There's just one engine offered in the 2012 Nissan Juke, a a 188-horsepower, turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder with direct injection. It's an amazing piece of engineering, spinning all that power from such small displacement. It's also spunky in the lightweight Juke, though it requires drivers to rev it hard, and often. That brings out its ample noise, all turbo whistles and four-cylinder howl.
Drivers have a choice of a six-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The manual would be our choice for its simple, slick operation, but most Jukes come with the CVT, and it's not the best pairing. CVTs use pulleys and belts to simulate infinite gear ratios; they also tend to amplify driveline noise since they hold engine speeds well into the middle of the rpm range. They don't respond as quickly as a stepped-gear automatic, though Nissan pre-programs in some simulated "gears" to give the Juke a more conventional feel.
With the I-CON adjustable steering and transmission system, the setup can be varied from Normal to Sport to Eco mode. Eco feels pretty sluggish for something intended to be sporty; Sport mode raises idle speed and cuts down on turbo lag, which keeps the Juke burbling in the best part of its powerband, but it also cuts into fuel economy sharply.
The Juke steers quickly and corners tenaciously, but the incredibly stiff ride over some surfaces can be annoyingly harsh. Basic models have a torsion-beam rear suspension, which can transmit more errant rear-end motion to the car; all-wheel-drive models have an independent rear suspension, which behaves a little more smoothly. The Juke's 17-inch wheels and tires probably don't help soften the pavement underneath much.
The all-wheel-drive system includes torque vectoring from front to rear, and between the rear wheels (but not the fronts), and it's intended solely for street use. Try to climb a steep driveway in moderate snowfall, and you'll be confounded.