2011 Nissan Juke
Plan 9 from outer space

WE LIKE: Criminally fun-to-drive dynamics, impressive interior electronics.
WE DON'T LIKE: Limited cargo room, limited backseat, limited off-road capability, and limited styling appeal.

Even when cast against the increasingly avant-garde crossover segment, the Nissan Juke looks downright alien. This is unfortunate, because the controversial styling, which aims to evoke the irrepressible machismo of rally cars and motorcycles, blocks the Juke's best attribute: It's a blast.

This is the most fun small car Nissan makes. Editors were uniform in their joy from behind the steering wheel. ("I love driving this car," the notes read. "It's a ton of fun.")

The turbo 1.6-liter is enjoyably aggressive, even when paired with a continuously variable transmission (a six-speed manual is available with FWD). The AWD model delivers torque vectoring and a more sophisticated multilink rear suspension, which pays dividends in driver enjoyment, encouraging high-speed hooliganism through our two-lane driving loop.

The interior is just as engaging. Our SV trim offers push-button ignition, iPod integration, Bluetooth, and Nissan's I-CON system, wherein the driver can access three preset driving modes that adjust the character of the steering, transmission, and throttle.

But while the electronics and fun factor are impressive, they can't hide the biggest issue besides styling: The Juke's intended purpose. Why is it a crossover? You need a magnifying glass to find the functionality. The lifted ride height implies some off-road ability, but the Juke rattles unnervingly when the pavement disappears ("Feels like it's going to shake apart," one editor noted). Its cargo capacity, at 10.5 cubic feet, is dwarfed by that found in the Honda Fit, Mazda3, and Volkswagen Golf.

When you drive the Juke, you'll have a blast. But you can't help but wonder how much better it could've been as a car. With a lower ride height and more sophisticated suspension-not to mention a completely new front end- the Juke could've been a strong contender in the sport-compact arena.

As is, it's a head-scratcher. And while that means many things, not one of them is Sport/Utility of the Year. - Carlos Lago

2011 Nissan Juke
Base price $19,710-$25,300
Price as tested $22,310 (SV)
Vehicle layout Front engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 1.6L/188-hp/177-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission Cont-variable auto
Curb weight (f/r dist) 2932 lb (63/37%)
Wheelbase 99.6 in
Length x width x height 162.4 x 69.5 x 61.8 in
0-60 mph 6.8 sec
Quarter mile 15.2 sec @ 91.9 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 124 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.85 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 27.3 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)
MT observed fuel econ 19.2 mpg
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 27/32 mpg
CO2 emissions 0.67 lb/mile
INTERIOR/Functionality ****
To infinity, and beyond.