April in Michigan means opening day for the Detroit Tigers, and the arrival of baseball season means winter is essentially over. No more winter means that the Michelin Pilot Alpin PA3 winter tires are now off of our Four Seasons Nissan Juke. Our Juke came from the factory wearing Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires, but last October we replaced them with Kumho Ecsta 4X performance rubber, which we found to be grippier and less prone to tire squeal than the stock Goodyears. The Michelin winter tires performed well (albeit in a remarkably mild winter), but we're definitely glad to have the Kumhos back on the Juke -- their excellent grip really helps emphasize the small, turbocharged car's fun-to-drive spirit.
Contributor Ronald Ahrens, however, had little to say about the Juke's fun factor after recently spending a long weekend with the Nissan. Like many people who first see and/or drive the car, he had a hard time ignoring the vehicle's strange appearance. "When I initially saw it from afar," he says, "I thought there were two unmelted accumulations of ice on the front."
Bystanders showed implicit derision toward the Juke, claimed Ahrens, who averred that if the American Herpetological Society (studiers of reptiles and amphibians) had an official vehicle, this would be it. "Through the small, upright windshield," Ahrens notes, "I can see very clearly every fly and mosquito -- I just can't find the button that deploys the automatic tongue flick."
Some other design-related issues that Ahrens noted include huge blind spots at the rear corners, sideview mirrors and a dashboard that are quite high and can be difficult to see around, and outside rear door handles (housed vertically in the C-pillars) that, according to one of Ahrens's female friends, "are fingernail breakers."
Ahrens had mostly good things to say about the driving experience: "It drives well, the ride is nice, and it feels solid underneath. Power delivery from the turbo 1.6-liter is very good, and it offers excellent pickup in sixth gear [because the gearing is so short -- Ed]. Around 5000 rpm, though, the engine succumbs to coarseness. Also, on more than one occasion, the tight shift pattern caused me to select fourth gear (from fifth) when I really wanted sixth. The short-travel clutch caused me to stall a couple times, too, and this never happens in my stick-shift 2012 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen S."
Those of us who are more familiar with the Juke have recently had some revelations, too. Editor-in-chief Jean Jennings chauffeured senior editor Jason Cammisa and deputy editor Joe DeMatio around Ann Arbor. DeMatio, who -- like the others in the car -- stands nearly six feet tall, had this to say: "I found that the Juke's back seat wasn't nearly as miserable a place as I feared it might be. In fact, I didn't find it miserable at all. I could see where we were going, I had plenty of leg and knee room, and the seat was pretty comfortable. I was pleasantly surprised."
Although the Juke may be acceptable for the periodic sight-seeing tour, at least one father has found the back seats to be too cramped to allow child seats to fit without necessitating that the front seats be moved uncomfortably forward, as we mentioned in our December update.
Associate web editor Jake Holmes isn't a parent, but his feelings toward the Juke have also cooled: "As much as I like the Juke, I don't think I'll particularly miss it when its Four Seasons are up at the end of the summer. It may be quirky, fun, and good to drive, but my initial warmth for the Nissan has cooled to a mere platonic friendship.
"I'm getting tired of the unsupportive seats," Holmes explains. "They don't offer any lower-back support, so I end up putting the seatback almost vertical. However, that means the headrest pushes too far forward, so I'm left to recline the seat slightly and just deal with the lack of back support. On the highway, the Juke is a bit of a mixed bag. Sixth gear is very short, so the engine is quite loud and, I'm sure, not as fuel efficient as it could be with a taller gear. Still, with an eager turbo engine and a light, direct shifter, it's really easy to drop from fifth to third gear for quick blasts up on-ramps when navigating through slow traffic around metro Detroit."
Now that the weather is better and the Juke is again wearing its sportier shoes, such on-ramp blasts are putting a smile back on our faces. Winter is dead. Long live the spring.