Driven: 2011 Nissan Juke

A. J. Mueller

Thankfully, our Juke remains right-side up for the remainder of the night, and the next morning we can escape to the snow-covered back roads for some driving fun. The all-wheel-drive system uses electronically controlled clutches in the rear differential to send up to 50 percent of the torque to the rear wheels. Like Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, the Juke can also apportion torque between the left and right rear wheels to keep handling more neutral and allow higher cornering speeds. A three-position switch swaps among front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive with torque vectoring. In either four-wheel setting, though, the Juke will still send 100 percent of the torque to the front wheels when cruising straight ahead.

Unfortunately, our Juke isn't quite as eager to play because of its compromised all-season tires. All-wheel drive, in both standard and torque-vectoring modes, can't offer much help when the tires don't have any traction. Accordingly, the Nissan gives a fine demonstration of Newton's first law -- an object in motion stays in motion in the same direction. Which explains how the Juke repeatedly noses into the three-foot-high snowbanks. Drive like a cautious, normal human on snow and the Juke gets by just fine. Slap some winter tires on it, and it would probably be brilliant. But we don't know that for sure.

On dry pavement, the Juke handles impressively for its crossover height and is far more engaging than anything in the compact crossover class. Cornering is on par with nimble small cars such as the Ford Fiesta and the Mazda 2, with nicely managed body roll and predictable behavior at the limit of grip. Even with the trick differential, though, the Juke still prefers to understeer in hard turns. The torque-vectoring effect is nowhere near as profound as that in more powerful cars that can send more power to the rear, such as the Porsche Cayenne and the Audi S4.

Acceleration is swift but not fast, as 188 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque moving 3200 pounds isn't exactly a recipe for performance. The real advantage here is the turbocharger that provides a flat torque band for confident passing at speed. In all, it's a much more enjoyable powertrain than the wheezy four-cylinders in subcompact cars. The Juke can perform that trick, too, though.

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