The arrival of "my" 2011 Nissan Juke SL made me hesistate. The crazily-styled compact crossover that was to be my first assigned long-termer had a knack for making just about everyone that saw it stop, stare, and point -- often open-mouthed. To me, Tokyo's bizarre Harajuku district seemed more fitting for this funky 'ugly duckling' than the pothole-riddled streets of Hollywood. But I shrugged off those hesitations and gladly accepted a year-long seat in our funkiest long-termer in recent history.

I soon found out it's hard not to love the Juke. For an unmarried, relatively young writing machine like myself -- someone who lives with a single roommate, has no furniture, no kids, and no pets -- the Juke was all I really needed to get around happily.

When it came to carting friends, it had strengths and weaknesses. Small-statured riders easily fit in the rear, given its 32.1/48.4/51.4 inches of leg/hip/shoulder room; bigger fellas had to sit in the front, where they could take advantage of the 42.1 inches of legroom. Overall, three friends of any dimension fit just fine in the Juke (two in the rear seat, one up front). However, when four people tried to squeeze inside (one up front, three out back), things got hairy. When those bodies were combined with a steeply raked roof and some very tight rear door openings built for Japanese buyers, everyone instantly speed-dialed friends who owned bigger rides. Forget about hauling any luggage along with passengers, unless you're a Tetris champion or employ an aftermarket roof rack. For optimal cargo capacity, I told my friends to hitchhike, then folded the rear bench down for a respectable 35.9 cubic feet of space.

While fitting into the Juke proved tricky, fitting the Juke into places was easy. Armed with the SL grade's standard RearView camera (part of the 5-inch touch-screen nav) and tiny overhangs fore and aft, the Nissan simply slipped in and out of miniscule parking stalls and street spots. Driving it through dense and intense L.A. traffic further proved its controversial design's usefulness -- its smallish physical measurements meant it always felt comfortable in urban congestion. If I needed to make a right-hander on a red at a stoplight, I could squeeze by stopped traffic, no problem. Parking lot cruising couldn't have been any less stressful, thanks in large part to the Juke's unobstructed forward visibility and elevated driving position.

Funny, I find myself saying JUUUKE aloud each time I see one. Like a long-lost puppy, I miss my long-term Juke.

Zooming around slower traffic and, amazingly, through some of the region's best canyon roads never failed to be entertaining. The 188-horse, 1.6-liter heart and CVT needed loads of prodding and "manual" shifting, but even still, the Juke put a lot of so-called "sporty" compacts to shame when it came to oomph and sticky handling.

For such commendable athleticism and utility, I needed to service the Juke only every 7500 miles. By 22,500 miles, I racked up a $446.35 bill, not including regular wear-and-tear items like a new set of Bridgestone rubber ($719.86). Not bad. But the amount of fuel and cash needed to maintain the Juke's addictive entertainment value was pitiful. With Sport mode and torque-vectoring all-wheel drive engaged almost all the time, and a turbo whirling at full boost, refuel stops were made at least twice weekly (my commute is 24 miles one way). Of course, I occasionally switched the powertrain to front-drive mode and selected the ECO drive option, but where's the fun in that? At the end of 12 months, I averaged a combined real world 22.9 mpg, which wasn't horrible, but it wasn't stellar, nor was it on par with the EPA's 27 combined mpg rating.

Lackluster real-world mpgs aside, other gripes included a stiff ride, a useless digital accelerometer, and nonexistent front armrests. But that's about it. At the end of its 365-day stay, the Juke's positive attributes unequivocally outweighed any niggles I could muster and any complaints (with gasps!) its exterior evoked from people who hadn't had the chance to live with it.

To say this ugly duckling came in as an underdog and left a fan fave would be absolutely correct. Sure, in the end, it didn't physically change into something far more gorgeous. But it did change my mind.


2011 Nissan Juke SL
Service life 12 mo/24,757 mi
Base price $25,330
Options Rear roof spoiler ($390), carpeted floormats and cargo mat ($170)
Price as tested $25,890.00
Problem areas None
Maintenance cost $471.35 (3-oil change, rotate tires, inspection; 1-cabin-air filter)Normal-wear cost / $719.86 (four Bridgestone tires)
3-year residual value* $16,797
Recalls 2: Turbocharger boost sensor bracket and fuel pressure sensor
EPA City/Hwy/Comb Fuel Econ 25/30/27 mpg (gas)
Average Fuel Econ 22.8 mpg
*Automotive Lease Guide