If you’ve casually landed on this page and are thinking the Juke Nismo is probably nothing more than a few red details and a minor engine tweak, there’s some good news: it’s worth much more than the sum of its new parts.
Nismo is a name well known in video gaming and racing circles, where Nissan’s performance arm is as notorious as the likes of AMG, M Division and Mugen. Thousands of young adults have grown up with Gran Turismo and its predecessors, and could probably give you a potted history of Nismo on the spot.
Until now the name was confined to Nissan racing cars and high-performance models like the GT-R. There has been a smattering of Nismo editions in Japan over the years but nothing much elsewhere. Now Nissan says the time is ripe to start using the name more widely, giving a spectrum of models a shot in the arm and boosting the reach of the Nismo brand.
You’d be forgiven for saying that the Juke is an odd choice for a first Nismo consumer car. Not when you delve a bit deeper into it, though, because according to Nissan the sub-brand will be about bringing accessible performance to the masses in the same way that the old Skyline brought Nismo into teenage consciousness across the globe. Hence the affordable Juke kicks things off.
On the face of it, the Juke Nismo is little changed aside from those red details and a unique design of 18in alloy wheel upgraded from the normal Juke’s 17s, but a lot has gone on under the skin that goes largely unsung. The same goes for the incredibly well-spec’d interior, which is subject to the same red detailing as the outside.
The front seats are a signal of intent. The large side bolsters on the red-stitched cloth seats don’t hinder entry and you can slide into position like in any other car, but once you lean back they hug your sides oh-so-snugly. It’s a perfect fit for the average-to-slim figure and leaves you in no doubt that there’s more to this Juke than meets the eye. The interior is flowing, stylish and different, with a comfortably and purposefully shaped gear knob. The only real let-down is the lack of reach adjustment for the steering wheel, but at five feet 10 inches tall I found the driving position fine.
A 10bhp power increase over the standard 190-horsepower Juke doesn’t seem like much and it isn’t, but strides have been made in the outright handling thanks to a mechanical limited-slip differential between the front wheels, as well as stiffer… well, more or less everything. But the really impressive bit is that where most manufacturers’ ‘sport suspension’ simply rattles your fillings out, the Juke rides firmly but compliantly, taking speed bumps in its stride thanks to significantly better damping characteristics than you’ll see in most other places. For those who know, it’s reminiscent of a Renaultsport Clio, which is high praise.
Combined with good steering, a flat attitude through corners and engine tuning that encourages you to aim for the 6,250rpm redline, the Juke Nismo can build up a remarkable flow through and between bends, albeit to a soundtrack that could be more rorty and exciting. You can bring the back end into play on turn-in, though, and a forgiving nature on down-shifts makes it easier to be smooth when dropping down a cog or two, which is always nice.
The Juke is heavily styled and intentionally so, but while the standard one can look a little undercooked the much more aggressive visage of Nismo trim suits the car’s shape down to the ground. The bigger, darkened wheels are key to filling out its proportions. Some problems with the Juke can’t be sorted with styling, however, and the boot is still on the small side. Much more space could be accessed beneath the boot floor but on the test car it was taken up with a large and vacant tool kit bay.
There’s enough rear passenger space to thoroughly shame a Mini, though, and rear doors to allow people to get at it. The Cooper S is seen as a key rival and Nissan hopes the obvious extra practicality will make their newbie more appealing. Short gearing and a close set of ratios means the Juke Nismo cruises at high-ish revs, but can handle up-shifts sooner around town, keeping revs and fuel consumption lower.
It’s civilised and composed at low speed and gives a better view ahead from its higher driving position than its rivals. Everyday life for young adults for three or more years would be no problem. Although you couldn’t say the Juke Nismo has everything, it does away with what the target audience doesn’t need and gives them more of what they want. The more you drive it, the more impressive it becomes.