2011 Nissan Juke SL AWD: Described by its name

2011 Nissan Juke SL AWD

The 2011 Nissan Juke SL AWD is a collection of lines, curves and features that will delight…or not.

Just as we were about to write off the 2011 Nissan Juke as an odd collection of lines, curves and elements, along comes someone utterly smitten by the styling of Nissan’s “urban sport cross.” And we will confess that we do like it more in the wild than indoors when it was introduced at the New York Auto Show.

Love the design or not, the 2011 Nissan Juke won’t be confused with any other car. Think of it as a Rogue gone rogue. It’s about the same size but with practicality shoved way down the list of priorities and sport cranked up more than a notch.

Take the styling. Please. The grille is a combination of holes and slats while round headlights are set into tubes that intersect the grille. Parking/side lights atop the fenders can be seen from the front seats and glow orange when the lights on after dark, which will be either annoying or Really Cool, depending on who’s doing the looking. Below the front bumper is mandible of matte black plastic.

Front and rear fenders bulge, the roof tapers towards the rear but from behind it has the contours of something that was designed for a purpose other than being pretty. The back door handles are, per Nissan tradition, on the window frame. Taillights are boomerangs borrowed from the 370Z coupe. Lovely is a word that will never be used to describe the Juke. Can we settle on controversial?

Under the convoluted carapace, however, is a surprisingly advanced powertrain. We say “surprisingly” because Nissan could have used conventional mechanicals and left the Juke to sell on its visual merits. Not so with the Juke.

2011 Nissan Juke SL AWD interior

The interior of the 2011 Nissan Juke SL AWD is accented with red stitching.

The standard (and only) engine for the 2011 Nissan Juke is a double overhead cam 1.6-liter turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder.  Both intake and exhaust valve timing  is variable. Head and engine block are both aluminum.

Acceleration is spunky, a word that fits the Juke, and the engine smooth. The latter is due in part to the smaller displacement. Four-cylinder engines have a natural vibration that needs engineering or extra parts to minimize or counteract. The smaller the engine, however, the less there is to start vibrations in the first place. It’s another benefit of making power through turbocharging instead of displacement.

The Juke is available with front-wheel (base Juke S 19,570) or all-wheel drive (base Juke S AWD $21,070). A six-speed manual transmission is standard in front-drive Jukes. The all-wheel drive Juke comes only with the continuously variable transmission (CVT), which in upscale SL trim is what we tested.

The CVT does what a CVT does, and that is going to max revs and staying there while the transmission and car catch up, similar to a power boat or snowmobile. Nissan has tamed the wild engine speed swings of the early CVT transmissions, however, keeping the revs lower longer which likely helps keep fuel consumption down as well.

The Nissan Juke’s CVT can be left to its own continuously variable operations, or shifted manually with fixed gear ratios to it mimic a traditional automatic transmission. “Downshifting” can be used for engine braking, but it makes an unpleasant whining noise when doing so. The noise can’t be heard inside the car with the windows raised, but it will elicit what’s-wrong-with-that-car stares from onlookers.