Executive wheels: A rolling doofus


Nissan is nothing if not innovative in design – inside and out. But innovation itself isn’t always superior, and in many ways this 2015 Nissan Juke, while innovative, is also a bit goofy.

It looks like a smushed-down version of an SUV, and it features large wheel wells (17” wheels) that make the tires look as if this vehicle is some kind of kiddie-car that might well keep going if it flipped on its top. Then there’s the oversized – way oversized – and bulging plastic covers over the headlamp and blinker housings the give the Juke a somewhat bug-eyed look.

Nissan employs this design element on several of its vehicles, most prominently its popular and sales-leading Altima sedan, and even though I have heard people say they like the look of it, I don’t. And I just can’t help thinking that if one of the broke (which wouldn’t take much) it would cost a fortune to fix. Then there’s the high, side-operating door handles on the rear doors, similar to what Nissan features on the larger SUV Pathfinder. Not my cup ‘o tea.

In doing some research and reading some professional and consumer comments, I gather that some people rather like the exterior styling of this very compact SUV, but in the real world while I was driving it for a week, I couldn’t find anyone who really liked it. They didn’t dislike it, mind you, but the general consensus seemed to be, as I wrote in the opening, “goofy.”

However, powers of observation would suggest that some people like goofy, as I happened to notice many Jukes on the streets of Denver during my test drive. That and the fact that there isn’t really anything else like the Juke on the market – at least not something that comes in All Wheel Drive in this segment since Suzuki went out of business and took the excellent SX4 down with it. It should be noted that the Juke apparently comes in a Front Wheel Drive model, although for my tastes just about the only redeeming quality of the Juke is its AWD.

The interior styling is very Nissan, which is to say that it is for the most part derivative but rather appealing. Yet, there is one interior styling and design innovation which I found to be pretty cool. Nissan apparently uses this on many of its vehicles, and the company has dubbed it I-CON, for Integrated Control System.

On the lower part of the dash in the middle is a control center with several buttons, knobs and a read-out that, with I-CON do double duty. Hit the button on top, the colors change and all the controls have to do with the ride: Normal, Sport and Eco; hit it again and all of the same controls operate the climate control for temperature, fan and mode (where the air flow goes). This is innovative and rather cool.

This SL AWD model I drove was next-to-the-top-of-the-line, so it included many upgrades a standard: leather seating, rear-view camera, curb view camera, Bluetooth hands-free phone, voice commands for phone and apps, built-in integration for Facebook and google search, a touch screen to operate the nice radio and navigation system. Many of these things are becoming fairly standard on just about everything these days, especially in vehicles like this Juke that are marketed to young people who are used to being wired in every situation. 

The AWD here is quite good – unfortunately this winter I have had many opportunities to test the street-worthiness of AWD and this Juke gave me driving confidence. It helped that the Juke has nice brakes. Also, the engine here is a 1.6-liter 4-banger, turbo-charged, rated at 188 hp, and it felt like more than that. The Juke is quick, which is nice, and there is no turbo lag. I also liked the outside mirrors (nice and large) and the heated seats worked well even though finding the switch (hidden under the arm rest in the console) is a bit of a struggle.

On the down side are a few small things, and one thing I think is a deal breaker. Here’s the small stuff: the heater in this car is strange; the temperature set goes to 90 degrees F but after operating for a few minutes the heat simply stopped.

This is a very small vehicle: The three-person second row of seats is a bit snug if the people there are of any size at all, and the storage area in the rear under the lift-gate is teeny weeny. I also disliked the CVT, continuously variable transmission, which makes it feel as if the vehicle doesn’t shift gears; it lumbers in eco mode.

The deal breaker is the handling. The Juke is okay in most situations, but the center of gravity in the vehicle is odd and it always felt to me as if it were going to tip over.

And then, of course, is the price. You can get the base model Juke for a MSRP of $20,250 in FWD and $22,100 in AWD which is relatively competitive. But this SL (the high-performance NISMO models which feature more horsepower are more) in AWD carries a base price of $26,940. The only ad-ons were nearly $500 for floor mat and a center armrest and $850 in destination charges, so you get a lot with the base, but still at a bottom line of $28,225 this 2015 Nissan Juke SL AWD is pretty expensive when you consider the other cars in that range.

It was fun for a week, but it wouldn’t be on my shopping list.