It seems like it's been a long time since I've been excited about a new car model. I don't mean those svelte semi-hypercars with MSRPs that hover near a hundred grand, like the Nissan GT-R or the Corvette ZR1. They're unattainable for most workaday slobs like myself.
No, I mean the kind of excitement that makes me grab a calculator and pencil to scrutinize the budget to decide whether or not I need $80 a month in cable bills or the obligatory $4 cup of java each morning--the kind of excitement that causes one to stalk the new car dealership late at night just to sneak a look at that new bit of kit you can't stop thinking about.
I'm talking about the Nissan Juke here. If the Cube was America's sip of the Japanese kooky car market, then the Juke is a full on swig of what it means to be JDM. Much like the Cube, from the first glance you either love it and appreciate what it stands for- or you downright hate everything about it.
Being an age that teeters between generations X and Y, I feel like this car was made for guys my age. I have grown up in an interesting time, one where gasoline was $.99 a gallon when I first started driving, and I've seen it as high as $4. I've owned mid-80s V-8 gas guzzlers with four-barrel carbs and EFI four-bangers with a turbo and less than 2 liters of displacement.
I've learned a few things in the well over a dozen cars I've owned. There is a replacement for displacement...it's called boost. Bigger isn't always better. All-wheel drive is better than two-wheel drive.
The best cars don't do one thing best, they do all things well.
It's with these things in mind that I say the Juke is just the kind of car that many Americans crave. The styling is what it is--and if you are irreconcilably put off by it then you can certainly go out and buy something much more conservative looking. I'm convinced the Juke is in a class all its own. I'm not saying that they are bad cars--not by a long shot, but the thought of buying a CR-V/RAV4/Escape/etc. and blending into the sea of such small SUVs in the large corporate parking lot I navigate each morning makes me want to jab shards of fiberglass under my fingernails.
What excites me about the Juke isn't its haughty roofline or the amphibian headlights. It really isn't the styling at all (although the preliminary shots of the interior are pretty compelling.) No, what gets my gears turning about this car are the specs--starting with the 1.6 liters of displacement, direct-injected turbo, variable valve timing on intake and exhaust cams, 188 hp, six-speed manual transmission, and available AWD. Yes, the Subaru Impreza WRX makes more hp and also has standard AWD, but it is thousands of dollars more and has neither the funky styling nor the excellent gas mileage of the Nissan engine.
Call me a Japanese car dork, but I really admire when a sub-2.0-liter engine can make more than 100 hp per liter (even turbocharged). I've owned a 105-hp Corolla, and the thought of a factory turbo squeezing an extra 80-hp out of such a small enigne is compelling. Yes, the MINI Cooper puts out similar numbers, but they are uselessly small and overpriced.
I keep coming back to the power/utility/price/fun quotient with the Juke. Not having driven one, I can only imagine that the numbers on paper make for a fun ride. Nothing earth-shattering, but quick to 60 mph and fuel-efficient is a good recipe for a daily commuter.
Just ask my Infiniti G20.