2011 Nissan Juke Introduction

Nissan calls the Juke a Sport Cross, which ties in with its claim that it's a crossover between a sports car and an SUV. In that respect it's like the Suzuki SX4 that's been around for two years with the so-called sportcross field to itself, and the new Mitsubishi Outlander Sport with its launch just two months behind the Juke.

Small crossovers are the fourth largest and fastest growing segment, so watch for more vehicles like this, many with all-wheel drive like these three.

The Nissan Juke is built on Nissan's global B platform, that's been around long enough to be well proven. Its 1.6-liter turbocharged intercooled direct-injection engine is being seen for the first time in the U.S., but it too has been used by Nissan in Europe and Japan for some time now.

The name Juke is meant to suggest flitting around town, or as a boxer might juke around the ring, and the vehicle does just that. It's got a short 96-inch wheelbase, and a stance and style that looks rather jukey. Its styling is aggressively quirky, as Nissan likes to take chances. It's 7 inches shorter and 3 inches wider than a Nissan Versa hatchback, so you might get the picture.

It's a 5-seater, but naturally this size doesn't leave much legroom in the rear. The standard rear seat is a fold-flat 60/40, however, so there is good cargo space behind the front seat.

The seats are comfortable and the fabric sporty in the Juke SV, while the leather in the Juke SL is lovely. The center console design is inspired by a motorcycle gas tank, and its hard plastic is painted a glossy color, deep metallic red in our test model SL. It's distinctive, and cool.

The 188 horsepower with 177 pound-feet of torque provides brisk acceleration. The CVT transmission with its manual shifting is quick and sharp, however we found the 6-speed manual transmission detracts from some good qualities in the car, including the quietness and steering. The fuel mileage with all-wheel drive is an EPA-estimated 25 City and 30 Highway, and we're surprised that it's not more, given the modern 1.6-liter direct-injection engine.

The all-wheel-drive system divides the torque 50-50, with the capability to move all the torque between left and right wheels, to meet traction demands.

The suspension is fairly standard, MacPherson struts in front and multi-link rear, and combined with the short wheelbase and relatively big 17-inch wheels and tires, the ride catches every undulation. It's not sharp or harsh, but when you're driving the Juke over bumps you're fully aware you're in a tight little car.

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