How It Moves

Our all-wheel-drive tester had enough power to reach cruising speeds with little struggle, even with three adult occupants on board. On SV and SL models, the Integrated Control system's three modes — Eco, Normal and Sport — alter the responsiveness of both the accelerator and (if equipped) the CVT automatic.

The drivetrain personality of each was distinct, particularly between the Eco and Sport extremes. In Eco mode, the CVT automatic transitions slowly to the engine's stronger revs, resulting in underwhelming takeoffs when the light turns green. (It does allegedly help gas mileage a bit, but Nissan had no estimates as to how much.) Sport mode hastens the transmission quite a bit; I found it punchy enough, though several editors still deemed it unresponsive — especially given the engine's penchant for brief turbo lag.

The sole engine, a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, makes 188 horsepower and 177 pounds-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive trims about 200 pounds off the Juke's curb weight, which should translate to even better performance.

That said, many will find the Juke's ride too harsh. All-wheel-drive models swap the front-drive model's semi-independent, torsion-beam rear suspension for a fully independent setup, but it delivered poorly cushioned response over riddled pavement. Get on the highway, and the chassis picks up nearly everything going on under the car: expansion joints, grooved pavement and more. Combine that with a lot of noise — road, wind, suspension — and the Juke is a fatiguing car to take on an interstate trip.

It didn't need to be this way. Affordable hatchbacks, from the Mazda2 to the Subaru Impreza, offer decent handling and reasonable ride comfort, but the Juke is more one-dimensional. Hard corners do bring noticeable body roll, but it feels less top-heavy than many crossovers. The steering exhibits decent precision, and it's a well-rounded setup. At lower speeds, the wheel turns with light effort; at higher speeds, it settles in with little power assist and good overall tracking. I noticed little difference between the Integrated Control system's modes, which allegedly alter power steering assist levels, too.

The all-wheel-drive system sends more power to the outside wheel during cornering, which theoretically benefits handling balance. That's a pretty advanced feature at this price: Acura and BMW employ the technology on $30,000-plus luxury cars. Alas, temperatures at our Chicago offices hovered below freezing when we had the Juke, so we couldn't toss the car around enough to properly evaluate the all-wheel drive. I did put the Juke through its paces on the snow- and ice-covered streets, though, and the driveline sent power to all four wheels pretty seamlessly, with none of the spinning tires and lagging power transfers I've experienced with some all-wheel-drive systems.

Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes are standard. Pedal response is nice and linear: It's easy to smooth out your stops, and overall response is strong.

Front-drive CVT models are rated 29 mpg in combined city/highway driving. The stick-shift, front-drive Juke and the all-wheel-drive CVT model both return 27 mpg. Those are impressive figures: The front-drive Juke falls just 1 or 2 mpg short of what many entry-level hatchbacks achieve. Alas, Nissan recommends premium fuel, which diminishes the mileage figures' appeal.

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