The theory persists that American car buyers, especially young ones, like weird, quirky, and often ugly, vehicles.

Despite General Motors Co.'s embarrassment with the Pontiac Aztek, and Honda Motor Co. Ltd.'s slow-selling Honda Accord Crosstour and Acura ZDX, Nissan North America Inc. releases the Juke in October.

The last thing the industry needs is another blandmobile. But the Juke cross/utility vehicle, the U.S.'s only wagon-type B-segment CUV, doesn't push the design needle in the right direction.

With its oddly proportioned grille, its round, low-positioned headlamps that look like ginormous bug eyes, and its high-mounted turn indicators protruding like larva on the underside of a picnic table, the Juke's face is one only a chief designer could love.

That's a shame because the rest of the Juke is great, barring minor annoyances.

The all-new fuel-sipping-yet-powerful 188-hp 1.6L 4-cyl., making 177 lb.-ft. (240 Nm) of torque, is first-rate.

With gasoline direct injection — using two injectors per cylinder instead of one — and a single-scroll turbocharger, as well as an optional continuously variable transmission, lots of racket emanating from under the hood might be expected.

But Nissan engineers have done a good job quieting any clatter. Only when pushing the CUV to its limits climbing hills near Vancouver does the 1.6L groan.

Otherwise, the Juke accelerates quickly, cleanly and quietly. As with other CVT-equipped Nissans, the ability to downshift through pseudo-gears makes the transmission much more enjoyable. And downshifting is needed to summon torque in high gears.

Ward's ended our time in an all-wheel-drive SL-grade Juke with a CVT at a middling 24.9 mpg (9.4 L/100 km). Most of the route was traveled in Eco mode on mid-speed 2-lane roads.

An afternoon drive down a mountain in an SL front-wheel-drive Juke with 6-speed manual and in Sport mode was a blast.

While the AWD Juke with CVT is a peppy ute, the FWD 3-pedal model is a sports car in disguise. With the manual, the I-4 has power to spare in sixth gear.

What's more, the manual returned an astonishing and hybrid-like 30.1 mpg (7.8 L/100 km). Granted, the downhill route helped.

The Juke's AWD system incorporates torque vectoring on the rear axle, which apportions more torque to the outside wheel while turning, ostensibly helping reduce understeer and improve cornering. Up to 50% of total engine torque can be channeled to either rear wheel.

But the system makes little difference on the twisty mountain roads. In AWD variants, the torque-vectoring system provided no noticeable benefit over FWD models.

On the chassis front, the Juke suffers from body roll in the twisties. During dynamic driving, an interior G-Force meter on the dashboard displays how much body roll is at play.

The Juke's speed-sensitive electric power steering is appropriately heavy under moderate and hard acceleration but needs more resistance during low-speed driving to emphasize the CUV's sporty character; ditto for the feather-light accelerator pedal.

Nissan designers did a fine job with the interior. Lots of hard plastic doesn't read cheap, thanks to its matte finish, clean edges and tight-fitting panels. The high-gloss trim and an optional red-and-black interior scheme create the right vibe.

The tank-style center console resembles that of a motorcycle. But the CUV's instrument-panel air vents call to mind torpedo-chute styling cues from 1950s American cars.

The star of the SV- and SL-grade Juke's interiors is an Advanced Integrated Control (I-CON) interface. It does double-duty, containing both climate and drive-mode functions to de-clutter the center stack.

With the push of the Climate button, I-CON's switches show heating, ventilation and air-conditioning functions. A push of a "D-Mode" button changes three HVAC-related switches to Normal, Sport and Eco, the available drive modes.

A window pops up on the screen whenever one of the drive-mode buttons is hit, with a static list of calibrations for the throttle, transmission and steering in that particular mode. Note that steering in Eco mode remains normal.

Our only quibble with I-CON is having to hit "Climate" first to change fan speed when in D-Mode.

As a B-segment CUV, Nissan has a great niche with the Juke. Most other small CUVs have morphed into midsize models over time. The Juke's size is just right.

Juke pricing ranges from $18,960 to $24,550. Nissan is aiming for coveted young, upwardly mobile males.

But women young and old who encountered the Juke during the media drive were taken with it.

Look for the Juke to rack up about 20,000 units annually.

'11 Nissan Juke SL

Vehicle type: Front-engine, FWD, 5-passenger, 4-door cross/utility vehicle

Engine: 1.6L DOHC DIG turbocharged inline 4-cyl. with aluminum block, head

Power (SAE net): 188 hp @ 5,600 rpm

Torque: 177 lb.-ft (240 Nm) @ 2,000-5,200 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Wheelbase: 99.6 ins. (253 cm)

Overall length: 162.4 ins. (412 cm)

Curb weight: 2,952 lbs./1,339 kg

Base price: $22,550 (not incl. $750 destination)

Fuel economy: 24/31 mpg (9.8-7.6 L/100 km)

Competition: Mini, Mazda3, Scion tC, Suzuki SX4

PROS/CONS

  • MT, FWD Juke blast
  • Primo engine, features
  • Well-done interior
  • AWD of questionable value
  • Pricey for small CUV
  • Out-there face may limit sales