SPECIAL SECTIONS EDITOR
If Nissan targets the hip crowd with the 2011 Juke, then I'm "hip," too, because at my AARP membership-qualified age, I love the Juke. It's "hip," it's "cool," it's "connected" with built-in Bluetooth technology, and it's a "go-in-the-snow" car when equipped with innovative AWD technology.
Don't think that AWD's "hip"? Then ask Melissa Cote how her Juke SL performed during a recent blizzard. If "hip" means going hither and yon during a raging snowstorm while driving a stylish, equipment-packed fuselage powered by a 1.6-liter, turbocharged DOHC, then the Juke's "hip" by Maine standards.
Before test driving a 2011 Nissan Juke SV, I met Mary-Anne McDermott at Darling's Honda-Nissan-Volvo in Bangor. She and Cote are sales and leasing consultants there, and while they have both driven the Juke, Cote drove one "close to 800 miles" after setting out in a classic New England nor'easter.
Five days after that particular storm and 24 hours after another predicted "dusting" spilled 2-3 inches of snow across central Maine, McDermott had arranged for me to drive a Nissan Juke SV painted Chrome Silver (among eight available shades). She explained various controls, including the available Nissan Intelligent Key, mentioned the six standard air bags and other safety features, and wished me well.
Settling into the driver's seat, I immediately eyeballed the centralized instrument panel. A few tapped buttons explained the audio system (which has CD and MP3 capability and an "iPod Menu," but I'll get to that), but the blue-backdropped "72 F" demanded my attention.
Talk about colorful instrumentation: Mounted just above the shifter, Nissan's Intelligent Control System displays enough information to keep even a distracted child passenger entertained for a long time. I-CON, as Nissan acronyms it, offers two modes (or "interfaces"), Climate and D, and changes appearance with the appropriate touch.
In Climate Interface, I-CON informs me that the HVAC system will maintain an interior "72-degree F" temp, and I can push six buttons -- three beside each outboard dial -- to activate the AC, turn off the HVAC, or direct hot or cold air to the desired body position.
In D-Mode Interface, I-CON transforms into a performance-reporting information center. "AC" becomes "Normal," "Off" becomes "Sport," and the "head-and-foot" icon becomes "ECO." When I punch each driving mode, the info screen goes full color with torque (Normal), boost (Sport), and ECO level (ECO) data. And if I tap the "Drive Info" or "ECO Info" buttons mounted to the I-CON's right, the drive computer informs me about everything from speed to fuel-economy stats.
Enough about I-CON: It's a fun, informative feature, but there's much more -- oh, so much more -- to the 2011 Nissan Juke.
Nissan keeps the Juke choices simple: S, SV, and SL, all equipped with the same engine. Described by Nissan as an "urban cross over," the cheeky Juke delivers superb acceleration and excellent gas mileage with its 188-horsepower turbo four-cylinder that seamlessly meshes with a Sport Mode-equipped Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission). Optional on front-wheel-drive SVs and SLs is a six-speed manual transmission.
I describe the Juke as "cheeky" because in affecting an SUV stance, it slightly resembles the larger Nissan Rogue, and because the Juke displays unique curves and lines: Check out the "high rise" front signal lights, for example. And the Juke's "cheeky" because first glance suggests it's a two-door, er, a four-door, er, a two-door with suicide doors -- and then I discover the rear-door handle mounted high in the window-surrounding black trim.
The Juke's definitely a four-door cross over.
With a curb weight running between 2,912 and 3,210 pounds (depending on the model and transmission), the Juke can hurtle onto I-95 like a rocket fired from Cape Canaveral or ease quietly into a UMaine commuter space like a beautiful golden retriever settling onto a dog bed. The Sport Mode, activated when the driver left-taps the shifter in "D," mirrors a manual's gear-stretching capabilities and lets the driver work the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
These "give you better control on snowy days," Mary-Anne says. Sport Mode likely works well in slush and snow, but while cruising on Old Town's snowy streets, I rely on the torque-vectoring AWD.
Nissan installs FWD on all Jukes and offers AWD as optional technology that shifts power between the rear wheels and between the front and rear wheels as required. Melissa Cote utilized a Juke SL's AWD while headed south on Interstate 95 during a recent blizzard.
"The roads were bad all the way down" to Massachusetts, she recalls. "Portland was just awful, but I had no issues between the all-wheel drive and the traction control system." Despite the storm, the Juke's gas mileage "was fantastic, in the high 20s," Melissa says.
I'm alternating between I-95's dry asphalt and Old Town's greasy residential streets. The AWD switch lets me set 2WD (or front-wheel drive), AWD, or AWD-V, which "will vary the all-wheel drive as it's needed," Mary-Anne explains later. The Juke SV handled I-95 and the Old Town byways with aplomb.
When Melissa drove into her blizzard, she connected her iPod to the USB cable concealed in the glovebox. Then, using the steering wheel-mounted audio controls, Melissa played her favorite music through the Juke's outstanding sound system. If she had so desired, she could have "paired" her cell phone with the standard Bluetooth system and talked "hands free" during her trip.
Besides Bluetooth, other features standard on all Jukes are 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels; remote keyless entry; power locks and windows; and vehicle dynamic control. The mid-range SV adds a power sliding glass moonroof, rear privacy glass, I-CON, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a push-button ignition coupled with Nissan Intelligent Key.
The Juke SL adds the Nissan Navigation System with its 5-inch color touch-screen monitor; NNS incorporates a rear-view camera and offers XM NavTraffic. The SL also adds a USB connection port, leather-trimmed seats (also heated), and fog lights.
Priced at $23,300, the Nissan Juke SV "comes fully loaded," Mary-Anne says. "You're getting an inexpensive car with features optional on similar cross overs: the sunroof, a really nice sound system, good leg room in the rear. It's a turbo. It's spunky."
The base S prices around $19,800; "the SL loaded with leather seats and everything else" prices about $26,700," she says.
The 2011 Nissan Juke appeals to younger people, singles and couples, and "many empty nesters" who "think 'young' and want to drive 'young,'" Mary-Anne says.
"If you have to drive in your car every day, you want it to be fun," Melissa says.