2012 Nissan Juke: Introduction
Nissan is one of the few automakers that is unafraid to bring its Japanese domestic market offerings to the United States and see if their unusual styling and quirky character will resonate with American buyers. First it was the Cube and now it's the Nissan Juke, a compact crossover introduced last year in an attempt to cash in on the demographic looking for a way to stand out in an increasingly crowded segment of the market.
The 2012 Nissan Juke is honestly like no other small SUV currently available. Its unique personality appeals to drivers who want to slip behind the wheel of something fun, practical, and completely different from the hatchback sitting in their neighbor's driveway.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to narrowing down the field of competitors for the 2012 Nissan Juke. The first is that the Juke is intended to serve as a replacement for any one of the many different compact hatchbacks in its price range, including the Ford Focus, the Hyundai Elantra Touring, and the Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback. Others would instead prefer to cross-shop the Nissan Juke against small crossovers such as the Scion xB, the Kia Soul, and the Mazda CX-5. This split reveals that the Juke is a true 'tweener,' a vehicle with a dual mission that aims to satisfy as a useful urban runabout while maintaining a tall-riding SUV image.
2012 Nissan Juke: Pricing and Trim Levels
The 2012 Nissan Juke offers three different trim levels. The base Juke S starts at an MSRP of $19,990, while the mid-range Juke SV comes in at an MSRP of $21,610. The top-tier edition of the crossover, the Juke SL, fetches a total of $23,930.
The Nissan Juke that we were given as a week-long tester was a Canadian-market Juke SL AWD that, after adding in all of its optional equipment, featured a price tag of $29,678 CAD. An equivalent American-market Juke SL would come with a MSRP of roughly $28,800.
2012 Nissan Juke: Exterior
The 2012 Nissan Juke is one of the few non-exotic automobiles we've tested that had other drivers pulling up beside us at stoplights to ask us questions about the car. The Juke attracts attention wherever it goes thanks to its wild sheet metal and daringly-sculpted roofline and profile. Seen from the front, the Juke displays two enormous fog lights that are deeply scalloped into the grinning front bumper, jutting up over the curved grille and sitting on top of the aggressive lower fascia. The hood is a narrow affair that is squeezed between a pair of headlight slivers that ride on top of each fender and which from the inside of the car resemble nothing so much as a pair of horns that frame the road ahead.
The side view of the Nissan Juke is no less audacious, with a sloping roofline and a lack of visible rear door handles suggesting that the compact crossover is in fact a coupe. Locating the inset door pulls hiding just behind the Juke's second set of passenger windows takes a keen eye, even from up close. Out back, the hatchback glass features an integrated spoiler at the and sharply-angled taillights that link the opening to the vehicle's wide, beefy fenders, and our Juke rode on split-spoke 17-inch rims.
Opinions were divided as to whether the Juke's bold styling was a fashion-do or a fashion-don't, but the majority of our test team was deeply enamored of the crossover's almost poetic assembly of curves and angles.
2012 Nissan Juke: Interior
Inside, the 2013 Nissan Juke doesn't take quite as many risks, presenting a simple gauge and control package that is highlighted by a few well-executed high tech features. Directly in front of the driver sit the tachometer and speedometer, housed in a dual-binnacle arrangement that is shielded from glare by an attractive - and soft-to-the-touch - clamshell that juts up above the dashboard on a pair of tiny stilts. In between the two dials is a monochrome screen that shows basic vehicle information such as the odometer and whether all-wheel drive has been engaged, as well as two vertical gauges the keep track of engine temperature and the amount of fuel remaining in the tank.
The center stack holds a small touchscreen that also serves as the navigation display, flanked on either side by buttons and dials for interacting the with crossover's entertainment features. The navigation system was relatively simple to use, although we did not test out its guidance features extensively. We were, however, on occasion flummoxed by its propensity to zoom in and out depending on the automobile's rate of speed and whether we had touched the screen in order to scroll from side to side.
Directly underneath the touchscreen is the climate and I-Con drive control center. A single button flips the labeling on the rest of the buttons back and forth between the two sets of controls, which is a great way to save space and add a bit of techno-wizardry to the cabin. When the small LCD screen that rests at the center of this setup isn’t showing current temperature and fan settings, it's displaying one of three different graphics relating to the Juke's drive mode. These include a torque and battery charge gauge when 'Normal' is selected, a boost gauge when the crossover is set to 'Sport,' and a small graphic that trains drivers for maximum fuel efficiency in 'Eco.'
