It looks funny, but Nissan Juke is no joke

Courtesy of Nissan
Courtesy of Nissan
Warren Brown
Friday, October 29, 2010; 9:50 AM

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.

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