Behold the newest silly car -- the new Nissan Juke, designed to make us smile. It joins the ranks of the original Scion xB, Honda Element, Daimler Smart, Kia Soul, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Chevrolet HHR and Nissan Cube.
Smile or laugh -- and maybe at it, not with it. Either way, the Juke is fun to drive, reasonably priced and surprisingly peppy thanks to a turbocharger with an intercooler and direct fuel injection into the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine's combustion chambers. Car and Driver said zero to 60 mph takes 7.5 seconds. The Juke is delightfully maneuverable in tight spaces.
And in how many cars can you see your own front directional signals from the driver's seat? The Juke's are mounted high on the front fenders.
It has downsides though: Enormous outside rearview mirrors that look like Mickey Mouse ears, which would be cute except that they interfere with visibility in turns; limited cargo room when the rear seat is in use; and, most distressing, a preference for premium gas -- a trait exacerbated by disappointing fuel economy. A small, 13.2-gallon fuel tank, means a relatively short range between fill-ups.
The Environmental Protection Agency says the version I sampled is good for 25 miles per gallon in local driving and 30 on the highway, but my average in seven days of mostly highway driving with the all-wheel drive switched off and the engine and transmission almost always in the "economy" mode, was 23 mpg.
On sale since October and sharing its structural and mechanical basics with the Versa and Cube, the Juke is offered in front- or all-wheel drive starting at $19,760 with freight. Stick shift is available only in front-wheel drive versions. For the record, the larger Nissan Rogue sport utility vehicle shares basics with the Sentra, while the still-larger Nissan Murano is based on the Altima.
The five-passenger, four-door Juke is about 6 inches shorter than a PT Cruiser, which was discontinued earlier this year, but it is in rear seat legroom where the Juke's subcompact car heritage really shows: it has almost 9 inches less than the Cruiser.
The Juke's suspension is firm enough for hard cornering and good control over undulating pavement, and the ride is comfortable unless the pavement is truly awful. Steering feedback is good.
Neither the federal government nor the private Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have published safety ratings for the Juke. Nor is there any information yet on its reliability.