- Styling that's part cartoonish, part exotic
- Pumped-up turbo four
- Aggressively tuned suspension
- Great seating position
- Poor gas mileage for a small car
- Small cargo area
- All-wheel-drive is mostly for show, not traction
- Rides harshly
- Will it look as stylish a few years from now?
The 2014 Nissan Juke is part oddball, part exotic, and part awesomely different (although not all that practical) small car.
The 2014 Nissan Juke is one of the more unusual cars on the market today, a genre-bender that blends a portion of adventurous urban crossover with a pinch of unusual performance car, seasoned with many dollops of wild-style design verging on modern sculpture. It occupies a unique segment: While it's nominally a subcompact hatchback with optional all-wheel drive, it's the in-your-face looks and available Nismo RC hot-hatch performance model that make it appealing to diverse buyers.
Now in its fifth year, the Juke's almost concept-like exterior still seems futuristic. The shape is certainly polarizing, yet it's gained this model a cadre of loyal and passionate followers who enjoy its unlikely design to the point that they might not consider any other car. Some may see it as a tall and uncomfortably quirky economy car--until they learn about its sub-par gas mileage ratings--but others treasure it because they view as a racy, performance-oriented hot hatch that also offers crossover capabilities.
Is it a crossover permanently hamstrung by a teensy cockpit and a stiff, almost sportscar ride? Or is it a far more practical take on what the younger set wants in a coupe? It's really all of the above, and the contradictions keep coming when you focus on how it drives. Under the hood there's a 188-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with either front- or all-wheel drive, and a choice of manual or continuously variable (CVT) transmissions. You'd think this powertrain would yield a quick little urban runabout, yet it's oddly ponderous--and rather noisy. Likewise, gas mileage isn't anything to beam about, at 27 mpg city and 32 mpg highway at best.
Handling redeems the package, somewhat; the relatively light weight, rapid steering, and firm suspension combine to give the Juke a sporty feel. However a rather hard ride and a suspension that bounds and bounces at times make this an acquired taste, if at all, for daily commuters. The all-wheel drive here isn't really for performance and handling, rather for all-weather traction--which isn't this model's forte anyhow so we recommend you skip it. And going with AWD means you have to accept the CVT.
For 2014, anyone who wants to get the most performance in this unapologetically bold package should get the Juke NISMO. In addition to a 197-hp specially tuned version of the engine, the NISMO Juke adds nearly 100 other revised components, including a specially tuned suspension, more downforce, more aggressively bolstered sport seats, and exclusive lightweight 18-inch alloys.
The Juke's subcompact proportions and urban sensibilities are surely assets with respect to parking and maneuverability, but inside there's less space than you might think. Front seats have a nice, upright driving position despite the somewhat confined quarters, but in back space is extremely tight even for two (officially there are three seating positions). Those back seats are probably best left folded down--to 35.9 cubic feet of cargo space. Overall, we find the interior to be price-appropriate
In the instrument panel's center stack is the so-called I-CON control system, which lets you choose the attitude for steering boost, throttle response, and CVT behavior (if so equipped) to either improve fuel economy or make it more responsive. Climate controls are changed with the same screen. Overall materials and design are sharp and modern, with price-appropriate finishes. Shiny, color-shifting seat upholstery looks a bit cartoonish; and while the plastics and switches across the dash and console are intelligently designed, but can feel a bit cheap.
Base Juke S models are essentially well-equipped small cars. But stepping up to the mid-range Juke SV, you'll take advantage of some of the better features, including a moonroof; push-button start; satellite radio; the I-CON system; automatic temperature control; and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The SV also includes a rearview camera system. The top-trim Juke is the SL, which adds navigation; leather-trimmed seats; and an 8-inch Rockford Fosgate subwoofer with six upgraded speakers.