Nissan Juke is fun, great for new drivers

Interior 2011 Nissan Juke, Interior 2011 Nissan Juke, Photo Credit: Tribune Media Services

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The all-new 2011 Nissan Juke is as fun to drive as any other small, sporty car in the market. With its raised ground clearance and rally-inspired design, the Juke feels like it can go anywhere, which sets it apart from the competition.

The Juke isn't for everybody. Actually, it's not for anyone with kids in rear-facing car seats, which just don't fit in the backseat. It's the kind of car you might want to get for your teen driver or maybe when your kids are out of large car seats (mine are in boosters and quite liked the Juke). A first-time driver -- a teen or fresh-out-of-college adult -- will probably appreciate its small stature and not care that the continuously variable automatic transmission is loud and whiny. Of course, the Juke was just so fun to drive that I almost didn't care about the loud CVT.

I wasn't prepared to like this five-passenger crossover as much as I did. With a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the Juke gets to places in a hurry. There are three driving modes -- Sport, Normal and Eco -- that allow you to indulge in whichever driving style you'd like at a moment's notice. All-wheel drive, which is tough to find on smaller vehicles, is available on the Juke.

This crossover has a starting MSRP of $19,340. My test car, a top-of-the-line Juke SL with all-wheel drive, cost $25,860. It should be said that the standard features on this model were extensive, but that's still a bit more than pocket change.

Exterior

The Juke's front styling is supposed to evoke thoughts of a crocodile sitting just below the surface of the water, with its eyes peeking out, according to Nissan. My neighbor's kindergarten-age son decided he liked the Juke because of its chubby cheeks, as he called them. Whatever you call them, the Juke has flared fenders that make it look hippy, especially in the rear.

During my test drive, I received so many comments on the Juke (solicited and otherwise). Some people loved it from the side, but not the front, while some loved the front but thought the back was weird-looking. Design-wise, I think the whole car really works.

It must be said that the Juke will struggle to be functional for families with small kids who want to be independent. The main reason is the rear door handles are positioned way up on the doorjamb by the C-pillars. Until your kids are taller, they will not be able to reach them. This is no big deal if you don't mind opening the door for your kids all the time. The rear doors blended so seamlessly with the crossover that most people thought it was a two-door car at first glance.

Despite the high door handles, it was easy to open and close the doors because they aren't too heavy or wide. The step-in height is kid-friendly, too. When it's open, the liftgate is really tall; I'm 5-foot-5 and didn't have any problems reaching the liftgate to close it, though.

The Juke has a 188-horsepower, turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four-cylinder engine. On the SV and SL trims with front-wheel drive, a manual transmission is standard. A CVT is standard on the base-level S trim and optional on the SV and SL trims. Front-wheel drive is standard on the Juke, and all-wheel drive is optional. The all-wheel-drive Juke gets an EPA-estimated 25/30 mpg city/highway. The front-wheel-drive Juke with a CVT gets 27/32 mpg; with a manual transmission, it gets 24/31 mpg. The Juke uses premium fuel.

SENSE AND STYLE

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Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Not Really

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Groove-On

Interior

As fun as the exterior of the Juke is, it's only the beginning. The interior has just as good a time. It's utilitarian but full of technological features.

My favorite feature in the five-seater is the optional I-CON system, a climate control panel that switches to a driving mode panel with the push of a button. Buttons that are labeled for fan settings magically change to read Normal, Sport, Eco and other driving-oriented commands after the D-Mode button is pushed. My test car also had optional heated front seats and a navigation system ($800).

The rally-inspired design continues inside, with shiny accent pieces on the door and around the gearshift. The front seats are comfortable and bolstered to support the rally driver in you. If you have additional passengers in the back, you'll be pleased to know there's some legroom for them, but not a lot.

The trunk space is about what you'd expect, if you're not expecting much. Warehouse club trips will likely require creative seat folding, so the 60/40-split folding backseat will help in that department. There is also under-floor storage in the cargo area. The small cargo area is a good reason the Juke would make a fun second car.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Puny

Safety

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For the kids, the Juke was fun, too. They loved the way it looked, but there was a problem with the seat belts. The buckles were too buried in the seat cushions to make them easy to use for my 6- and 8-year-olds. If the seat itself wasn't obscuring the buckles, they were then too hard to grab onto and use. They'd just retreat deeper into the seat bench. Frustration station!

My kids' booster seats fit well in the Juke as did a forward-facing convertible. Rear-facing car seats didn't fare as well. I tried to place a rear-facing infant-safety seat in the Juke. With the driver's seat moved all the way forward, there was no chance to get the car seat to fit in the backseat.

The Juke has two sets of lower Latch anchors in the outboard seats. They're simple to access, and the three tether anchors on second row's seatbacks also were easy to use.

The Juke has the following standard safety features: all-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, front-wheel drive, an electronic stability system, traction control, active head restraints in the front row and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows. All-wheel drive and a backup camera and rear parking sensors are optional safety features.

© 2011, Cars.com

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