Rainfall in Los Angeles is rare. Heavy downpour is even rarer. So when one of L.A.'s mild storms passes through the region and drenches the city's highways and byways, I'm always happy to be driving our Juke SV with all-wheel drive.

Nissan's all-wheel-drive system is one big reason why the Juke has been such a huge success in regions like Russia and Europe where city-dwelling drivers face inclement weather on a regular basis. Buyers are attracted to its smallness, fuel-efficiency and, unlike the Fiat 500 or Mini Cooper, its uncanny surefootedness when roads turn into mini rivers.

Aside from the GT-R supercar with its ATTESA ET-S system, the Juke is the only North American model that has its intuitive torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system mated to a turbocharged powerplant. This setup can send 50-percent of torque to either the front or rear wheels depending on traction situation. It can also split up to 50-percent of torque between the rear wheels too, meaning grip is not hard to come by.

Sure, it may be a reactive system (not a purely mechanical setup) that's controlled via complex electronic computer systems that allocate torque by monitoring and mitigating vehicle yaw rate, wheel speed, vehicle speed, gear position, steering angle, and G forces. Still, it's better than the front-drive alternative. And when you're in heavy rain or snow, a reactive system can be a godsend.

Combine the SV's AWD capabilities with a solid B-platform, MacPherson front/multi-link rear suspension, 17-inch rubber, disc brakes, ABS, and stabilizer bars on both ends, and well, you get a robust little crossover that feels like it can conquer any one of L.A.'s pitted paths -- rain, snow, or shine.

One cool AWD feature has to be the on-the-fly all-wheel-drive switch that allows drivers to choose their drive mode -- 2WD (which is front-drive only), AWD-V (varies torque distribution depending on traction situation), and AWD (torque is equally split between front and rear axles in all situations). Real-time torque distribution is shown on a novel -- albeit overly simplified -- digital display set between the tachometer and speedometer.

During one of Southern California's unusual cold snaps, my girlfriend and I took the long trek south to San Diego County to visit the Palomar Observatory. Though the majority of snow was cleared from the road ahead of our trip, there was still residual powder along the path, so I switched into Intuitive All-Wheel-Drive mode just to be safe. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), it was uneventful; our day drive became a calm, slow-speed cruise up the long and wet curvy road. Not once did the dash's traction control or AWD lights flash as if destruction was imminent, nor did the Goodyear rubber struggle for grip. Versatile? I believe it wholeheartedly.


2011 Nissan Juke SV
Months/miles in service 8/15,326
Avg econ/CO2 23.4 mpg/0.83 lb/mi
Energy cons 144 kW-hr/100 mi
Unresolved problems None
Maintenance cost $110.43 (oil/filter change, rotate tires, inspection)
Normal-wear cost $0