The 2016 Nissan Juke occupies an unusual spot in the hearts and minds of Canadian car buyers. On the one hand this pint-sized crossover is prized for its affordability, frugal fuel economy, and spirited handling – three characteristics that are rarely found together in its segment. On the other, the Juke has become an easy punch-line for conservative-minded critics content to point out what everyone within a 10-metre radius already knows: its styling kind of stands out from the crowd.
There’s really nothing else out there that looks like the Nissan Juke, and depending on which side of the fence you sit that’s either a big plus or a shuddering negative. One thing the car definitely is not, however, is anonymous, and in the current sea of urban look-alikes vying for your baby-SUV dollars, it’s hard not to think of the immortal words of Jules Winfield: personality goes a long way.
After spending a week behind the wheel of the 2016 Nissan Juke SL I can confirm that the crossover’s charms are more than just skin-deep. It all starts with the ride, which has clearly been tuned with the idea that you might need to tackle a few corners between point A and point B. The crossover’s suspension is livelier than any other vehicle in its class, save perhaps the similarly sprightly Mazda CX-3, which is a welcome change from how easily the apple cart can be upset when piloting most other small people-movers. At the same time, there’s no real extra punishment served up by the Juke’s responsive shocks and springs, which means the daily commute doesn’t end up feeling like a penance for weekend fun. If you so desire, there exists a universe of Nismo-branded models at the apex of the Juke line-up that further hone its handling to a sharper point.
The Nissan Juke SL’s willing chassis is matched with an equally enthusiastic turbocharged engine – although there are a few caveats along the way to getting the most enjoyment out of the crossover’s drivetrain. The 1.6 L four-cylinder mill offered up by the Juke makes use of a single turbo to generate 188 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque, which is enough to keep things interesting with your foot in it.
Of course, how willing you are to hammer the throttle in the Nissan depends entirely on how you feel about its continuously variable automatic transmission. Sure, there’s a six-speed manual gearbox available too, but the CVT is non-negotiable if you want to access the Juke’s optional all-wheel drive system. In fact, there are only two manual-equipped, front-wheel drive trim levels one can buy in Canada – the SV and the RS – with all others, including the SL I drove, offering AWD with the automatic.
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Personally, I’m of two minds when it comes to the Juke’s CVT. There’s no doubt that in some situations the drone of the engine can be somewhat off-putting, particularly when accelerating hard from a roll or when passing. The vehicle features multiple drive modes – Sport, Normal, and Eco – with the most aggressive of the trio ‘shifting’ the Nissan via a set of seven virtual gear ratios. This alleviates the unusual CVT sensation to a degree, but there’s still some buzz to deal with regardless of how you have the crossover configured.