• Model: 2012 Nissan Juke S AWD
• Exterior color: Cayenne Red
• Interior color: Black
• Engine: 1.6-liter turbo
• Horsepower: 188
• Transmission: Continuously variable
• Fuel economy: 30 mpg highway, 25 mpg city
• Dealer: Hunt Nissan
• Price (as tested): $24,675
Don't tell me a car can't smile.
When I was down on one knee photographing this week's test car, a red Juke from Hunt Nissan, the car not only smiled at me, I think it winked, too. The Juke's front fascia -- grille, headlight and bumper -- looks like a smiling kid with braces.
And that's a good thing because this little Nissan five-door compact crossover hatchback is all about fun. It's playful, cute and a blast to drive.
My dictionary offers two definitions for the word juke:
A. To dance.
B. To move in a zigzag pattern.
Equipped with a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, the slick-handling Juke is capable of dancing and zigzagging its way nicely through Chattanooga traffic.
Hunt Nissan sales manager Danny McVay said that about half of Juke buyers opt for all-wheel-drive, which comes in handy for mountain terrain.
The Juke is hard to pigeon-hole. It's a five-door hatchback that looks like a two-door vehicle, at least until you find the rear door handles cleverly hidden in the rear window frames. The hood-mounted headlights give the car a whimsical, arched-brow look, like a surprised puppy.
All this fun styling actually blends together visually into a little run-about that seems to be happy on the road. Altogether, the body design is heavier in front that in the rear, a neat change from conventional auto design.
The upgraded Gunmetal alloy wheels on our base test car (a $950 option) give it a wide, confident stance. The wheels have been pushed to the corners of the vehicle, reducing he size of the overhangs and resulting in surprisingly generous interior volume.
Inside our Cayenne Red tester, a contrasting black, monocolor interior adds to the sporty look of the Juke. Our car was the base trim level, S, but the interior is well finished. Black fabric-covered seats are firm and supportive.
Rear seat room is impressive, and the hatch opens into a cargo area that's plenty big enough to haul a week's worth of groceries for a small family.
Even the base Juke comes well-equipped with Bluetooth, six-speaker audio, halogen head-lights, anti-lock brakes, tire-pressure monitors and traction control.
The Juke is powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine that cranks out 188 horsepower, more than enough to make the Juke a spicy little car. The engine is mated to an efficient continuously variable transmission which helps boost fuel economy to 30 mpg highway (25 mpg city).
On a test drive along Highway 153 the Juke felt planted and confident tucked among big SUVs and 18-wheelers. The steering is well-balanced, and the standard Goodyear Eagle all-season tires are quiet and grippy.
Off the freeway, I wheeled into a parking lot, where the Juke got lots of admiring looks. The turning radius is tight and makes parking the car a pleasure.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Juke, despite its modest price, has features you'd expect on a more expensive car. You won't find many turbo-charged, all-wheel-drive vehicles for under $25,000, and our test car carried a sticker price of just $24,676.
If you are looking for a mere transportation appliance, there are more utilitarian choices out there. But if you think you deserve a car that makes driving feel more like dancing, the Juke might be your ideal ride.
Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...