LA Auto Show after its debut, Alfonso Albaisa, Head of Nissan Design North America, referred to the Juke, Cube and Murano Convertible as almost “design exercises” to attract attention to the brand. I caught up with him after the Canadian International Auto Show, and asked him to elaborate.
“Exercises, hmm, maybe I was a little misleading, because the intention was always production, but the beauty of Nissan is we have our bread and butter cars – even the Leaf is a bread and butter car although it represents a new way of living… but we have the room in our portfolio to have these very unique cars. The Juke and Murano Convertible are cars that appeal to someone who’s looking around – and they just can’t connect to something. I think our portfolio is diverse and brings people in who might not have otherwise, and they join the family and see that we have innovation in everything that we do.” said Albaisa.
2013 Nissan Juke SL AWD. Click image to enlarge
A striking mixture of complex curves and sharp angles, the Juke “has elements inspired from other cars in our range such as 370Z and even Cube” said Albaisa. “When we were thinking of bringing another (crossover) into the family, we thought, let’s make a real statement. We wanted to capture the active life of the 30-something who’s in love with dune buggies and motorcycles.”
Whether you consider it a small crossover or large hatchback, you have to admit, the Juke definitely stands out in a segment of generic blandness.
You can count me among those initially repulsed by its amphibious appearance. All those bulbous curves – and googly headlights that contribute to its pop-eyed frog looks.
“Don’t judge it ’til you drive it,” I heard repeatedly from my colleagues.
When I finally got behind the wheel of the Juke, I had to concede that they were right.
It wasn’t the level of luxurious comfort that won me over.
No – the weirdness continues into the cockpit, which is apparently “motorcycle inspired”, featuring an enamel body-coloured shifter console designed to resemble a gas tank. The bulbous theme is carried over with round gauges within a curved binnacle hood. Air vents feature little touch pads for ease of use – a simple but thoughtful idea.
Although it’s billed as a five-seater, that description is a bit ambitious. Four can travel comfortably, but that rakish roofline definitely compromises rear headroom for taller passengers. And don’t even think about sitting three abreast unless they’re intimately acquainted – or looking to become so.
The sloping roofline also results in a small hatch opening – the Juke’s cargo space is 1,019 L with the rear seats folded flat – which puts it at the bottom of pretty much any pack, never mind the assembled competitors in our Mini-SUV Comparison Test earlier this week.
The centre console interface, or “Integrated Control System” is rather gimmicky, but gadget-heads will probably think it’s pretty slick.
Select the Climate button, and the info display relays all the temperature info, with button controls down the side. Hit “D-Mode” and the display switches to dynamic vehicle information, and the buttons transform into three drive modes – Normal, Sport or Eco – down one side, and Eco Levels, Torque and G-Forces down the other.
I won’t say I regarded the interior styling with distaste, but it was definitely a case of its outsides matching its insides. Dr. Phil would be pleased. Me – I thought it rather contrived, but not offensively so.
But I have to say that the Juke boasts quite an impressive list of technology goodies. There’s a navigation system that comes bundled with a backup camera in my tester, a fairly decent Rockford Fosgate sound system, satellite radio, iPod integration, Bluetooth, keyless start and entry… and heated leather seats.
To my great surprise, this odd little ute is an absolute joy to drive. If there’s a niche in this market for fun over function, the Juke fulfills it in leaps and bounds. There’s a frisky powertrain activated by the start button on my SL AWD tester. A 1.6L turbocharged-four lies under that bulging hood, and it’s as eager as a playful puppy. Power output is a rather modest 188 hp, but the 177 lb-ft of torque is available from 2,000 all the way up to 5,000 rpm – a broad powerband that provides instant response.
2013 Nissan Juke SL AWD. Click image to enlarge
Although there’s an available six-speed manual in FWD models, the AWD Juke comes only with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). It’s not the joy-sucking kiss of death that some of CVTs undoubtedly are, but like most of its ilk, it does tend to drone. However, it compensates by providing fairly decent fuel mileage. Over the course of a week, I observed 10.6 L/100 km, which rose to 11.4 when in AWD mode. The driver can choose between three drive modes mentioned above. Press Eco, and fuel consumption numbers may please you, but performance will be fairly lethargic. However, bear in mind that the Juke’s turbo engine does require premium fuel.
Selecting Sport really wakes up the Juke, with quicker throttle and simulated “shift-mapping”. The driver-selectable AWD system divides the torque between front and rear wheels, and can also split it between the rear wheels if it senses slippage.
While it’s hardly as athletic as a hot hatch, the Juke does handle fairly well, exhibiting none of the soft body roll expected from this segment. The AWD SL has a multi-link rear suspension instead of the torsion beam found in the front-wheel drive models. As a result, the Juke corners fairly flat, feeling stable and composed on tight on ramps, yet the ride is never harsh or punishing and bumps are well absorbed.
There’s a compact, nicely wrapped steering wheel, and while I wouldn’t call it communicative, the steering is accurate and decently weighted. As mentioned before, there’s a back-up camera that comes bundled with the touchscreen nav system – a very good thing as all those bulging curves and thick pillars do present some blind spots.
Overall, the Juke strikes me as a funny little vehicle. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would, although it would be hard to recommend to those looking for any sort of practicality.
Pricing: 2013 Nissan Juke SL AWD
Base price: $27,078
Options: $2,600 (Leather Navi Package)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $31,473
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Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
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