Every now and again, a car comes along that drives me nuts. The kind of car that I’m embarrassed to be seen in and makes me regret not heeding my mother’s advice to be a dentist.
Such is the Nissan Juke. Let me tip my hand right off the top: with a couple of caveats, I loathe just about everything about this car. From its thoughtless ergonomics to its insane styling, to its over-the-top cuteness, the Juke should be driven, en masse, off the nearest cliff and recycled to make something less offensive.
Let’s start with the styling. Built on the same B platform as the Versa, the Juke looks like a frog on wheels. Everything is out of sync with this one. The wheelbase is too short, the fender flares are out of whack, the running lights look like an afterthought, the front-end treatment is an abomination and, taken as a whole, it reminds me of a boxer’s face after a 12-round fight.
A few particulars: My tester, the top of the line SL AWD model, is powered by a turbocharged, 1.6-litre four-cylinder that features direct fuel injection, Nissan’s continuously variable valve timing feature and three settings for different levels of performance. This last item is a nice feature.
In fact, its powerplant is actually one of the Juke’s stronger points, with a linear power delivery, lots of reserve grunt and decent fuel economy. It develops some 188 horsepower and is mated to a continuously variable transmission, period. The 2WD versions can be had with a six-speed manual gearbox, but the AWDs get CVT only. Pity, because, in this application, the CVT really detracts from the Juke’s overall driving experience. Given the vehicle’s other numerous shortcomings, this is a shame. The CVT is snatchy, loud, and well, feels like a CVT.
On the other hand, the AWD system is cool. A rocker switch located on the lower left of the dashboard allows you to switch back and forth from 2WD to AWD while in motion and, if you get caught in a blizzard, as I did during my time with this one, you can just hit the button and Bob’s your uncle. A good idea.
Pity about the rest of the interior, though. For one thing, you can’t adjust your seat lumbar support with the door closed because there’s not enough room to slide your hand down to get at the lever.
For another, the climate control system (optional) always resets itself when you leave the car, forcing you to re-do the settings over and over again.
For another, the whole interior layout is butt-ugly and the purported motorcycle-inspired centre console is gross.
One note here. If the vehicle loses electrical power, the theft immobilizer system cuts in and the entire car locks itself and you can’t get in or out. As it happened, the negative connector on the battery terminal in my tester had been tampered with and my significant other found herself in the parking lot of the local mall, unable to get out of the car. She couldn’t lower the windows, start the car, or open the doors. Eventually, of course, she discovered the manual door lock/unlock button, but it took an hour of frantic phone calls to a local dealer to get it all sorted. (See clarification below.)
Lots of standard equipment with the SL. For its just-less-than $27,000 sticker price, you get tilt (but not telescoping) steering, heated front seats, block heater, fog lights, power sunroof and push-button start, among other things. This last item is another annoyance, by the way, but these days it’s found everywhere, so we can’t pick on the Juke.
Despite my feelings of revulsion for the Juke’s styling and overall ambience, it is a nice vehicle to drive. Forward visibility is decent and NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) is muted. If you ignore your surroundings, you almost feel like you’re piloting something that isn’t quite as grotesque as the Juke.
It also has some clever touches, like the adjustable AWD system, D-mode performance settings and variable “icon display modes” that let you, again, at the push of a button, change the instrumentation monitor ambience instantly. These are all good ideas and Nissan should put them in a car that isn’t so hard on the eyes.
When it introduced this ugly little spud, in 2010, Nissan deliberately styled the Juke to provoke. Between Nissan and Infiniti, this company is capable of turning out some very pretty automobiles – G37 coupe, Altima, Maxima, etc. – but the so-called “urban adventurers” Nissan was targeting would, the company hoped, be drawn to its unorthodox styling and stand-out-in-a crowd presence. Us old farts would be so offended by its lack of harmony and overall hideousness, we would just leave it to the Gen-Yers and “echo boomers”, they thought.
They were right.
2012 Nissan Juke SL AWD
Type: Compact crossover
Base Price: $26,778; as tested $28,373
Engine: 1.6-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 188 hp/177 lb-ft
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.0 city/6.6 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda3, VW Golf GTI, Toyota Matrix, Scion xB, Nissan Cube
Clarification: Nissan Canada points out that the Juke owner's manual has a pictorial description of the proper method to unlock the door in the event of power failure, such as the one described in this article.