Nissan's all-new 2011 Juke has the subtlety of an atom bomb. Even cast against the increasingly avant-garde crossover segment, the Juke looks downright alien. Its styling is said to evoke rally cars and motorcycles (the center console resembles a fuel tank), but from our staff the face elicited comparisons begrudgingly accepting (Isuzu Vehicross) and downright hateful (Pontiac Aztek).

While the design is the most polarizing aspect, we reached agreement on performance. The 2011 Nissan Juke's turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four produces an eager 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. With the continuously variable automatic buzzing the engine's top speed incessantly, the front-drive Juke we tested accelerated to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, and through the quarter mile in 15.2 seconds at 91.9 mph, which is right on par with the Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T, mind you. Stopping distance is equally impressive, at a best of 124 feet from 60 mph.

Handling proves to be more fun than the torsion beam rear suspension would lead you to believe. (All-wheel drive models get a more sophisticated multi-link setup.) Around our figure eight, the Juke put down a best lap of 27.3 seconds and an average lateral acceleration of 0.85 g. That's 0.7 seconds slower than the aforementioned Genesis Coupe, but in the same territory as the Mazda3 hatchback and Volkswagen Golf. Credit is due to the Juke's low 2932-pound curb weight, an anomaly welcome not only in the crossover segment but also in a new-for-2011 vehicle.

For its $22,310 as-tested price, our Juke delivers an impressive array of features. Bluetooth and iPod integration work delightfully well, and the optional navigation system far outperforms what its $800 price tag would suggest.

The most appealing part about the interior is Nissan's Integrated Control system, or I-CON. Under climate mode (accessed by pressing a button named just that), the dash offers the usual array of fan and cooling and heating controls. But press the D-Mode button and, through LED trickery, each of the climate controls instantly changes appearance and function. Here, you can access three pre-set driving modes: Normal, Sport, or Eco. Each adjusts the character of the steering, transmission, and throttle. The modes also make available a set of unique digital gauges, including torque, a g-force meter, and fuel economy graphs. Sport mode stiffens the steering feel and runs the CVT through an unconvincing set of virtual gear ratios, mimicking a normal automatic. (We recorded fastest acceleration in Normal mode with the transmission in drive, which allows the turbocharger to keep spinning at peak engine speed.)

"The CVT running through gears and banging off crisp shifts is impressive," says MT technical director Frank Markus. "But intellectually I know that this is slower, so I have trouble accepting that as a 'sport' transmission setting." The point runs even deeper: 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 instead of a crossover. With a lower ride height and more sophisticated suspension -- not to mention a completely new front end -- the Juke could've been a sport compact godsend.

As is, Juke is a head-scratcher. Why is it a crossover? You need a magnifying glass to find the functionality. The lifted ride height implies a modicum of off-road ability, but the Juke rattles unnervingly when the pavement disappears ("Feels like it's going to shake apart," one editor noted). Cargo capacity is compromised, too. At 10.5 cubic feet, the Juke's storage area is dwarfed by that of the Volkswagen Golf four-door (15 cubic feet), Mazda3 hatchback (17 cubic feet), and the magical Honda Fit (20.6 cubic feet).

The Juke is amazing fun on the road, easily the most enjoyable small vehicle Nissan makes. But while it will have you in stitches, its success will depend on whether you're laughing with it or at it.


2011 Nissan Juke SV
Base Price $19,710
Price as tested $22,310
Vehicle layout Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door crossover
Engine 1.6L/188-hp/177-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission Cont. variable auto
Curb weight (dist f/r) 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)
EPA city/hwy econ 27/32
CO2 emissions 0.67 lb/mile
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