2015 Nissan Juke

Every once in a while, an automaker decides to take a chance on a vehicle that's like nothing else on the road. The Juke is just such a machine.

Nissan's funky compact CUV features polarizing styling that elicits strong opinions but never comparisons to other cars, and its "sports sedan trapped in a crossover body" personality also sets it apart from the competition.

Cramped rear seats and limited cargo space mean the Juke isn't for everyone, but those who like the styling and prioritize driving enjoyment should take a close look.

Recent Changes
For the latest model year, the Nissan Juke gets a very minor facelift and additional standard equipment.

Overview
Some say it looks like an alien, others liken it to a frog, but what's certain is that the Juke never blends in. Boldly chiseled fenders, a sloping roofline and an extra-wide grille flanked by three rows of lights highlight what can only be described as a truly unique exterior.

The adventurous theme continues inside, where organic curves abound and a center console designed to mimic the fuel tank of a motorcycle provides a bit of visual sizzle. Downsides include limited rear seat headroom - blame the rakish roofline - and a small cargo area. Just 10.5 cubic feet of space is available behind the rear seats, although a respectable 35.9 cubes can be unlocked by folding those rear seats flat.

Whatever your feelings may be on the crossover's styling, the Juke is best appreciated from behind the wheel. Power comes from a tiny 1.6-liter four-cylinder that utilizes direct injection and a turbocharged to produce 188 horsepower and 177 lb-ft. Front-wheel-drive comes standard along with the choice of a six-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT), while an optional all-wheel-drive system is available only with the CVT.

The AWD setup splits torque 50:50 between the two axles and can also cut down on fun-destroying understeer by shunting torque to the outside rear wheel in turns. AWD models also trade the standard torsion beam rear suspension for a more sophisticated multilink setup.

All Juke models are light on their feet, boasting nimble responses, accurate steering and unusually strong acceleration for the segment.

An available I-CON system varies steering effort, throttle response and transmission settings with Normal, Sport and Eco models. When set to the latter, the FWD Juke is capable of 28/32 city/highway mpg and 25/31 mpg with the CVT or the manual transmission, respectively; the AWD model returns 26/31 mpg.

Trim Level Breakdown
The Juke is offered in S, SV, SL, Nismo and Nismo RS trim levels.

The S comes equipped with A/C, keyless entry, a push-button ignition, a rear-view camera, power windows and locks, Bluetooth connectivity, a trip computer with outside temperature display, cruise control, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with AUX and USB input jacks, and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The SV adds the I-CON system, a moonroof, a proximity key, push-button start, automatic climate control, premium cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and SiriusXM satellite radio.

Optional on the SV is the Navigation Package, which includes a nav system with a five-inch touchscreen, NavTraffic, a rearview camera and a Rockford Fosgate sound system.

The SL includes all of the Navigation Package's features plus leather upholstery, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped shift knob, auto on/off headlights and foglights.

The S, SV and SL can be equipped with an optional "Midnight Edition" package that adds a number of aesthetic upgrades, including 17-inch black aluminum-alloy wheels, a Sapphire Black rear roof spoiler and Sapphire Black mirror covers.

Juke NISMO and NISMO RS
Nissan's NISMO performance and motorsports division recently turned its attention to transforming the Juke into an even better driver's machine. The result, dubbed the Juke Nismo, is instantly recognizable due to red exterior trim, 18-inch alloy wheels and a unique body kit that improves downforce by 37 percent.

The NISMO-ized Juke is available in both FWD and AWD forms, both of feature an upgraded powertrain computer that boosts output to 197 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. Making the most of the power increase is a lower, tightened-down suspension. Front-drive models retain a torsion beam rear axle, while all-wheel-drive variants use a multi-link rear setup. In addition, the Juke's electric power steering has been retuned for a sportier feel and increased feedback.

On the inside, the Juke NISMO gains unique touch points for the driver - a special steering wheel, gear knob and pedals. Sports seats with additional bolstering are also included, as is a black headliner.

Buyers can also opt for the even more potent NISMO RS, which increases the underhood muscle to 215 horsepower and 210 lb-ft for the manual transmission, FWD model. Opting for the CVT AWD variant lowers power to 211 ponies and 181 lb-ft of twist.

The 1.6-liter gains beefier connecting rods and a dual-mass flywheel to cope with the extra power. A bespoke ECU and a larger exhaust line help squeeze every last ounce of power from the four-banger.

Inside, the Juke Nismo RS gains Recaro bucket seats upholstered in a combination of leather and suede, an Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel adorned by the RS logo and immitation carbon fiber trim on the center stack.

Occupant Safety
All Juke models come standard with dual front, front side and full length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Key Competitors
The Juke's closest rival in terms of visual impact and driving dynamics is the larger and more expensive MINI Countryman. More mainstream options include the Kia Soul and Scion xB, and buyers should also check out comparably priced hatchbacks like the Mazda Mazda3 and Ford Focus.