Let’s get one thing sorted. The picture above is not, I repeat not, the wasabi-snorting-485-horsepower-3.7-second-to-60 Juke that Nissan has been teasing. Instead, this is the Nismo treated Juke we saw at the Chicago Auto Show in February. If you’re disappointed, or if the unusual confluence of shapes that is the Juke has made you throw up a little in your mouth, don’t watch.
Calling the Juke’s styling “not everyone’s cup of tea” (as one person I met put it) or even “polarizing” hardly begins to describe what’s going on here. My week with Nissan’s smallest crossover in America was filled with awkward stares, gaping mouths and looks of revulsion. But that’s not the whole story. For every 10 people that wanted to run the Juke out-of-town like villagers wielding pitchforks, there were two or three that thought it was fantastic looking. No, cross that, they wanted to bear the Juke’s children. That’s how far they went. This makes the Juke the most polarizing car design I have seen. Yes, I’m including the unholy Aztec and Rendezvous. However you feel about the Juke’s design, you have to admit it took some brass balls to design it, produce it, and then keep selling it.
Because the base Juke wears a starting MSRP of $18,990, my expectations were low. If you keep your expectations at a similarly realistic level, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. For $22,990 the Nismo version adds heavily bolstered Alcantara sport seats, a leather and Alcantara wrapped steering wheel, center arm rest, red tachometer, plenty of Nismo badges and red-stitching galore. Unfortunately, the standard hard plastic dashboard and the world’s least attractive headliner remain. Seriously, this has to be the same material the trunk liner in a Versa is crafted from, how much would it have cost for something out of the Altima? On the flip side, you have to keep reminding yourself that 27-large is as expensive as any Juke gets and the Nismo tops out at $26,460 with navigation, the CVT and AWD. That’s well below the average new car transaction price in America.
The Alcantara thrones are some of the most attractive (and best bolstered) seats you can find for under $30,000, but they still ride on the same 6-way manual driver’s and 4-way passenger’s seat frames as the regular Juke. This means the range of motion is limited and lumbar support is non-existent. Still, one must have perspective and you’ll find the same situation in most cars this price. I was disappointed to find that the Juke’s steering wheel doesn’t telescope making it hard for me to find an idea driving position.
Before the Juke arrived I had spent a week in the 2013 BMW X6M (our reviews are obviously out of order). Having the Nismo and an X6M back to back may sound like a real let down, but there’s another side. Obviously the Juke doesn’t handle or accelerate like an M, but there is something of the personality that struck me. No, I’m not just talking about the X6 being similarly polarizing in the style department, I’m talking on the road personality. They are similarly “eager.” In this way, the Juke reminded me of a small dog that thinks it’s a big dog. It even has a chihuahua’s eyes. Is that good or bad? Good seeing as the Juke costs about 1/4th the price. I managed a 7.45 second 0-60 dash in the 6-speed manual model, let’s just say the X6M didn’t get there in 1/4th the time.
It gets a bit more complicated. You see, the Juke is two kinds of animal. If you get the 6-speed manual transmission you get plenty of torque steer, slick shifts and a more engaging ride. (And for some reason torque steer makes me smile when it’s on a small-scale like this.) If you get the AWD Nismo, you’re stuck with Nissan’s CVT. I’m no CVT hater but even I have to admit the CVT dulls the Juke’s personality. On the flip side, the torque vectoring AWD system makes the CVT/AWD Nismo the faster car on the track by a reasonable margin. If you have an oddly shaped place in your heart for Nissan’s over-styled crossover, you have a difficult decision on your hands. Either way the Juke is destined to be one of the rarer vehicles on American roads and I get the impression that’s just how lovers and haters of the Juke like it.
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