The Nissan press release emanates from Franklin, Tennessee. And while the Japanese-based manufacturer works hard to become a contributing member of Tennessee society (and – in the process – sell a few cars), to think Nissan’s Juke came from Franklin is to suggest Taylor Swift is a direct descendant of Loretta Lynn. The 2013 Juke, now in its third model year of ripping up the subcompact status quo, is the hooligan in Nissan’s small car family. And its most recent offshoot, the Midnight Edition, is a distinctly attractive take on ‘painting it black’. I see a red brake and I want it painted black…
The recipe – if there is one – for the Juke hasn’t changed since its intro in 2011. A front-wheel/all-wheel drive 5-door, the Juke sits on a subcompact platform, while offering a high hip point, short overhangs and modest visibility. Of course, if looking at the Juke you can’t fail to find it visible. From a radically distinct front fascia to its flared wheel wells and abbreviated backlight, the Juke is a discordant collection of parts which shouldn’t work together, but do – for roughly half the population. The other half, upon viewing the Juke, can’t stop pointing and laughing.
Inside, the design is more mainstream than the exterior, but remains distinctive relative to most rivals at roughly the same mid-$20s price point. The seats are nicely designed and bolstered, although the available leather perches you more ‘on’ than ‘in’; for the best support we’d opt for cloth. What Nissan describes as a unique center console is reportedly inspired by a motorcycle fuel tank; although not sure what contributed to the decision, we’ll admit it’s pretty nifty. More notable is the available I-Con (Integrated Control) system, combining control of the A/C with a variable drive capability – Normal, Sport and Eco – via adjustments to throttle, CVT (if so equipped) and steering feel.
Our Midnight Edition Juke featured unique 17-inch ‘blackened’ wheels, a Sapphire Black rear spoiler and Sapphire Black mirror caps. At a suggested MSRP of $1,200, the pieces – when packaged together – save the consumer roughly $500 when compared to those same options purchased separately. In upmarket ‘SL’ guise, with optional center armrest and carpeted mats, the tab – with destination – was just over $26,000. And if that seems high for a smallish Nissan, price the same equipment on the Mini Countryman.
The most significant takeaway after our week behind the wheel was the Juke’s ability to, well, juke. With a 1.6 liter turbocharged four beneath the hood, connected to an entirely credible six-speed manual beneath your right hand (if so equipped), the Juke’s 188 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque are as much fun (make that ‘more fun’) than the numbers might suggest. And with a platform that, while tallish, is eminently communicative, there’s no need to grab the ‘Z’ if you simply want to tear up a roadway. In congested urban environs the Juke is potentially more rewarding than anything else on a Nissan showroom.
Notably, the Juke is one among a growing number of coupe-like crossovers, or hatchbacks we might describe as ‘crossing over’. Mini’s Countryman and (upcoming) Paceman would fall into that descriptive, as would Kia’s increasingly credible Soul. Range Rover has achieved something similar – albeit more expensive – with its Evoque. We think Kia will mold the Soul (or its high-performance variants) into something competitive with the Juke, as well as those entries from Mini.
Cars such as the new BRZ and FR-S from Subaru and Toyota, respectively, breathe life into the classic sports car format. However, the future of the sports car may come not from a rear-drive 2+2, but rather, from a FWD/AWD hatch with enhanced sport and at least a modicum of utility. And if these offerings provide the recreational credibility of Nissan’s Juke, we’d say bring ’em on. We’d like to get the party goin’…