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Nissan Juke Nismo review review (2013 onwards)
The Nissan Juke Nismo is the world’s first high performance urban crossover. Could the conventional hot hatch be in trouble?
What: Nissan Juke Nismo
Where: Barcelona, Spain
Date: January 2013
Price: £19,995 – £22,195
Available: On sale now, arriving March 2013
Key rivals:Ford Fiesta ST, MINI Countryman JCW, Renault Clio Renaultsport
We like: nice idea neatly executed, keen engine, keen chassis, unique styling touches, value
We don’t like: no hot hatch alternative, some traction issues, fidgety ride, faster version coming
Our first impression of the new Juke Nismo, Nissan’s bold new venture into the crazy new world of the crossover hot hatch? It looks a bit... chintzy. Not offensively so, but someone clearly loves a red marker pen in the design HQ.
All those red accents on this car’s exaggerated bodywork – they’re standard. Don’t fret; you do get to pay extra for the graphics.
Nismo is short for Nissan Motorsport, and if the name’s familiar it’s probably down to a certain computer game racing franchise. Yet Nismo also has an extensive heritage in motorsport success, and a back catalogue of road car tuning that commands an enthusiastic fan base at home in Japan.
Now Nismo is coming to Europe in a big way. This is not about delivering exclusive performance to a chosen few – Nissan already has the GT-R for that; instead the company is aiming for an “accessible” range of fun-to-drive cars.
The accessible part is important, hence choosing the Juke to go Nismo first. For an entirely reasonable sounding £19,995 you get an enhanced 200hp version of a machine that already combines genre-busting design innovation with popular appeal. The Juke outsold the Mondeo last year.
While other Nismo models will follow – including a 344hp version of the 370Z confirmed for this summer – it’s the Juke that’s tasked with paving the way, equipped with a bodykit, a boosted engine and a dream…
That boosted engine is the same 1.6-litre DIG-T turbo petrol that’s already fitted in regular top-of-the-line Juke models (discounting the 550hp Juke R, which is Frankensteined from a GT-R and an FIA-approved rollcage, and costs in excess of £420,000. Obviously).
Not a big gain but enough for Top Trumps
The difference for the Nismo is an additional 10hp and 7lb ft of torque, taking the respective totals from 190hp to 200hp and 177lb ft to 184lb ft. In the front-wheel drive, six-speed manual cars we were driving – a slower four-wheel drive CVT auto is also offered – this knocks the 0-62mph time down from 8.0 to 7.8 seconds.
Not a big gain, but enough for Top Trumps. And in practice the Nismo always feels keen, with an urgency under your right foot that almost makes it difficult to maintain a consistent speed on the motorway – especially if you’ve engaged the D-Sport driving mode. Which you probably will do, as it seems flat without it.
Makes an interesting noise, either way – and by interesting we mean it won’t be to everybody’s taste, as the Nismo gives less of a growl and more of a whoosh. The ungenerous may interpret this as weedy. Still, if it’s no actual rocketship there is at least all the oomph necessary to keep a smile on your face.
Ride and Handling
The modest under-bonnet improvements are matched to a carefully massaged chassis. The Nismo is around 10% stiffer than equivalent ordinary Jukes – increasing control in the corners without completely ruining the ride comfort. Or so the theory goes, anyway.
Given Nismo Japan has received considerable input from Nissan’s Cranfield-based Technical Centre right here in the UK, we have to hope the Juke really has maintained the kind of compliant composure necessary to deal with challenging British roads.
Compensation comes in the corners
Yet on the smooth, smooth surfaces of Spain, it never felt entirely at ease just cruising along. The suspension is now that bit firmer to the point where it becomes faintly fidgety almost all of the time – perhaps not enough to seriously distract you, but niggling in the background, nonetheless.
Compensation comes in those corners, though, as this is now a properly responsive little car, even if there is no escaping the Juke’s relatively tall stance. Compared to a conventional hot hatch, you can certainly sense the weight shifting around, which takes some getting used to.
It also exhibits occasional traction issues – spinning up the inside front wheel exiting tighter turns being a particular favourite. But compared to an ordinary Juke, the balance of grip against power is entertainingly optimised, and the over-riding impression is one of good old-fashioned, unintimidating fun.
On the outside, Nismo has endowed the Juke with an aerodynamically optimised appearance that improves stability at speed in addition to making it look a smidge harder. On the inside it’s a similar blend of operational augmentation, focused primarily around a superb new set of front sport seats.
These seats are both supportive and comfortable, so it’s a shame they don’t go a little lower – especially since the steering wheel only adjusts for rake and not reach. Still, the part-Alcantara trimming stops your sweaty palms from slipping; dark headlining and a red face for the rev-counter complete the Nismo look.
Standard equipment includes the new Nissan Connect 2.0 – an upgrade to the original Nissan Connect infotainment system, incorporating a larger 5.8-inch screen and satellite navigation with Google “send to car”. This means you can plan a route on Google Maps, then upload it directly to the Juke. Clever stuff.
Our Nismo was also sporting a less conventional accessory: an iPad Mini clamped to an arm bolted to the underside of the Juke’s motorbike-style instrument cowl.
This was demoing a forthcoming iPad app that displays additional info from the engine management software, and also functions as a lap timer. Eventually Nissan hopes a whole community will spring up around this “Nismo driving application”, comparing performance and completing challenges. For real.
Economy and safety
Cunning optimisation of both the engine and the aerodynamics means the Nismo is no less efficient than the existing DIG-T Jukes. That’s on-paper fuel economy of 40.9mpg combined for the front-wheel drive manual gearbox model, with CO2 emissions of 159g/km. Take those figures with the usual pinch of salt.
The CVT auto fairs slightly worse, but gets the added safety benefit of four-wheel drive, a more sophisticated rear suspension set up and torque vectoring capability – so it can distribute the engine’s drive force across the back axle to the wheel with the most grip. Sadly, Nissan didn’t give us the opportunity to try it.
The MSN Cars verdict
Anyone expecting Nismo to arrive in Europe spitting flames and tearing strips off of the likes of Renaultsport is perhaps going to be a little disappointed. But as a brand-building exercise explicitly designed to have wide-reaching appeal, this Juke makes a fine entrance for Nissan’s sporting champions.
It’s not razor sharp, but it is enjoyably exploitable – which means you don’t have to be pedalling at 10 tenths to make-believe you’re having a good time. Like every other Juke, it’s also built right here in the UK, and in many respects the Nismo is a home-grown hero, in spite of its exotic nametag.
As for those of you it will leave wanting more, don’t despair. In amongst the Nismo game plan is a faster, more focused Juke variant that’s currently undergoing final evaluation. This should reach dealerships before the end of 2013.
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