The Nissan Juke Nismo – short for Nissan Motorsport – is strange as a snake’s suspenders, sweet as a stolen kiss, and odd as a spray-painted bullfrog. And beyond appearances that provoke responses from “Cute”, to “Challenging”, to “WTF?” there’s a lot more to like. Over a week of Juke-ship, my affection for this sweet little mutant grew from a questioning eye-brow raise to, “Yes, I could own one of these.” From a small cynical cog in the great automotive marketing mechanism, could there be higher praise?
From the outside, the Juke scores immediately, being a four-door that looks like a mutant SUV-coupe crossbreed. The rear passenger doors visually just disappear as the sloping roofline fades. From the front the Juke is sci-fi Manga pure. Visually, the challenge with the Juke is it ditches the design rules of automotive anthropomorphism, where people interpret the headlights as eyes, and the grill as a mouth, which leads us to connect with the inanimate in a short circuit of our built in facial recognition software that makes us say, “Oh, that Mini is sooooo cute! [Insert girly squeee here].”
To be clear, we’re talking the Juke Nismo, a slightly hotted up version of the regular Juke. To improve the handling, springs and dampers are 10 per cent stiffer all around, and the anti-roll bars are tauter by a hair. Power is up from the base vehicle’s 187hp to 197bhp punted out by a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-banger. Tires are wider for better grip and run on 18-inch black alloys rims.
The areo treatment isn’t just boy racer looks, on the tech specs it adds 37% more down force over the base model – though that seems a bit aspirational given the Juke Nismo’s fairly languid pace.
Inside, the steering wheel is trimmed in Alcantara – as are the race inspired seats that are as firmly comfortable as being spooned by a 20-something muscle-boy. If only my office chair were this comfortable I’d write more reviews. Other Nismo touches are visual upgrades, red-on-black dials, a red starter button, red-on-black stitching, and a red line atop the steering wheel. Over the top? No, sporting and comfortable as a well fit runner. Then again, I’ve just come from the Mini Paceman, and after scanning the Nisan Juke Nismo’s exterior and sliding into the driver’s seat my response is, “How refreshingly normal.”
The infotainment controls are straight forward and easy to use, plus outright cool. With a button press the display toggles between the climate control and drive-mode screens. The latter including a digital boost gauge, and a G-force meter giving you a metric of how close to the ragged edge you may be in turns. Let the fun ensue in roundabouts… followed by the realization that you can push the Juke Nismo further than the G-force’s max. Obviously the lawyers have been limiting the feedback to “safe” margins. All the joy comes to a grinding halt as Nissan equips their Sirius Satellite XM with one of the worst antennas on the market – it cuts out at the merest hint of obstruction. A pity because the Rockford Fosgate audio system is a truly capable belter of tunes.
Put your foot down, and the Juke doesn’t respond like a startled cat – I’m looking at you Mini John Cooper Works. The Nismo sounds off with a more racer-esque and resonant exhaust note than its siblings, then responds with utterly appropriate alacrity. A favourite editorial whipping boy, the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), actually works — and works well. Tromp the accelerator, there’s a moment of rev up, and then a sling-shot of response. Sporting? Not quite, but cheerful, quick and a boon for shifting-free cavorts across town. Perhaps in a car, or SUV, or Crossover as different as the Juke Nismo, a different flavour of transmission is entirely in keeping with this strange beast.
At the wheel the Nismo fettling has added a bit more weight to the steering. Ride-wise the Juke Nismo is definitely firmer than other offerings in the line, but suitably compliant for daily driving. There is perhaps a little jiggle to the feel on rougher pavement, maybe a slight adjustment in rebound damping is in order. In the turns, and really I suggest finding a few if you’re out in the Juke Nismo, the stiffened suspension keeps body roll to a minimum and the vehicle (no not car) reveals itself eager, and adroit. Here in the turns the Mini Paceman or Countryman’s quicker steering may have the Juke’s number, but once the Juke settles in on the suspension it holds remarkable well, while the AWD provides the Juke the added security of a torque-vectoring system to assist cornering.
AWD is, of course, one of the Juke Nismo’s trump cards. A friend from San Francisco remarked that the Juke Nismo and a roof rack for skis would be “Tahoe Hot… in an unconventional way. It’s the perfect size for the city, and it has AWD for heading to Tahoe.” I’m in agreement.
So, issues then? The Juke Nismo is remarkable free of them. The steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach, which is an annoying oversight considering how well executed the rest of the cabin is in comfort and build. The mandatory pairing of the CVT to the AWD will be a detractor for many who like to stir their own gears. The fuel economy is merely reasonable at 7.6 l/100km highway and 9.4 l/100km city. Yet, I would still have one.
For one comparing the Juke Nismo to its nearest competitor, the Mini Countryman S All4, the Nismo equals the Mini in equipment for about $10,000 less. As strange as the Juke is to look at from the outside, the interior where you spend your time is far more functional and pleasant than the Mini’s.
The Juke Nismo; strange as a snake’s suspenders, sweet as a stolen kiss, and eager as a wolf-cross puppy on a leash.
Pricing: 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo
Base Price: $24,998
Options: $3,778 (CVT and All-Wheel Drive $3,480, three-coat paint $300)
Price as tested: $30,473