2012 Nissan Juke SL FWD: It’s so ugly it’s cute

2012 Nissan Juke SL FWD

2012 Nissan Juke SL FWD

When we reviewed the 2011 Nissan Juke over a year ago , chief Buzzard John Matras called the styling controversial, and he was correct. He also noted it wouldn’t be confused with any other car, and once again we agree. But the fact that it’s a design nightmare to those who graduated Art Center makes it all the more endearing. Just ask anyone who owns a pug.

Our Juke is almost the opposite of the previously tested 2011: We have front drive, the previous tester was all-wheel drive; we had the 6-speed manual transmission versus the tested CVT. No matter the drivetrain or transmission configuration, the overall feeling toward the Juke remains the same: we like it. Maybe because we’re crazy journalists, we tend to go for the unique and different. But does that mean buyers will also? The short answer is yes. The Juke first appeared in showrooms in the last quarter of 2010, so it only sold just over 8,600 units that first year. It gained steam in 2011 with a total sales volume of 35,886. For 2012, it’s on target to beat that number. True, the Juke is fighting competition from the Kia Sportage and MINI Cooper, but it’s right in the hunt sales wise. Because the Juke was all new last year, there were no major changes for 2012, and for 2013, only minimal changes as well, such as exterior color choices, a revised audio system, and jockeying some features with different trim levels.

2012 Nissan Juke SL FWD badge

2012 Nissan Juke SL FWD

We can see why everyone likes the Juke. With it’s underdog appearance, crazy fun-to-drive attitude, and reasonable price, what’s not to like? Well, we did have a few critiques, but the good definitely outweighs the bad.

First, let’s start with the price. The Juke S front-wheel drive starts at $20,770 with destination.  Next is the SV trim, for $22,390, and finally the SL (our test model) based at $24,710. With a few options such as carpeted floor and cargo mats and the Sport Package (roof spoiler, stainless steel exhaust tip and 17-inch gunmetal wheels — options one could easily live without), our total price was $25,645; affordable for any demographic.

All three models share the same 1.6-liter turbocharged direct-injected four-cylinder gas engine, which produces 188 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque, the same as last year. No, it won’t smoke a lot of other engines, but because the turbo lights up so quickly, you’re giggling from the initial throttle tip in all the way to belly laughs at redline. Spunky acceleration was how Matras described it, and because we had a front- versus an all-wheel-drive version, the spunky acceleration also came with a bit of torque steer with hard launches. We also thought the engine was a tad noisy, but that comes with just about any four-cylinder territory. One more bad habit the Juke exhibited was a fairly noticeable amount of squat upon acceleration, but we’re hard-charging drivers, so those with more aluminum than lead in their right foot might not notice it as much.

While the engine size is constant, the fuel economy varies; front-drive Jukes with the 6-speed manual will see EPA city/highway numbers of 25 and 31, while the all-wheel versions with CVT get a drop or two more, at 27 and 32 city/highway.

What’s interesting is how Nissan paired the transmissions to the models: The base model gets the CVT standard, while the SV and SL FWD trims get the 6-speed manual standard with the CVT optional. Sounds a little backward, but I’m sure the product planning department did the research that called for this pairing.

2012 Nissan Juke SL FWD interior

The interior design of the 2012 Nissan Juke SL FWD is as busy as the exterior.


What makes the Juke even more attractive is the interior, especially because it reminds us of custom hot rods, with it’s crazy fabric pattern and brightly-colored hard shell interior trim pieces. We also like the amount of cargo room with the seats up or folded (including the under floor storage), the Intelligent Key feature where the key stays in the pocket at all times, the Rockford Fosgate audio system that doesn’t complain when we set the volume to max, and the long list of standard safety features that make those who only have $25K to spend on a new car feel as if they got more than their money’s worth.

The nit we will pick inside has to do with the nav screen; at five inches, it’s small for today’s nav/entertainment systems, and it was tough to read at a glance when driving, and even harder with polarized sun glasses. Not sure why Nissan is lagging when it comes to the entertainment/connectivity department, especially because it was one of the first to make sure Bluetooth connectivity was available even in the entry-level Versa years ago, along with a USB port to make music availability from our iPhones easy to use.

We like Nissan products; they’re uniquely designed, well-built, and affordable. Nissan infuses sportiness into every vehicle in its lineup, and the company isn’t afraid to be different. We hope that the brand continues to stand apart from the crowd with funkier, fresh designs for those of us who get it.