Nissan Juke is almost an ideal Chicago car

Front view of the Nissan Juke
I know it's not the most attractive vehicle out there. But I prefer to call the Nisan Juke quirky rather than ugly. Or if you must use a "u" word ... How about unique?

Not buying it? Let's see if I can convince you.

In terms of utility, the Juke is both compact and functional. I parked next to the Ford Fiesta sedan one day and was surprised to see that the Juke was (get this) smaller! The Juke has an overall length of 162.4 inches, whereas the Fiesta sedan is a whopping 11 inches longer at 173.6. The Juke is closer to the super compact hatchback, which has a length of 160.1 inches. Curiouser and Curiouser.

Juke also has the added bonus of AWD. And better road clearance. Both of which are great for Chicago winters. I definitely would have felt confident driving around the day after Snowmageddon 2011 in this car. Not so in a Fiesta. I probably wouldn't have made it a foot down the alley! You also sit a bit higher than in a normal sedan, so you get SUVlike visibility without e SUV step-in height, largess or fuel economy.

Nissan Juke 3/4 front shot
Speaking of fuel economy, though, I do have to tell you, this is the "almost" part of the equation. EPA estimates that you should get 25 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway for the AWD model (27/32 mpg for the FWD model). Sounds good, right? Well in real life I averaged 24.6 mpg. In mostly highway driving. While I do have to admit I probably did have a little too much fun with the sport mode during the first 5 days of my test, I did try to bring it back up with 2 days in ECO mode. No luck.

Depending on how you feel about gas prices, the might not be a deal breaker, though. Especially if you drive with a lighter foot than I do!

That sport mode is just so much fun. Initially I started in ECO mode and was ready to pan both the continuously variable transmission and the 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine. But then one of my tweeps commanded me to switch to Sport mode. OMG -- what a difference. As you can tell by my fuel economy, I loved it. So peppy and quick off the start. Such a great ability to pass.

The ride is nice and smooth, and the handling is close to sporty. The best of all worlds when you think about it: incredible utility with a fun-to-drive attitude.

The interior is another selling point for the Juke. It has clean and simple lines with easy-to-reach and intuitive controls. Plus the Juke has one of the best features that I've seen on any vehicle ever: the integrated control system. One control panel that switches between two different functionalities: drive modes and HVAC. Such a brilliant and simple idea that I'm surprised no one has done it before. Check out my video. It should be noted that this doesn't come with the base S model. You have to start with the SV model ($20,880) if you want this little bit of coolness.

Nissan Juke interior
The test model had the red-and-black interior with the bright red shiny bits on the center console. Which looked nice in and of itself. But I'm a bit too matchy for my own good and would have liked either the exterior to be equally red or see the interior shiny bits be gray to match the exterior. My tweeps were divided on whether the interior and exterior needed to match. Personal preference, I guess.

My primary Chicago rant, however, was the lack of concealable storage space. The glove box is oversized and can fit a small purse, but there is no center console cubby to hide iPass, cell phone, keys or iPod. Nor, in the test car, was there a rear cargo cover. So, whenever I left the car, whatever didn't fit in the glove box went with me. Annoying, but if you fork out $135 for the optional cargo cover, not insurmountable.

The test car was a mid-level SV model with AWD, which put the start price at $22,880. At this level, you get standard features like Bluetooth connectivity, an intelligent key with push-button start, iPod audio interface and an automatic transmission. No need to add options here. If you want leather seats, you'll have to upgrade to the SL model ($25,200), but you'll also get navigation, automatic temperature control and heated front seats as a standard features. Really no options needed here.

Chicago-worthy rating: 9. With the Juke, Nissan turns out another awesome urban vehicle. Yes, I did give it a slight ding for the as-tested fuel economy and the sheer lack of concealable hidey-holes. But the compact size, AWD option and excellent turning radius make this one of the closest things to perfect I've found for a city car. It's quirky. It's fun. It's functional. It fits people. It fits stuff. Throw that cargo cover in as a standard feature, and I might even bump the rating up to 9.5.

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