Let me be straight-up – this is the toughest review I’ve done in recent years. When it comes to crossing – nay, defying trends, the Nissan Juke NISMO SR really is a riddle wrapped in an enigma.
It’s not especially new; the Nissan Juke itself launched in 2010 and arrived here in 2013. The NISMO version debuted in 2015, and only just arrived in Australia in October 2018.
On the surface, it’s a compact SUV that’s nearing high school age and which doesn’t sell very strongly for a company whose product line is, quite frankly, in the doldrums.
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So what does Nissan do? It gives the Juke to its go-fast team NISMO, one of the most hallowed names in all of modified car history, to… what? Make it go faster? Be cooler? Sell more?
The crazy thing is that, as bad as this idea appears on paper, it’s a car that’s actually grabbed my attention… and dare I say a small piece of my heart.
No doubt about it, the Juke is a love-it-or-leave-it deal. There’s no sitting on the fence when it comes to the multi-faceted front end with the double light treatment, or its squat, bulbous rear end.
The NISMO RS scores lightly made-over front and back bumpers, as well as side skirts and a rear spoiler, faux rear diffuser and special 18-inch rims. The mirror caps are red, matching the pinstriping on the lower half.
Inside, a pair of NISMO-branded sports seats are the highlight of a sombre cabin that’s been infused with hints of carbon and suede, including on the steering wheel, door panels and roof. The racy nicities can’t, however, disguise the fact that the Juke dates back to 2010. The switchgear feels gimmicky, for example, and the cabin feels a bit old-fashioned.
Price and features
Cheap the NISMO Juke is not; in the manual form tested here, its $37,790 price tag puts it more than $7500 clear of the next Juke in line, the Ti-S. You get a reasonable amount of stuff for the ask, though, including the sporty seats and trim, automatic headlights and wipers, sat nav, heated front seats.
There are also mechanical upticks in the form of lowered suspension with revised springs and shocks, bigger brakes and more oomph from the 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine. Thanks to engine computer and exhaust tweaks, it produces 160kW and 280Nm, which is 20kW and 20Nm more than stock.
Our manual tester also scores a revised gear set for its six-speed manual, a beefier clutch and mechanical limited slip diff.
One of the dramas for the Juke at this price point is that it’s starting to butt up against competitors like the Hyundai i30N hatch, which is only three or so grand more for a much more modern car with much higher levels of performance and more practicality.
The Juke is a compact five-seat, five-door SUV, and it’s sized accordingly. The boot offers a false floor that, when dropped, means the Juke can carry 354 litres of stuff. That false floor needs to be slotted back in place to create a flat floor when the Juke’s seats are dropped, which liberates 1189L of carrying capacity.
It does hide a space saver under the floor, though, which is a nice touch.
This is where the Juke’s age plays against it, with a distinct lack of driver safety aids like AEB and adaptive cruise control. It does have a camera-operated lane departure warning system as well as a 360-degree camera and reversing camera, but it lacks front sensors.
It does, however, still come with a top five-star score from ANCAP
Warranty and running costs
At long last, Nissan has acquiesced and now offers a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty on its cars. A fixed-price service regime means that the first six services will cost a total of $2197, with the cheapest costing $283 and the dearest $548.
A diminutive 46-litre fuel tank will cost about $75 to fill with the required 95 octane fuel, while its claim of 7.2L/100km combined fuel consumption isn’t far off the mark. We recorded 7.6L/100km over 410km.
Big tick for the front seats. Despite squishy seat base bolsters, the sports seats are incredibly comfortable even over a longer stint. A minus, though, for the lack of steering wheel fore/aft adjustment.
The rear is pretty small, though headroom is okay for taller kids. There are two ISOFIX baby seat mounts on the two outside seats, but it’s a dark, enclosed space back there, thanks to the high-waisted doors
There is a dearth of storage holes and pockets which proved annoying, while the flat footrest for the driver’s left hoof could be more pronounced.
From the driver’s seat, though, the Juke NISMO is pretty good. The interchangeable climate and drive mode controls are quite novel, but the multimedia system is really showing its age, lacking Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality.
On the road
It’s here where the Juke’s weird charms come to the fore. My first new car was a Nissan Pulsar SSS, and the brand is responsible for many a decently handling affordable car.
The Juke invokes the spirit of those older-style hot hatchbacks, with surprisingly savage torque steer (where the engine’s power tugs at the steering wheel), a meaty clutch and hefty steering feel.
It’s also got a bold exhaust note that adds a bit of old school noise into the mix, though it thankfully fades away at cruising speeds.
Its suspension tune actually makes sense in the cut and thrust of inner-city warfare, where it can leap over speed humps and potholes with aplomb.
It makes less sense on longer highway runs, though, where the Juke’s short wheelbase and firm compression damping tune can make the ride a bit choppy. The drone from the 18-inch tyres also gets tiresome on longer drives.
Yet, despite the negatives, there is something that’s refreshingly old school about the NISMO’s demeanour. It reminded me of some of the mildly worked over front-drive hatches of my misspent youth, where a lack of polish could be hidden by a veneer of liveliness.
Of course, a modern hot hatch could knock it into the middle of next month, but the Juke NISMO won’t be on the shopping list of a VW Golf GTI driver, either.
I despair for Nissan a little bit, to be honest. Its product catalogue can be measured with a sundial in terms of its age, for example – and the Juke is one of those long-in-the-tooth products that need replacing sooner than later.
This makes the notion of a NISMO-fettled version even stranger. Why invest the engineering resources into such an odd little critter? NISMO is about ultimate performance; isn’t the Juke diluting that heritage?
It’s a fair argument to make, but at the end of the day, the old, size-comprised, torque-steering, noisy Juke NISMO is more than the sum of its parts. It manages to exude a sense of personality and individuality that many other cars lack. It doesn’t make it a great car by any stretch, but it’s definitely one I’ll look up in twenty years’ time with some fondness.
Not everyone will get the Juke NISMO, but those who do will love it to death.
Model: Nissan Juke Nismo
Engine: 1618cc 4-cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 160kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 280Nm @ 3600-4800rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Kerb weight: 1281kg
0-100km/h: 7.1sec (est)
Fuel economy: 7.2L/100km
On sale: Now