2011 Nissan Juke Driving Impressions

So you've got those three modes, Sport, Normal and Eco. There's a distinct performance difference between them, and not just horsepower. For example, Sport mode tightens the transmission shifting and steering, as well; in Eco mode, shifts are slower and sharp cornering doesn't exist.

The 1.6-liter turbocharged engine isn't new, but this is its first use in the U.S. The power is good in Sport, and the acceleration sprightly up to 6400 rpm where the rev limiter gently chokes the engine. Don't expect much freeway performance in Eco mode, although you could hum along at 60 mph with the cruise control set, no worries. And if you're lightfooting it around town, Eco mode is great.

We didn't have a chance to test the traction in ice and snow, in August, but we like the way the all-wheel-drive works. Nissan calls it torque vectoring. It's a 50-50 split from front to rear, but the torque can shift fully to the left or right wheels, as needed.

Nissan claims that the full 177 pounds of torque is available at 2000 rpm, and we trust they have charts from an engine dynamometer that say so. But there's a lot lost in the translation to the seat of a driver's pants, for example through the transmission. All we know is that when you floor it and watch the tach climb, you feel a nice surge at about 3500 rpm. And when you floor it in a high gear at 2000 rpm, it feels like the torque stayed back there on the dyno bench.

We were impressed by the responsiveness of the CVT, in its manual mode with six ranges like speeds. That means a lot to a car like this.

As with any car having a short wheelbase, the cabin is going to feel the bumps more. In the Juke, you maybe feel them a little bit more than that. They're not sharp or harsh, but they are plentiful. It hugs every bit of the road. The big 17-inch tires, on 215/55 tires, likely have something to do with that.

We also got seat time in a Juke with the 6-speed manual transmission, and we say: forget it. For one thing, there's torque steer that doesn't exist with the CVT model. For another, the NVH is significantly higher. For a third, it just makes the whole car feel bigger, with the loss of its sharpness.

Finally, the fuel mileage. The AWD CVT Juke is government-rated at 25 mpg City and 30 Highway, which is about what we got; closer to 25, actually, in the real world. We think a 2011 compact car with a 1.6-liter direct-injection engine ought to do better than that. Juke AWD has an 11.8-gallon fuel tank, smaller due to packaging than the front-drive model's 13.2-gallon tank, thus the all-wheel-drive version has a shorter range.

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