2011 Nissan Juke review By Warren Brown

It's a bug-eyed, bubble-butt car, perhaps the ugliest compact automobile ever made.

It's perfect fare for a review on Halloween, a car that resembles a hunchbacked bat or an evil mouse in translucent light. Seeing it for the first time, its squished, puffed and rear-sloped body glistening in a late-evening rain, I didn't know whether to laugh or run.

My Northern Virginia neighbors, however, were not similarly confused. They laughed. They howled. They asked: "What the. . . ?"

"It's the 2011 Nissan Juke," I told them.

"Joke?" they responded.

"No, Juke," I said.

As ugly as it is, the Juke is no joke. It's one of the fastest, best-handling, best-equipped small cars available in the U.S. market.

With prices ranging from $18,960 for the front-wheel-drive, base Juke S to $24,550 for the fully loaded, all-wheel-drive Juke SL, it's also reasonably affordable, albeit more expensive than several of its rivals, including the Volkswagen Jetta and Ford Fiesta.

What's happening here is the search for fun, profit and young buyers in a small, fuel-efficient automotive package. In that regard, the Juke is a harbinger of the future.

Governments worldwide are pushing automobile manufacturers to improve fuel efficiency and reduce tailpipe pollution. The physics of that pursuit often result in smaller, lighter automobiles with smaller engines.

But what governments demand and consumers are willing to buy are often different things. Consumers applaud fuel efficiency. But if gasoline and diesel prices aren't rising, most of them will not buy small, boring cars, especially not in the United States, where a traditional love of big engines is supported by the lowest fossil fuel prices in the developed world.

The Juke, then, is a good example of how automobile manufacturers are hedging their bets - struggling to meet new governmental mandates for energy conservation and clean air while luring consumers to the showroom to buy smaller cars at profitable prices.

Success is found in the exploitation of Wow!

Start with appearance. Nowadays, it is not enough for small cars to have aerodynamic bodies designed to reduce wind resistance and thereby increase fuel efficiency. That approach is de rigueur for modern automobile styling, for cars large and small.

Standout cars need Wow! They need an element of Bee-Bop Bang! - the more polarizing the styling, the better. Ridicule for one customer is a badge of honor for another. But nobody pays money for not being noticed.

You will be noticed in the Juke. You are also likely to have the last laugh. This thing can move!

The Juke comes with a standard 1.6-liter, turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine. Turbo-charging - pulling more air into combustion chambers via exhaust-driven impellers - boosts engine power without an appreciable increase in fuel consumption. In this case, you get a maximum 188 horsepower and 177 foot-pounds of torque along with 32 miles per gallon on the highway and 27 mpg in the city.

The downside is that turbocharged engines usually require more expensive premium gasoline, as does the Juke's four-cylinder job.

But to drive this one is to love it, which brings up another point.

Nissan seems to be moving in a direction opposite that of Volkswagen with its compact Jetta sedan. VW is taking content out of the Jetta. Nissan is putting more stuff into the Juke, which shares a platform with the subcompact Nissan Versa car and Cube wagon.

For example, the 2011 Jetta comes to us with a torsion beam rear suspension instead of the more lively multi-link rear suspension in the 2010 model. VW said the change was made in pursuit of better value (translation: cost cutting).

Nissan chose to add fun and more expense to the Juke, which gets a multi-link suspension in the rear and McPherson struts up front in addition to stabilizer bars front and rear. The improved fun factor is worth the extra cost.

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