Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2015 Nissan Juke SL AWD

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

I can’t help but think there must be bunker at Nissan Ground-Zero where they keep all the wing-nuts. I mean, for a mainstream Japanese car company, Nissan has the unprecedented habit of launching the occasional Hail-Mary bizarro ride that suggests the water cooler in said bunker is spiked with acid.

How else could you explain the asymmetrical Cube? Or the ever-evolving GT-R hypercar with its unblinking Godzilla stare? Or the froggy Juke?

For a mainstream Japanese car company, Nissan has the unprecedented habit of launching the occasional Hail-Mary bizarro ride that suggests the water cooler in said bunker is spiked with acid.

This is by no means a criticism of Nissan. In fact I applaud their use of hallucinogenic drugs, sleep deprivation, the looping of Nickelback songs or whatever to get these results. The automotive landscape is richer for it.

The fact that I think the Nissan Juke looks somewhat ridiculous is neither here nor there. It exists. Kudos to Nissan. The Pontiac Aztec is off the hook.

The Juke has been with us since 2011 and distinguishes itself not only with its odd styling, but by also being a sporty compact hatchback crossover with an eager 188 hp 1.6L turbo four and available AWD. Front wheel drive models are available with a manual six-speed, but otherwise the Juke runs with an Xtronic continuously variable transmission. So, all in all, a pretty unique offering.

It’s also quite fun to drive, displaying direct steering and surprisingly good handling, although the CVT takes its toll on the overall experience.

There’s plenty of rubber-banding, mooing, and a general sense of disconnect between the throttle and forward progress.

For those who want a go-faster Froggy, look at the 215 hp Juke Nismo RS MT FWD ($28,798), the 211 hp Nismo Xtronic AWD ($28,998) or 211 hp RS Xtronic AWD ($31,998).

For 2015, the Juke sees a mild mid-cycle refresh. The distinctive snout gets new projector beam headlights, LED accents, a recontoured “V-motion” grill and more aggressive bits beneath the bumper. Out back we see revised “boomerang” taillights with LED accents and a more aggressive rear fascia. The Juke’s mirrors now house standard LED turn signal repeaters.

Playing into the Juke’s cheeky persona is the new-for-2015 “Colour Studio” personalization program wherein various bits, both inside and out, can sport a contrasting hue - Red, Orange, Black Purple, White, Matte Black, Carbon Fibre, Yellow and Blue.

My loaded SL AWD tester ($30,178) with the optional three-coat Pearl White paint ($300) wore Black Purple accents, highlighted by a big rear spoiler and accented wheel spokes.

Tres funky, no?

If you already have a Juke and are feeling left out, your dealer can retro fit up to twelve accessories - front and rear bumper accents, headlight trim rings, side mirror caps, door handle covers, side door sills, rear roof spoiler, hatch handle finishers, lower hatch accent, interior inserts (tweeters and vents), floor mats, 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and center caps. The rear spoiler runs $407.95, 17-alloys $345, interior inserts $129.95 ($140.95 for carbon fibre look), headlight trim rings $114.95.

Other new standard features for the 2015 Juke include proximity key with push-button start, back-up camera, NissanConnectSM with Mobile Apps – including a 5.0-inch colour display, USB port, Bluetooth streaming audio and hands-free text messaging assistant.

There are also three new colours for 2015 – Solar Yellow, Cosmic Blue and Super Black.

The 2015 Juke starts at $20,498 for the SV FWD with manual six-speed. Add $1,300 for the Xtronic CVT and an additional $2,200 for all-wheel-drive. This leather-lined $30,178 SL Xtronic AWD gets all the bells and whistles – navigation, voice recognition, surround view camera, 5.8-inch touchscreen, sunroof, eight-way powered driver’s seat (four-way passenger), moving object detection, and Rockford Fosgate audio with a powered subwoofer that will have the elephants in the Serengeti boppin’ to your Drake.

There’s also a three setting Integrated Control (I-CON) system (Normal, Sport, Eco) that tailors throttle sensitivity, tranny response and steering weight.

Nissan says the 1.6L direct-injection gasoline turbo, 16-valve DOHC aluminum-alloy inline four-cylinder engine is significantly revised for 2015, although the output remains at 188 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. It claims enhanced fuel efficiency, improved responsiveness and lower emissions.

Published fuel consumption figures for this model are 8.8 L/100 km city and 7.5 L/100 km highway, and my experience pretty much confirms that, with the test week winding up at 8.2 L/100 km.

Nissan has been making some pretty good seats of late, and these leather chairs in the SL Xtronic AWD show a fine blend of support and long distance comfort. The funk-factor continues inside with the centre console fashioned after a motorcycle gas tank. Organic curves and body coloured bits keep things interesting. Not to mention the Black Purple accents.

There’s plenty of hard plastic in here, giving away the Juke’s price point, but other Nissan virtues like backlit gauges and easy-to-use controls are welcomed. Lots of useful storage cubbies too.

The steering column only tilts and there is no auto setting for the headlights.

You’re paying the price for the Juke’s brave styling once aft of the front seats. Rear seat room is skimpy and hatch space is woeful, although on the plus side the 60/40 split rear seat folds completely flat.

But you’re not buying the Juke for practicality are you? Those looking for a semblance of utility will flee to more practical rides like the Subaru XV Crosstrek, Mitsubishi RVR, VW Golf, et al.

No, the Juke is all about its perky persona, something it lives up to when you hit your first bend. This cute-ute loves corners, attacking the twisties with flat poise, good path control and a pretty decent distain for understeer, until you really start pushing. Good steering too.

Much of this alacrity can be attributed to torque-vectoring on the rear wheels and a stiff-legged ride, the latter of which gets tiresome on less than perfect surfaces.

The engine feels perky but is hobbled by the CVT. Generally, Nissan’s continuously variable transmissions are pretty good, but this application is the poster child for everything we don’t like about them. Even on the highway at a steady cruise the CVT won’t let the engine settle down. The tach needle wavers constantly.

Indeed, the Juke is a strange critter with a load of compromises, but for those who like to live on the weird side, its value, available all wheel drive, and in the case of this SL model, loads of premium kit, make for an intriguing prospect.

And if you kiss it, it just might turn into a handsome prince.

3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/60,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

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Model Tested 2015 Nissan Juke SL AWD
Base Price $30,178
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,695
Price as Tested $32,273
Optional Equipment
3-coat Pearl White paint $300