2012 Nissan Juke
Starting MSRP $19,990–$26,080
The 2012 Nissan Juke is short on cargo space and legroom, and it has a hard time fitting a couple of kids in the backseat. However, it does offer a zippy driving experience, unique looks and a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system that makes it worth considering for tiny families or people without children.
For those with the aforementioned small families or zero kids, the Juke is a fun, affordable car. The 188-horsepower turbocharged engine that powered my test car came with Nissan's Integrated Control system, which allows you to switch between Sport and Eco modes depending on your desire for speed or fuel economy. Given the Juke's size and agility, I ended up using the Sport mode more often than the Eco mode. It was just too fun.
The funky little Nissan Juke was introduced just last year, so in its second season in the big leagues, there are no significant changes. The Juke is offered in three trim levels, with the entry-level trim, the S, starting just under $20,000. I tested the midlevel SV trim with all-wheel drive and a continuously variable automatic transmission that has an MSRP of $23,230 and an end price of $24,165, thanks to the destination charge and some floormats.
Think of the Juke like you would that divisive dog breed, the pug. Both have bulging eyes (headlights in the Juke's case), shoulders broader than their rears and short bodies. Where some people adore the pug's quirky looks, others don't. And where other reviewers have found the Juke's looks to be off-putting, I found them quirkily adorable. The pug and the Juke both get high marks for originality in my book.
Nissan went for edge with the Juke's design, and the perfectly round rally-car-inspired headlights, hood-mounted turn signals and a muscular hood give it a distinctive look. The rear doors are small and inconspicuous enough that at first glance you might not notice them.
Despite its sporting good looks, the Juke isn't all fun and games on the outside. For a small car, getting my kids in and out was tougher than I'd have liked. The rear door handles are hidden near the top of the doors, which means they're too high for small children to reach, and even if they could have reached them, they weren't certain how to use them. However, once the doors were open, the step-in height was low enough that everyone could climb in on their own.
Cargo space is in short supply. A grand total of 10.5 cubic feet with the rear seats in use doesn't fit much. One run to Target for toilet paper and paper towels almost had me tying stuff to the roof. Of course, without children in the second row, folding the 60/40-split seats frees up more cargo space.
The all-wheel-drive system is relatively sophisticated for a car at this price point. It evenly splits engine torque between the front and rear wheels and can transfer torque between the rear wheels. One of the season's largest snowstorms hit Colorado while I was testing this car, and it had no problem maneuvering on the unplowed streets.
The turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine produces 188 horsepower, which provides ample oomph for this little car. The Juke gets an EPA-estimated 25/30 mpg city/highway. Premium fuel is recommended. My test car came with the standard CVT and optional all-wheel drive. A manual transmission is optional on the midlevel SV and top-of-the-line SL and must be paired with front-wheel drive.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Not Really
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Groove-On
As a small car, there isn't much room in this five-seater — not even for small people. Once my children got past the feat of opening the rear doors, it was hard for them to maneuver in the rear seats because their convertible child-safety seats took up so much room. I was able to fit two convertibles in the backseat, which meant not all of my children fit since I need three on any given day, but even with just two, things were cramped. The kids were short on legroom despite their short legs.
In the front row, the center console is tiny – though it is inspired by a sport bike's gas tank for all the motocross enthusiasts reading this; there are two cupholders up front and two bottleholders in the door pockets of the second row. There are no other clever storage spots to mention.
It's not all grim news from the interior. The cabin actually looks good with a simplicity of design that is refreshing. The gauges are simple, round and easy to read. The cloth-upholstered seats are comfortable and cradle the occupants in the event of speed, and there is a snazzy three-spoke steering wheel.
My test car came with the standard six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo; it was nice to have such a low-tech entertainment experience. Yes, it was a bit old-school, but it was low stress. An auxiliary jack and Bluetooth connectivity are also standard. Options like upgraded speakers, a Rockford Fosgate subwoofer, a moonroof and a navigation system with touch-screen are all available.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Puny
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Puny
Quirky looks and a sporty driving experience are not all the Juke has to offer. It's also an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick. This means it passed all the agency's crash tests — frontal-offset, side-impact, rear and roof-strength — with the highest ratings of Good. In crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2012 Juke received an overall score of four stars out of five. It earned three stars out of five in the frontal crash test, four stars in the rollover crash test and five stars in the side crash test.
The Juke has standard front-wheel drive, all-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system, traction control, active head restraints in the front row and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows. All-wheel drive is optional.
There are two sets of lower Latch anchors in the Juke's outboard seats. The Latch anchors weren't bad for a car that's clearly not geared toward people with a million kids (like me). They were well-marked and surprisingly accessible. What's even better is they didn't cause any pain when I was installing the child-safety seats. The Juke held two of my three child-safety seats. My two older kids didn't have much legroom when they were sitting in their forward-facing convertibles. When I installed my daughter's rear-facing infant-safety seat, the front passenger, who sat in front of this car seat, was nearly smashed up against the windshield.
Get more safety information about the 2012 Nissan Juke here.
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