Part SUV, part sporty coupe, the 2011 Juke brings Nissan into the exploding small-crossover arena, the fourth largest segment in the U.S. and one that continues to grow at an alarming rate. Other automakers are setting their sights on this segment, too. When the Juke goes on sale this fall, it will face off with such fresh faces as Mini Countryman and Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, as well as a group of established players that includes Scion xB, Kia Soul, and Suzuki SX4. We recently had the opportunity to drive a pre-production all-wheel-drive Juke around the mountains near Malibu, and found its dynamics to be about as entertaining as its styling is shocking.

Based on Nissan's global-B platform, which underpins the likes of Versa, Cube, and Renault Clio, the Juke is armed with an all-new direct-injected 1.6-liter turbocharged I-4 that generates an estimated 185 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. Paired with a standard continuously variable automatic (AWD comes exclusively with CVT; FWD with a six-speed manual or CVT), the DI 1.6 was eager to rev and proved plenty powerful to motivate the AWD's estimated 3200-pound curb weight. Zero to 60 should fall in the 7.5-8.0-second range -- quick for a crossover that achieves combined fuel economy of 30 mpg -- making up for the appliance whir of an engine note. Unlike the larger Rogue, the Juke is not available with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, an oversight for a sporty crossover aimed at attracting young males into Nissan showrooms.

Of particular note is the Juke's available all-wheel-drive system, which sports torque-vectoring technology, a first for a Nissan crossover. This advanced system splits torque up to 50/50 between the front and rear axles, and, more important, routs torque side to side across the rear axle, which reduces understeer and heightens cornering agility by spinning the outside tire 5- to 10-mph faster than the inside one. To accommodate the additional hardware and complement the improved performance, Juke AWD gets a multi-link rear suspension in favor of the FWD's torsion beam. Over our winding test loop through the mountains, the Juke's torque-vectoring system -- at 64 pounds, it's the lightest of its type in the world, according to Nissan -- made quick work of tight turns and sweeping esses, rotating the rear end effortlessly and composedly. Wearing V-rated 215/55R17 Goodyear Eagle RS-A all-season tires, the Juke is about as "tossable" as small crossovers come.