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2011 Nissan Juke

Wheelbase Communications

Anyone believing that a sport utility vehicle has to be big and bold to pass as the real deal needs to meet the Nissan Juke.

The vehicle arrives later this year with the sort of rough and rugged off-roader looks that are important to this class, but shrink-wrapped to an efficient and practical size.

The Juke’s rule-bending shape shares absolutely nothing with any other Nissan. The front end sports a pair of audaciously shaped fenders that dominate the overall design. Not to be outdone, the headlights are countersunk into the nose between the bumper and the grille, while the integrated turn-signal pods are positioned on either side of the hood.

Subtle would be an apt description for the side view, especially the rear doors that are so well concealed that you’ll have to strain your eyeballs to spot the secret latches that have been integrated into roof pillar. And if you thought there would be at least one straight line in evidence on the Juke, one glance at the unusual liftgate that’s bordered by a set of irregular taillamps proves otherwise.

A peek into the Juke’s five-passenger cabin confirms more free-form sculpting, especially the brightly painted center console that, we are told, is supposed to resemble a motorcycle fuel tank. And it really does, actually.

Elsewhere, the dual primary gauges are oversized, the sports car-like front seats are well bolstered and the split-folding rear bench can be flattened to maximize cargo space.

The compact Juke is 20 inches shorter than Nissan’s mid-size Rogue and at least a foot shorter than a Ford Escape. However, the Juke’s relatively generous width should provide sufficient shoulder room for adults and also help squeeze a junior-sized passenger in the middle of the three-place back seat.

The music for this Juke box is provided by a 1.6-liter turbo-charged four-cylinder engine, the first such powerplant offered in a North American Nissan product. The turbo is rated at more than 180 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque with the exact figures to be determined closer to launch.

A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is standard on all three available trim levels, while a six-speed manual can be ordered on at least a couple of front-wheel-drive-only models.

The available all-wheel-drive system splits the torque up to 50 percent between the front and rear wheels when called upon and can also direct up to half the available rear-axle torque to the outside wheel in a turn for greater cornering stability.

For the Juke to stay within its projected $20,000 starting price, base models will likely be fairly basic with a six-speaker audio system with redundant steering-wheel controls, Bluetooth short-range wireless connectivity and 17-inch wheels. All front-wheel-drive units have a special storage area beneath the rear seat that would otherwise be consumed by hardware necessary for all-wheel-drive.

There’s a wide assortment of extra-cost features — of which some will be standard on up-level Jukes — highlighted by a power moonroof, keyless entry and start, leather-covered seats, navigation system with rear-view monitor and premium sound package.

Nissan has also developed the Integrated Control option (cleverly called “I-CON”) — a display panel and related knobs — that runs the climate-control and adjusts the chassis settings, depending which of the two seemingly unrelated task modes you pick. For the latter, I-CON manipulates the CVT transmission, electronic steering and throttle response to “Normal” for everyday driving, “Sport” for a bit more performance, or “Eco” for best fuel efficiency.

Nissan is gaining a reputation for being fearless about producing exciting and edgy transportation (consider the Cube wagon) that stands apart from everyday design normalcy. The Juke won’t make the cut on everyone’s short list, but the daring adopter types will love it.

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