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Nissan Juke NISMO – Driving Report

NISMO has actually been around since the 1980s, but only recently has the name worked its way into mainstream car culture. An abbreviation of Nissan Motorsport International Limited, this naturally racing-oriented branch of Nissan is now expanding its presence to more street cars, and with products like this Juke and the 370Z NISMO, it’s becoming a Japanese equivalent of BMW’s M and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG. And like those German packages, the NISMO cars are about more than a couple of badges and a few extra horsepower. The Juke NISMO, for example, boasts nearly 100 separate performance, exterior and interior modifications from the standard car, and many of the exterior tweaks are to help the quirky-looking thing cut through the air more effectively. Speaking of the Juke, we recently had a NISMO edition Juke to test, and after not thinking much about the normal version, we came away pleasantly surprised by this oddball.

Think what you will of the Juke’s styling. It’s been polarizing from the moment it came out, and a lot of people have made jokes about its chubby, grinning face and its unusual proportions running from front to back. Love it or hate it, though, you have to admit that the Juke is a really unique, original vehicle and you always know one when you see it. In today’s world of dull, predictably shaped sedans and compact SUV’s, you have to respect Nissan at least a little bit for taking a chance. And if you’re in the camp of people who actually like the Juke for its distinct looks, then the NISMO version will impress you even more. The general consensus among those polled was that the NISMO is strangely likable and somehow it works. We agree.

The most obvious change with the NISMO edition is to the front fascia and grille in order to more effectively direct air to the engine, and strips of LED’s replace the little fog lights on the standard car. Running back, the side skirts are reworked for aerodynamics, the wheel arches are more muscular, the rear bumper is deeper, and the liftgate is topped by a spoiler.  Supposedly, some of the aero bits on the Juke NISMO was gleaned from the GT-R racers being campaigned in Japan’s Super GT series, and it’s resulted in a 37% improvement in downforce, as well as an even more uniquely styled car. Only available in black, silver or white, the Juke NISMO also has a red pinstripe that runs from the lower grille, back to the front wheel arches, back to the base of the doors, and around the rear sill.  The mirrors are also red, and with the car lowered and sitting on 18-inch alloys, it’s pretty mean and aggressive looking.

The theme continues on the inside with new seats, instruments, steering wheel, gear knob, pedals and door trims. Again, it’s all about that racy treatment and it shows. The seats in particular were fantastic, the kind you would want in any car. As in, please install them in our M3. They were deep and supportive with massive side bolsters, and were sueded with perforated sides. They also, like several other parts of the interior, had red accents to match that pinstripe on the outside, including a clever red hash mark at top center of the steering wheel. Everything else looked and felt right, and for a car in this price bracket was surpassingly well-equipped with a touch screen, navigation, Bluetooth, and overall a quality feel.

The centrally mounted I-CON digital screen changes display, color and functions depending on the mode selected by the driver. Settings alter throttle maps, steering effort and CVT shift schedules on the AWD models. In the D-Mode Sport setting, the throttle map is retuned to deliver higher engine revs and sharper responses and the steering effort in Sport is firmer and more responsive. In the Eco setting, engine revs are reduced for more “gentle” progress and the quantity of cold air circulating in the cabin is optimized, reducing the load on the climate control and lowering the system’s power consumption. Needless to say, we didn’t test that setting.

Power for the Juke comes from a surprisingly small 1.6 liter turbo, which in the NISMO makes 197 horsepower and 184 lb/ft of torque versus the standard JUKE’s 188-horsepower and 177 lb/ft of torque. The front-wheel-drive on our test car is only available with the 6-speed manual transmission, while the NISMO-tuned CVT transmission is standard with the all-wheel-drive option. Fuel economy is rated at 27 mpg City and 32 mpg Highway for the manual edition and 25 mpg City and 30 mpg Highway the CVT version.

Behind the wheel, the NISMO Juke quickly inspires confidence, especially in the Sport Mode. Straight away, there’s a tiny bit of lag, but once it’s on boil the Juke gets up and goes. Sixty miles per hour comes up in just under seven seconds, while the quarter mile only take 15 seconds. These are real favorable figures against competitors like the Scion xB, Mini Cooper Countryman and Kia Soul. It handled fairly well, with understeer and body roll at sharp angles, but a manageable amount of both that we enjoyed exploring. Although the NISMO is lowered, you do sit up a bit high like in a compact SUV, and for anybody used to buzzing around in low-slung and sportier machines, it will take a little getting used to.

On the surface, one might think that the Juke NISMO might be kind of a hard sell. It looks and goes kind of like a sporty machine, but it does still have a residual SUV kind of feel to it. That puts it in a weird place in the market. What it does have, though, brings us back to that uniqueness, one of both the Juke and especially the Juke NISMO’s greatest strengths. This is one of those cars that will have people coming up to you in grocery store parking lots and asking you what kind of car it is, what mods you’ve done to it, how fast it is, etc. For less than $25,000, there really aren’t many other cars that have that kind of effect. This is a good car, a fun car, and an attention-grabbing car. The Juke NISMO is a lovable misfit and recommending it is not hard.

2013 Nissan Juke NISMO

Base Price: $22,900
Options: Navigation Package, $1,170

As Tested Price: $24,970
Engine Type: DOHC I-4
Displacement: 1.6 liters
Power: 197 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 184 lb/ft @ 2,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Curb Weight: 2,930 pounds
Fuel Economy: 27 mpg city, 32 mpg highway

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[Source: Nissan]