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The difference between the real future and the science fiction future is a little more blurry, now that the Nissan Juke is on the scene.
Crossovers are big sellers in the U.S. now, but are we quite ready for the alien styling and the whiz-bang technology baked into this subcompact crossover? That's not entirely clear, but what is certain is that the Juke is like nothing before it, and could be like nothing after it.
The Juke's not just very small, and very quick, it's very...distinctive. It doesn't have many straight lines or pretty viewing angles. It's an extrovert of the tattooed, ritual-scarred kind.
More sporty subcompact than all-weather SUV, the plump-bottom, angle-backed Juke has one of the most sophisticated drivetrains available in any Nissan. It teams a 188-horsepower, 1.6-liter four with a lightweight body and an independent front suspension to give the Juke exciting high-rpm responsiveness and swift steering. Its very size also gives the Juke a stiff ride, which we expect, but it doesn't necessarily give the Juke great gas mileage, which is a rude surprise for anyone cross-shopping more conventional subcompacts like the Accent, Fiesta or Fit.
The Juke has lots of clever details encased in its....exoskeleton? The I-CON control system remaps throttle and transmission controls to boost fuel economy or sporty responses, and shares LCD screen space with the Juke's climate controls. All-wheel drive is an option, but it's more there as a side dish to that model's more advanced rear suspension, less for traction advantages in snow and ice. A nice, inexpensive navigation system is an option, but with it and the other big-ticket items, the subcompact Juke can nudge $25,000.Nissan knows the Juke's appeal is narrow and limited, but it's hoping to dodge through the defensive lines put up by excellent, mainstream designs like the Kia Sportage, to find buyers who want something completely unexpected. They'll get it in mega-doses in the Juke, and maybe they'll also get a taste of the future of crossovers while they're at it.
- Nervy styling looks like nothing else
- Perky, high-tech powerplant
- Grippy handling
- Tall driving position
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- Terrible gas mileage, especially for its size
- Cramped cargo bay
- All-wheel drive isn't serious about ice, snow
- Gutsy styling isn't always great for resale
- Ride quality can be awful