The Nissan Juke is still quirky after all these years. Well, seven of them. The subcompact crossover is small and tall, curvy and hippy, with goony headlights like the eyes of a frog. Its refreshing looks might be the main thing it has going for it, never mind that the reason it’s still refreshing is that you see so few of them on the road.
That’s not to diminish its exceptionally sharp steering, which is almost as good as the Nissan sports cars. It’s just that people don’t buy the Juke for that, it comes more as a bonus. And only with the all-wheel-drive version. Which comes with a CVT transmission, not the six-speed manual that’s available with front-wheel-drive Nismo and Nismo S models. So forget any sports-car notions.
The Juke is smaller and less functional than other small crossovers, such as the Chevy Trax, Honda HR-V, Fiat 500X, Mazda CX-3, or Subaru Crosstrek. It might be older than those, but it’s not as mature or refined.
For 2017, Juke doesn’t change. The only thing new is a Black Pearl Edition, with black paint and white sideview mirrors and rear spoiler (speaking of not mature and not refined). Just 1250 will be sold in the U.S. and Canada.
The Juke was one of the first cars to come with a small-displacement turbocharged engine, a 1.6-liter four-cylinder making 188 horsepower. The Nismo performance model gets more boost from the turbo to make as much as 215 horsepower. The Nismo and Nismo RS get nearly 100 more special bits, including a bigger rear spoiler and limited-slip differential in the front-drive models.
That little turbo, as with all of them, is intended to get better fuel mileage and power out of a smaller package, but in the Juke it doesn’t fully deliver on the economy. It’s rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 28/32 miles per gallon City/Highway, or 29 mpg Combined, with the CVT (and very similar with the six-speed manual).
By comparison, Honda HR-V hatchback and Subaru Crosstrek, bigger crossovers with bigger non-turbo engines, also rate 29 miles per gallon Combined. And with the Juke, we’ve found our mileage to be lower than that, mainly because the Juke is so tempting to squirt around that we stay up on the turbo a lot.
And, with a seven-year-old structure, the Juke’s crash-test scores are less than cutting-edge; the NHTSA gives it only three stars in frontal impact protection, and the IIHS rates it Poor in its small front-overlap crash test, although Good in most of the other tests. Small consolation: a rearview camera is standard.
Nissan Juke comes in S, SV, SL, Nismo, and Nismo RS versions. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Nissan Juke S ($20,250) comes standard with 17-inch wheels, Bluetooth, keyless ignition, power windows and locks, air conditioning, and 5.0-inch touchscreen. Juke SV ($22,550) adds heated front seats and heated sideview mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, power moonroof, upgraded cloth upholstery, satellite radio, and automatic climate control.
Juke SL ($25,240) adds a surround-view camera system, fog lamps, perforated leather upholstery, a Rockford Fosgate six-speaker audio system, and an upgraded 5.8-inch infotainment system with navigation, voice recognition, SiriusXM Traffic info, and Sirius XM Travel Link, which includes fuel prices, weather, movie listings, and stock information.
Juke Nismo adds bucket seats with big bolstering and red contrast stitching, sporty trim, 18-inch lightweight alloy wheels, tuned suspension and more cornering downforce. Juke Nismo RS adds vented disc brakes, a helical limited-slip differential for front-wheel-drive models, Recaro sport seats, special upholstery with leather and synthetic suede, and carbon fiber interior trim.
The Black Pearl adds all-black paint, with white sideview mirrors, white door handles, white spoiler, and white front and rear bumper accents.
The Juke manages to pull off stubby with futuristic. It attracts a cult following while being polarizing.
It’s all bulges and swells. Tall fenders grow out of low bulging headlamps with knifelike turn signals, pinching a mean grille. The roof slopes to the rear passengers’ heads, over wide hips that appear sleeker thanks to the hidden rear door handles.
Nissan offers what they call their Juke Color Studio program, which allows buyers to design their own trim selections, with bright colors for the wheels, spoiler, door handles, headlamp trim, side sills, and fascia.
The inside is consistent with the contradictions of the outside, with spirited colors and fabrics (some would say funky, others might even say cartoonish but still cool), along with hard plastics and other cost-cutting textures.
Nissan says the design of the dash was inspired by the look of motorcycle instrumentation. You can see it, if you try. It’s simple, tidy, functional and stylish.
Forward visibility from the front seats is good. Over-the-shoulder visibility is good despite small windows and thick pillars.
In the rear, there’s a cramped 32.1 inches of legroom, some seven inches less than the Honda HR-V. And the rear seat is high, lowering the headroom, and the sunroof brings it down more. The Juke might be called a five-seater, but three passengers back there isn’t likely.
With the rear seats up, the Juke’s 10.5 cubic feet of cargo space is smaller than the trunk of most sedans. We think the rear seats will stay down a lot, revealing 39.5 cubic feet. That’s still less than the competition, but at least it’s livable.
The Juke gets two out of three right, handling and engine. If only it had the transmission, it could totally claim to be the sports car of subcompact crossovers. With adaptive steering, the all-wheel-drive Juke darts around corners and fires out of them like a dagger.
The engine makes a lot of torque for its size, 210 pound feet, and it can accelerate from zero to sixty in a quick seven seconds, yet the acceleration feels oddly ponderous in traffic. And it’s noisy when its being asked to keep up.
The available all-wheel-drive isn’t an offroad system, it’s made to sharpen the Juke’s handling. So don’t go thinking it’s the answer in snow, as you might with other crossovers. An independent rear suspension comes with all-wheel drive, instead of the torsion-beam rear suspension that’s in front-wheel-drive models. It’s an engineering thing that prevents the six-speed manual gearbox from going in the all-wheel drive. The problem with the CVT is it can’t keep up, even in manual mode, and especially not with the 211 horsepower of the all-wheel-drive Nismo RS.
There are engine management modes. Eco mode is sluggish, which brings un-smoothness. Normal is better for drivability. Sport reduces turbo lag and tightens the steering.
The Juke’s mission, which is basically an all-wheel-drive pocket-rocket hatchback, more than a subcompact crossover. But that CVT transmission makes a liar out of the Nismo RS as a so-called sports car. If you go the other direction, entry level, with the six-speed in the base S, you’re down on power and fuel mileage. The all-wheel drive won’t help you much in snow. So what have you got? Quirky cool. If it works for you.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.