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On The Road

Polarizing but practical


courtesy of Nissan
The 2013 Nissan Juke offers 188 horsepower. The car’s fuel- efficiency ratings are 25 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.

We usually drive our press cars for a week, allowing any vehicle that makes a bad first impression plenty of time to redeem itself.

That was definitely the case with the little 2013 Nissan Juke we drove recently.

The styling of the car is what we charitably call “polarizing.”

At the Saturday morning gearhead gathering at Main Street Cafe & Books, our friends just shook their heads in disbelief at the car’s appearance. However, at least three different times during the week, I noticed young people on the verge of driving age poke their parents and point to the car with grins on their faces. We’ll leave you to make up your mind about which side of that fence you’re on.

However, by Wednesday we were looking forward to driving the car for errands and outings, because it seemed to fit our local lifestyle nicely. It’s well suited to Nissan’s description of it as an urban crossover, and two incidents illustrate that point.

On a Saturday night we drove to Palo Alto for dinner and a movie, hampered a bit by the fact that Genie’s still getting around on a walker after leg surgery. Hoping to find a convenient location, we were circling the block when we saw a large BMW trying to fit into a tight parking space in front of the restaurant. Pulling up behind, we waited patiently until the driver gave up after four tries. With the short wheelbase and tight turning radius, we sailed head-on into the space, backed up and were done.

The following Tuesday, needing some flats of flowers for the yard, we drove to the plant nursery in Palo Alto. With the rear seats down, this little car was more than spacious enough to swallow a day’s worth of plantings.

Even with the short wheelbase of this car, the hot little engine, manual transmission and torque-vectoring system to overcome front-wheel-drive handling issues make it enormously fun to drive.

On the interior, fit and finish are nicely done, though the quirkiness of the design carries through to the interior trim.

After a week of driving, the only thing we couldn’t quite warm up to was the price ($24,000 base, $26,555 with Sport Package), which is more comparable to statement subcompacts such as the Fiat 500 Abarth and Mini Cooper S than to cost-efficient subcompacts like the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa. Performance puts it comfortably into the first group, though looks and packaging are more comparable to the second group.

What we liked: All-around utility in a small package; excellent handling and driving performance; good fuel efficiency.

What we disliked: Not the prettiest car on the street; price is high for the small size of the package.

Bottom line: A fun and practical automobile if you find the styling quirky rather than off-putting.

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