First Drive: Nissan Juke

Vancouver, B.C. ? Nissan?s new ?Innovation for All? tag line is more than just a slick advertising phrase, it?s a good representation of the company?s pioneering spirit.

The latest demonstration of Nissan?s innovation is the Juke, which in many ways is the ultimate small crossover, incorporating elements from the sedan, SUV, crossover and even a sports car.

The Juke is about the same size and weight as the Kia Soul, Scion xB and Volkswagen New Beetle, but with significantly more horsepower.? This is the first time, the Direct Injection Gasoline (DIG?) turbocharged and intercooled 1.6-liter four-cylinder aluminum engine has been used in the U.S. market. The engine is rated at 188-hp and 177-lb.ft. of torque.

Drivetrain choices include the standard six-speed manual transmission with front-wheel drive or optional CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) with FWD or all-wheel drive. ?The Juke accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds giving it a second or two-second advantage over competitors, while producing better fuel economy, 27 mpg city and 32 mpg highway.

FWD Jukes have MacPherson struts in the front and a torsion beam rear suspension, while the AWD models have a rear multi-link system.? Both models handle very well, even at the higher speeds I experienced when passing slow moving vehicles.? The combination of independent suspension, speed-sensing electric power-assisted steering and four-wheel disc brakes produced an agile and precise driving experience.

The AWD system has a new torque vectoring function that not only splits the torque up to 50/50 between the front and rear wheels, it also can transfer power from side-to-side on the rear axle.? The system monitors vehicle speed, wheel speed, gear position, steering angle, lateral G forces and vehicle yaw rate, and then transfers the power to the outside rear wheel helping reduce understeer and improve handling.

Available in three models, S, SV and SL, Juke pricing ranges from $19,760, including destination charge, for the FWD S with manual transmission to $25,350 for the AWD SL. ?Check all the option boxes and the SL price peaks at about $28,000.

Standard equipment on SV and SL models includes power moonroof, Bluetooth, power windows and locks, iPod connectivity, XM radio, keyless entry and push button start.? The SL model also has leather seating, navigation with real-time traffic and rear-view monitor.

The two upper level Jukes are equipped with Nissan?s new Integrated Control (I-CON) system.? Mounted on the lower section of the center stack, I-CON controls climate functions and drive modes in a unique multifunction controller with digital display.? The drive mode selector has three different settings ? Normal, Sport and Eco that change the response of the throttle, transmission and steering to adapt to the driving style.? I enjoyed the quicker response of the Sport setting, but was able to appreciate the way the Eco setting helped me drive in a more economical manner.

Now at Nissan dealers, this small, sporty looking vehicle has raised hackles of design prudes.? The unique design incorporates exaggerated wheel flares and an exotic-looking front end with and two glass bubbles containing turn signals and marker lights mounted on the tops of the front fenders.? The rear end, which is also distinctive, has boomerang-shaped taillights, which look like they might belong to a Volvo.

The sporty interior is unlike anything I have ever seen.? The center console, inspired by a motorcycle fuel tank, is finished in the same high gloss paint as the exterior.? The motorcycle theme continues with gauges that look as if they might have been plucked from a bike.

The new Nissan Juke has a universal appeal that should satisfy any active lifestyle, I am looking forward to spending more time in the Juke it?s fun to drive.

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