Nissan’s first Nismo-badged car to be sold in Europe is this hotted-up Juke crossover. Sporting an aggressive aero bodykit and sporty cabin touches, chassis revisions and a dollop more power, the Nismo (short for Nissan Motorsport) is an offbeat £20k alternative to regular hot hatches like the Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo and Peugeot 208 GTi.
So this isn’t really a Juke-R on the cheap then?
Nope, there’s no twin-turbo GT-R V6 here; instead a mildly reworked version of the 1.6-litre turbo engine from the regular Juke DIG-T. On paper, the 12bhp and 7lb ft increases (to 197bhp and 184lb ft) seem disappointingly lightweight, especially as the respective peak figures are produced 400rpm higher than the standard Juke. The 0-62mph sprint is 0.2sec faster at 7.8sec, and the irrelevant top speed remains 134mph. (These figures are for the front-drive manual Juke Nismo – you can have a slower, heavier 4×4 CVT auto version, for £2k extra, but don’t bother…).
Seems like the Nissan Juke Nismo’s bodykit is writing cheques the driveline can’t cash…
Think the new Renaultsport Clio and Pug 208 GTi look a bit apologetic for full-fat hot hatches? Then the bulbous Juke Nismo will be right up your street. If the standard Juke looks like a supermini that’s been to the gym, the Nismo has been training for Mr Universe. And then been beaten up on its way home.
Riding on gloss-black 18in alloys, the Juke Nismo bins the normal model’s wine-rack front grille for a flared snout with integrated LED running lights, and adds dark-tints inside the four front lights. There are flared side skirts big enough to act as stagecoach running boards too – don’t stand on them, they’re only flimsy plastic – and a monster rear diffuser and roof spoiler. Nissan claims the aero package does reduce lift, but doesn’t cause any extra drag. A red pinstripe runs around the entire car in a classic ’80s hot hatch homage, and you get a whacking great tailpipe too, though the noise is, like the non-Nismo Juke, frustratingly whiney.
What about inside the Juke Nismo?
The cabin’s hot hatch makeover is an unqualified success. There’s a red rev counter, alloy pedals, and two excellent suede sports seats up front that combine comfort with decent lateral support. The steering wheel is nigh-on perfect: it’s the correct size, well-shaped, half-wrapped in Alcantara and sports a red stripe at the 12 o’clock position like an RS Porsche. All we’d ask for is some reach adjustment in the column to bring the helm closer to the driver’s chest.
Add a couple of Nismo badges and the updated infotainment interface from the 2013 model-year Juke/Qashqai and you’ve got an appealing cabin. There’s room aplenty up front, though as with the donor car, six-foot rear passengers won’t thank you for holing them up in the cramped rear.
Enough first impressions: what’s the Juke Nismo like to drive?
Do you know what? It’s excellent. Somehow the combination of stiffer dampers, a token power bump and some racy contact points inside add up to so much more than the sum of those parts, taking the already chuckable Juke to a new level of dynamic fun. It reminds of the Hyundai Veloster Turbo: an oddball niche-mobile turned into a revelation thanks to a well-executed bodykit and some deserved extra poke.
You work around the engine’s turbo lag by flinging the short-throw gearlever across the gate: its sharp action feels far more in-tune with the Nismo’s vibe than the similarly quick-shifting Qashqai 360 CAR tested recently. Once on song, the Juke Nismo feels substantially faster than the standard car, and though it never sounds as rorty as you’d hope (another quirk it shares with the Veloster Turbo) it’s worth hanging on until the 6500rpm redline to unlock all of the extra power. As an overtaking weapon cross-country, it’s amusingly punchy. You’re aided by the raised driving position that gives you a tank commander’s view of the battlefield, while regular hot hatch infantrymen have to slow down for oblique crests and hedgerow-lined B-roads.
Traction is only an issue in a straight line if you’re being a hooligan, but the lack of a limited-slip front differential (or even an electronic one like Seat’s Ibiza Cupra or in the VW Golf GTI) means the Juke spins away power through an unloaded front wheel if you wind up the turbo mid-corner. Taut body control and impressively flat cornering inspire confidence to really hurl the Juke Nismo about like a low-slung hatch, but the stability control is insomniac: it never sleeps, and will quell flamboyant driving with a swift and strict application of the brakes. Nevertheless, it doesn’t detract massively from fast and furiously fun driver’s car.
Could I put up with a Juke Nismo as an everyday car?
Easily – it feels no more compromised than its common-or-garden stablemate. The ride is satisfyingly rather than stupidly firmer than stock: it’s not deflected across pockmarked roads the way a JCW Mini is, for instance. The wider rubber doesn’t generate masses of tyre roar (though wind whip around the mirrors remains a motorway cruise irritation) but you’ll merely distract yourself with the sheer amount of standard kit included on board.
Is the Nissan Juke Nismo decent value then?
If you’re sick of reading about cars groaning under the weight of cost-optional extras, the Nismo Juke will be a breath of fresh air. You can spend £500 on black paint, or £700 on white – and that’s it. The sat-nav, Bluetooth, reversing camera, heated seats, tinted glass, electric mirrors, keyless go and climate control are all standard. Stick with the rather natty no-cost silver paint (applied to our test car, but not pictured here) and you’ll get all the performance and paraphernalia for £20,395. (The unnecessary CVT 4×4 version costs £22,600.)
That £20k tag makes the Juke Nismo just £1900 more than a high-spec Juke 1.6 turbo, or to put it in hot hatch terms, only £400 above a Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo Lux. The Clio will be a sharper point-to-point machine, but the Juke feels miles better built and it lets you change gear yourself…
Gatecrashing the value for money party like Nigel Farage entering the Eurovision song contest is the Nismo’s fuel economy. The official claim is 40.8mpg, but the Juke Nismo wouldn’t manage that even if it was tethered to a cruise missile. We averaged 26.5mpg while driving it like a hot hatch – and enjoying every second. Low thirties would be on the cards with a reverend’s right foot, but where’s the fun in that?
Not only is the Juke Nismo a surprisingly complete range-topper for the Juke range, it’s a really promising opening gambit from Nismo as it enters the European hot hatch scene. Nissan has confirmed there’ll be a flagship Juke Nismo RC next year, with a hardcore chassis set-up, even better brakes and a Golf GTI-bothering 218bhp. In the meantime, the ‘normal’ Juke Nismo is a stonking entry-level performance car.