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Nissan Juke has trade-offs but daring style

Prices for the Nissan Juke start at $19,990.

Prices for the Nissan Juke start at $19,990. Credit: Handout

You might call Nissan's newest trucklet, the 2012 Nissan Juke, ugly. Or the Nissan Joke.

Certainly, its style is polarizing. It's meant to be.

The main inspiration for the front seems to be rally cars, but the effect of stacking three headlamps -- especially the secondary ones that run along the top of the fenders -- makes it seem more like an alien life form than a seriously fun truck.

There were plenty of people who agreed, saying that they thought it looked like a frog.

Meanwhile, others couldn't believe that anything so cool was so inexpensive.

Some kudos should be tossed to the Juke's stance, with wide fender flares and muscular shoulders that play against its sloping roofline.

From the rear view, this is a seriously sporty little vehicle.

But its diminutive size, questionable looks and a platform used for the Nissan Versa hatchback and Cube didn't promise anything remotely fun.

So color me more than a little surprised by how entertaining this little squirt is to drive.

Nissan refers to the Juke as a "sport cross," meaning the Juke combines the agility and power of a sports car with the increased ground height, practical body shape and all-wheel drive of an SUV.

But its personality is clearly that of the Nissan Rogue's smaller, punk brother, with a rowdy 188-hp. turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable transmission, or CVT.

The driving experience isn't serene. There's a lot of road and tire noise. The short wheelbase contributes a choppy ride and the suspension is tuned for firmness.

The trade-off is incredibly flat cornering, with little, if any, discernible body lean.

The Juke's well-bolstered bucket seats prove comfortable, even after many hours in the saddle. They're covered in a durable, quality fabric that seems expensive next to the many cheap, hard plastic surfaces throughout the cabin.

Given its small exterior, you may not be surprised that most of this vehicle's interior space is in the front seats; the rear seats offer little. Thankfully, they fold to expand the cargo hold, which is big enough for a bachelor. Credit for the meager space goes to its high liftover height and sloping rear hatch glass.

The Juke is provocative, and ultimately endearing. It's a vehicle with a distinct point of view -- one that hasn't been sanitized for your protection.

The Juke is juke, in every sense of the word.

NISSAN JUKE

Base price: $19,990

Price as tested: $24,965

Engine: Turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder

Wheelbase: 99.6 inches

Length: 162.4 inches

Weight: 3,170 pounds

Cargo space: 10.5-35.9 cubic feet

EPA fuel economy rating (city/highway): 25 / 30 mpg

Bottom line: A lovable ugly duckling

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