MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Crossing the muddy Mississippi River on the I-40 bridge at Memphis, we're scooting into Tennessee aboard Nissan's curvaceous crossover utility vehicle for the compact class that's big enough to transport five travelers in comfort and house their luggage in the rear cargo bay.
A nameplate labels our ride as the Juke, and Nissan describes it as a Sport Cross, one vehicle that crosses a nimble sports car with the body of a SUV.
Stretching more than 13 feet long and decorated with a bulbous face featuring round rally-style headlamps and curvaceous fender blisters capped by frog-eye amber running lights, Nissan's streamlined little wagon has the elevated stance and cargo capacity of a small-scale SUV with four flank doors for passengers and a liftgate at the tail for accessing the rear cargo bay.
However, the boxy parameters of a SUV have been disguised by the fluid sculptural treatment of body panels plus the raked face and a forward-tilting tail which collectively diffuse all rectangular hard corners.
And like a curve-craving sports sedan, Juke rides on the front-wheel-drive chassis of a car.
The platform supports the 99.6-inch wheelbase and a tire track width of 60.0 inches. Pinning the wheels near the corners of the chassis brings stability to the stance and enhances Juke's agility when cornering.
Juke's suspension design installs a cradle-type front subframe to mount independent MacPherson struts and a 23-mm stabilizer bar. In back, there's a torsion beam with integrated stabilizer bar for FWD editions, but a multi-link arrangement with stabilizer bar applies to versions with optional all-wheel-drive traction.
The steering system adds electric power assistance, which eliminates a load of hydraulic equipment and contributes to the efficiency of Juke's small engine.
A disc brake stands at every wheel -- with 11.7-inch front rotors and 11.5-inch rear rotors.
All tie by computerized links to a sophisticated anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and brake assist (BA), plus a traction control system (TCS) and vehicle dynamic control (VDC) device which checks lateral skidding.
All of these mechanical components combine to provide precise linear control of what becomes a fun-to-drive and enthusiastic vehicle.
For locomotion Nissan drops into Juke's engine compartment an aluminum dual-cam 1.6-liter in-line-four sequential direct injection gasoline (DIG) engine coupled to a turbo-charger and inter-cooler.
Output reaches to 188 hp at 5600 rpm, with torque holding at 177 lb-ft between 2000-5200 rpm.
Optional gearbox for two FWD trims (Juke SV and Juke SL) is a sporty shifting six-speed manual transmission.
All other issues (S, SV, SL with FWD or AWD) use Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The CVT eliminates step-ratio gears of a conventional automatic transmission as well as the resultant shift shock. Two variable diameter pulleys and a strong steel belt work to match the engine's output with the vehicle's speed, ultimately producing seamless acceleration.
Using the Xtronic CVT, Juke with FWD traction achieves fuel consumption numbers of 27 miles per gallon for in-town driving and 32 mpg at speed on a highway. The CVT AWD version earns 25/30 mpg City/Highway.
Nissan's optional electronically controlled AWD equipment is designed to provide dependable tire grip on wet or slippery pavement. The torque vectoring AWD mechanism not only can split the engine's torque up to 50:50 between front and rear wheels, but also divide the torque from side-to-side across the rear axle.
Increasing the rotation speed of an outboard rear wheel when cornering ends up decreasing the cornering load on the vehicle's front wheels, which thwarts the tendency of an AWD system to understeer and ultimately enhances total tire grip through a turn.
Juke's rigid structure whittles out a rather spacious cabin and utilitarian cargo bay. The layout pitches a pair of bolstered buckets in front and a second-row bench for up to three with a seatback that splits 60/40 and folds flat to expand the cargo area.
The storage area measures to 10.5 cubic feet but with rear seatbacks folded it grows to 35.9 cubic feet.
Entry issue Juke S stocks an air conditioner, Tricot cloth upholstery with six-way manual adjustable driver's seat, power controls for windows and door locks and mirrors, a remote keyless entry device, cruise control, tilting steering column, AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA/USB stereo with six speakers, and 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels with 215/55R17 Goodyear Eagle RS-A all-season tires.
Juke SV issues upgrade to suede Tricot cloth upholstery and apply a power moonroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel, pushbutton ignition and Nissan's new I-CON control system which combines management of the automatic air conditioner with a three-mode drive selector -- Normal for easy driving, Sport for performance and Eco for efficiency.
Top trim Juke SL earns foglamps, perforated leather upholstery and heated front seats, a leather-wrapped shift knob, upgraded audio speakers with Rockford Fosgate subwoofer and a navigation system with rearview monitor and 5.0-inch screen.
Expect MSRP points for Nissan's Juke CUV to stretch from $18,980 to $24,560.