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Test Drive: Nissan Juke

Most automotive writers will tell you that the Nissan Juke is tough to classify. But after spending a week in it, I can tell you what the Nissan Juke is: a great car. I had the 2011 Juke SV with all-wheel drive and the navigation package. In addition to a 188-horspower engine and continuously variable transmission, my test Juke also had Intelligent Key entry, navigation, Bluetooth and a USB port. The Smartkey and Bluetooth are standard on the SV model, while navigation and the USB port added $800 to the SV AWD model’s $22,800 base price. With destination, my test car was priced at $24,440.

The Juke loved being thrown into turns on country roads and zipping in and out of Boston traffic. The engine had plenty of speed on the highway, and its 177 pound-feet of torque made it an excellent car for speeding away from traffic after red lights. The Juke has Eco, Sport and Normal driving modes. Putting it in Eco mode dampened the Juke’s responses too much for my taste, while the Sport mode was actually sporty, programming hard “shifts” into the CVT and letting the engine rev. Normal mode balanced the two nicely.

Inside, the Juke was a bit on the small side. The back seat was passable for two adults for short trips and there was enough cargo space for about six bags of groceries. The design reminded me strongly of my old Harley Davidson Sportster. The controls on the center stack were easy to use, and Nissan avoided button overload by allowing some buttons to switch between climate control and driving applications.

But what I really like about the Juke is the price. It delivers on the promise of go-kart performance that Mini makes, but does it for less money. To get a Mini with AWD, you have to go for the Countryman S All4, which starts at $27,750 and doesn’t come with features like Bluetooth. Even if you’re willing to give up two doors and all-wheel drive by going for the Mini Cooper Hardtop, to equip it with navigation and other features my test Juke had, you’d have to pay $24,200, and that’s without a destination charge. The Juke gives you similar performance and more features at a better price.

That’s not all the Juke has going for it, though. Its higher stance made it easy to get into an out of. And, unlike the low-slung Mini, when driving the Juke I didn’t feel like I was eye-to-eye with everyone else’s hubcaps. If you’re used to the driving position of a small SUV or minivan, but want a little car, the Juke has you covered. Plus, it’s a 2011 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick. If you want a sporty small car with AWD, a commanding driving position and lots of tech for the money, the 2011 Nissan Juke needs to be on your short list.

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