Test Drive: 2012 Nissan Juke SL AWD

By Kevin Harrison

By all indications Pablo Picasso was mad. The famous Spanish artist could easily turn everyday life scenarios and paint them into a seemingly twisted snapshot that is both awe inspiring and head scratching.

People with distorted unconventional faces and sometimes with twin faces would relentlessly be found on mismatched bodies with questionable colour choices. It was sometimes a stretch, but look closely and you’ll notice that Picasso wasn’t exactly mad, he just saw things in a different way. So differently, in fact, that he is credited with inventing a new style of painting called Cubism. It was a way of painting in which Picasso analyzed and painted objects in terms of picked apart shapes and put them back together in an interesting and austere way.

Nissan is one of the few automakers to do the same with their designs. If you haven’t noticed, the compact CUV segment is about as interesting as spending an evening with a goldfish. Same general shape, same general function. But Nissan has decided to take a leap with their latest CUV design in the hopes of coming up with a Cubism (and no, I’m not referring to their other compact offering, the Cube).

The Juke has found itself on many top ten ugly vehicle lists and has even been accused of being a modern day Pontiac Aztek. While Picasso’s work was certainly polarizing, most of his paintings were concluded to be literal works of art from a hand which produced strokes of genius.

Has Nissan hit a similar point in design, or have they merely produced something only a mother could love? I drove one to find out.

 

 

There is nothing like it on the road today, and as a result, the Juke generates lots of stares. Some are looks of intrigue, while the Juke’s design had others finding something to vomit in as I drove by. At the Juke’s introduction to the market a few years ago, I would’ve been one of those reaching for a barf bag whenever I laid eyes on a Juke. I even jokingly called it the ‘Nissan Puke’. However, now I’m not a part of that group. The look has grown on me, so much so that I consider it to be a quirky look that forces the eye to look more closely at the unique styling cues. Once you take the time to do that, the Juke’s appearance is much more tolerable and even perhaps endearing.

 

The front fascia is by far the most unique piece of the Juke’s styling puzzle with large round headlights where you’d expect fog lights to be, and turn signals directly on top of the hood where you’d expect the head lights to be. It’s a bit like Picasso’s faces where the eyes were on the forehead and the nose was where the mouth is. The large black grille stretches from end to end while the front bumper is aggressive and SUV-like. The side profile continues the mismatched Cubism theme with lines that are both curvaceous and angular. Out back the very slanted roof line helps with uniqueness as does the skinny Volvo-esque tail lights. As I alluded to before, it takes time, but eventually you start to appreciate the Juke’s appearance.

 

The Juke’s uniqueness continues inside as well, although much more sedately. Trim pieces that match the exterior colour can be found, along with a logical, if  too conservative layout. The center piece mimics the fuel tank of a motorcycle which is pretty neat. But if you’re going to make a statement in design, it should flow to the interior as well and I feel the Juke comes up a bit short in this area comparatively. Still, my SL tester was decently equipped and most of the controls are where you expect them to be, though one noticeable omission appears to be a lack of auto headlights.

 

The Juke is a smaller vehicle than you think and as a result rear legroom is tight as is entrance and egress. Cargo room is a tad on the small side too, but the folding seats can easily take care of that issue. The Juke’s form is definitely taking precedent over function here. The Juke has a small screen which controls the driving settings and there’s three of them for normal driving, sport, and eco modes. There is a noticeable difference between eco and sport, although not so much between normal and sport. A small display screen in sport lets you know what the torque vectoring system is up to and how much G’s you’re producing. While that kind of gadgetry is a bit of a gambit, the Juke can be flogged about quite effortlessly and for the most part it feels sure-footed. My only complaint is that the screen is located a little too far down on the centre console, almost at the height of the gear shift which causes the driver to really take his or her eyes off the road.

 

The torque vectoring all-wheel drive system can essentially split the torque from front to back or from side to side depending on which wheels need the most grip when cornering. It’s a bit like Honda’s SH-AWD system and I must say, it works marvelously. It’s likely one of the best handling crossover’s in the segment.

 

Under normal driving conditions, the Juke is a zippy little city dweller. It’s nimble and easy to control in parking lots and small spaces. Due to the uncharacteristic exterior shape, backing up and checking blind spots can be a bit of a challenge, but my tester had a back-up camera to make the former a bit easier. The ride is a bit choppy, but it’s not unbearable.

 

The Juke uses a 1.6 litre direct injected turbocharged engine that makes 180 horsepower and 170 pound foot of torque, which is readily available in the mid RPM range. Pick-up off the line is good, especially in sport mode, but the CVT transmission (which is standard on the AWD model) leaves a less than desirable engine noise which is intrusive to the cabin. That said, the CVT transmission is quite smooth although it works better with Nissan’s bigger engines. For highway cruising, the CVT happily calms down in the 2,000 RPM range which helps it achieve an impressive 6.1 L/100 kms highway rating.

 

After just a few days in the Juke, it’s quirky nature left me quite  fascinated. Here we have a CUV that has the audacity to stare you in the face with that mug. Yet a lot of the time, I couldn’t look away. I had to stare at every single angle intently to form my opinion on whether or not I liked what I saw. It was a bit like, oh I don’t know, what happens when people stare at Picasso paintings in art galleries around the world. Like Picasso paintings, I knew that I (eventually) liked what I saw, but couldn’t quite explain why. And that’s really what the Juke is; a modern day Picasso. It’s not for everyone, but for those who enjoy challenging their eyes and their mind with unique design will certainly enjoy the Juke. The fact that it is relatively cheap, fun to drive, versatile and good on gas is just the icing on the cake.

Base Price: $26,778

Pros:

  • Good AWD system
  • Decent fuel efficiency
  • Easy to maneuver
  • Respectable acceleration in Sport mode
  • Good handling for a CUV
  • Unique, eye-catching looks

Cons:

  • Unique, eye-catching looks
  • Shape creates a few blind spots
  • A bit of a choppy ride
  • Noisy CVT

Overall: 8/10

 

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