The center console itself is made of a hard, painted plastic - red in the case of our test vehicle - that features the requisite cup holders, a small storage compartment, and a nice MP3 player-sized cutout lined with a grippy material at the very front, positioned directly beside the USB interface and audio jack. The door panels featured matching metallic red fabric inserts, with the same material curving down to cover each armrest.
The Nissan Juke's front leather seats were comfortable, and there was plenty of room for both forward occupants to stretch out. The rear accommodations were quite a bit tighter, leaving little space for legs and knees if taller passengers were occupying the front two spots. Still, children and early teens would be a perfect fit for the little crossover's back row. The cargo area between the hatch and the seatbacks was suitable for hauling groceries and other small packages, but folding the seats forward opened up considerably more space for carrying larger items within the Juke's modest confines.
2012 Nissan Juke: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
The 2012 Nissan Juke is offered exclusively with a turbocharged, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood. This unit is capable of generating 188 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque, and buyers have the choice between either a six-speed manual transmission (front-wheel drive models) or a continuously-variable automatic (front and all-wheel drive editions). Fuel mileage for the small crossover is rated at 27-mpg in stop and go driving and 32-mpg on the highway.
2012 Nissan Juke: Driving Impressions
The 2012 Nissan Juke is an unreasonably fun vehicle to drive. One initially doesn't expect such an affordable compact crossover to deliver the kind of spirited acceleration that we experienced in our week-long tester - especially considering that we were given a CVT-equipped model - but it turns out that Nissan knew exactly what it was doing with this particular drivetrain pairing. By matching the turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a continuously-variable automatic transmission, Nissan is able to keep the crossover in boost as long as necessary without any pesky gear changes getting in the way of delivering the right amount of power for a given situation. Although the Juke doesn't leap off the line, once it gets going there are plenty of ponies to play with, giving drivers ample confidence should they need to accelerate into a hole that has suddenly opened up in traffic.
Switching the I-Con system from 'Normal' to 'Sport' introduces a set of virtual 'gear ratios' that see the Juke performing a bit more like a hatchback with a traditional automatic transmission - albeit one that can use engine braking. Although throttle response felt a bit more aggressive when the Juke was in 'Sport' mode, the endless powerband sensation that came with the 'Normal' setting was no longer present. As a result, we kept the crossover in 'Normal' most of the time. The 'Eco' setting slowed down the automobile considerably, and it was consequently avoided. It's worth mentioning that even though we skipped out on 'Eco' mode, fuel mileage during our time with the Juke closely matched its advertised EPA numbers.
From a handling perspective, it's clear that Nissan is hoping to steal buyers away from a few of the other affordable compact hot hatches. The Juke felt stable when pushed hard through long corners, and it was also quite nimble when darting around Montreal streets in search of that ever-elusive parking space. Unfortunately, there's no denying the impact that the crossover's increased ride height has on its driving feel. The Juke can certainly offer pilots a good time, but since it's sitting up so high it can't quite match the lightning reflexes of a compact hatchback.
We weren't able to test out the vehicle's torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system to our liking, given that weather was generally warm and dry during our time with the crossover, but we did set it to automatic a few times and see if we could get the rear wheels to break free under hard acceleration through a turn or two - to no avail. We weren't even able to get the stability control to click on, which is a testament to the Juke's suspension design. In fact, the only time the compact SUV felt unsettled was when traveling over potholes, when the back of the Nissan would occasional skitter across the broken pavement for a second or two.
2012 Nissan Juke: Safety
The 2012 Nissan Juke comes with a long list of standard airbags, including side curtain units, seat-mounted front airbags, and dual-stage forward airbags. The Juke also comes with electronic stability and traction control. In crash testing, the Nissan crossover earned the best possible rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, making it a Top Safety Pick for its model year. This proves, once again, that maximum passenger protection in an accident doesn't have to come in a large package.
2012 Nissan Juke: Final Thoughts
The 2012 Nissan Juke is the kind of crossover that we would like to see more of, one that steps outside the conservative styling language that has ruled the segment roost for far too long and dares to be different in both its visual design and its drivetrain. The Juke might not be for everyone, but honestly, we've seen the cars that were meant to satisfy the broadest possible spectrum of buyers and there's really nothing special about adopting that particular marketing viewpoint. If you can live with the small interior, and if you don't mind answering questions from curious motorists every other time you gas up, then you will most likely enjoy the Nissan Juke's blend of spunky performance and extroverted good looks.
What We Like About The 2012 Nissan Juke:
- Honestly, it's a beautiful-looking machine
- Excellent pairing between CVT and turbocharged engine
- Responsive handling for a compact crossover
We Aren't So Hot On:
- Smallish accommodations for rear passengers
- Shallow trunk
- Can get pricy in higher trim levels