When a bright yellow 2015 Nissan Juke SL appeared in front of my house recently, it was a hit with several of the neighbors.
"Es muy sporty, no?" one man queried, circling the car slowly with a huge grin on his face. Later, while I was stopped at a light along a large thoroughfare in Brooklyn, N.Y., where I live, another guy in a big work truck shouted questions and comments about the car through its open sunroof.
"Ey, howzat thing?" he asked in a thick Brooklyn brogue. "My wife wants one, but I dunno 'bout the looks. Maybe a Mini Coopah's bettah?"
There's no doubt about it, the Juke is a unique-looking car. Its bulging front end and sloping rear lines are unlike anything else on the road, which can put some people off. Despite the fact that it looks like a mashup of Japanese cartoons and northern California forest hippie culture, the design originated with Nissan's European design team.
But while the Juke's looks may take a little time for some folks to get used to, the overall driving experience produces instant gratification. Fast and nimble, it dodges in and out of larger pieces in the traffic ensemble with ease. And don't be fooled by the Juke's small size. With the rear seats folded, the rear hatch swallowed everything from an engine hoist to a pile of winter tires with ease.
I've never been a fan of CVTs (continuously variable automatic transmissions). They're noisy and tend to sap power. But they're the only one available in the Juke—except for Nismo-tuned Jukes—so I had to make due. But I hardly noticed the Juke's rubber band box. It has a "manual mode," which didn't really seem to enhance performance much, but in regular automatic mode, the engine provided plenty of power after it caught up with its turbo lag. Once that turbo spooled up, though, the thing took off like a rocket, CVT be damned.
The CVT another trick up its sleeve, too. Well, the expected one: it made for pretty decent fuel economy. Enthused by turbocharged fun, it was all I could do to keep from mashing the pedal to the floor every time my right foot gravitated toward the accelerator. Even so, the Juke returned an average of about 30 mpg.
Steering was light and responsive, and the Juke's taut suspension kept it stable on everything I threw it into, regardless of speed.
The Juke's infotainment system was fairly straightforward to operate, and the stereo sounded good. But the built-in nav system wasn't quite up to Google Maps par, or even Waze, for that matter, so I just used my iPhone to find where I was going. It was, however, nice to have the live reference map on the screen while I was driving.
Like its exterior, the Juke's interior was funky and cool. Most manufacturers seem to be very strict about color-coordinated interiors, but the yellow Juke I drove came with a saucy black and red interior. Dare to be different! There was substance behind that style, too. The seat fit like a glove, and it was easy to find a comfortable driving position.
Cargo space is small, behind the rear bench, so Juke passengers will really have to choose carefully when they're packing for a trip. For two passengers, there's plenty of space for gear. Simply fold the seats down and...Bob's your uncle. Pack a third and a fourth person into the car, and the group would do best to consider bringing only very small duffle bags if the backseat duo isn't keen on sitting with their suitcases stacked in the middle seat. I hadn't even considered a third backseat passenger, but only because I myself wouldn't want to be the one stuck in the middle position.
For those confident enough to rock the Juke's wild styling, its performance and utility could make it a solid candidate for a one- or two-person household. The all-wheel-drive SL trim level Juke I drove cost more than $28,000—a tidy sum for such a small car. The stripped down front-wheel drive S version, on the other hand, can be had for about $21,000. Regardless of the $7,000 difference, they both come with the same 188-horsepower engine. The aforementioned Juke Nismo fits somewhere in the middle.
The Juke's one glaring drawback is its subpar rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety small overlap front crash test, where the front corner of the vehicle strikes something at 40 miles per hour.
By the numbers: 2015 Nissan Juke SL AWD CVT
MSRP: $28,225 (includes $825 destination charge)
Power and drive wheels: 188-hp, direct injection turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, all-wheel drive
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT)
EPA fuel economy (mpg): 26/31 city/highway
Safety: IIHS gave Juke a "Poor" rating in the small overlap front crash test. It scored well in other categories.
In showrooms: Now