WHAT IS IT?
This is the sportiest version yet of Nissan’s uniquely styled Juke crossover. It arrives Down Under late in its product cycle to inject a welcome dose of freshness to a range left languishing after emissions regulations discontinued its most popular variant; the entry-level automatic ST.
WHY WE’RE DRIVING IT
Because this is the third, and for now final, car to join the Nismo brand in Australia. It’s also the first SUV to be tweaked by Nissan’s iconic motorsport arm, so we wanted to see if Nismo’s dynamic nous – made famous in sports cars such as Skyline and GT-R – can translate to a high-riding crossover.
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THE WHEELS REVIEW
IT’S HARD to know what to make of the Nissan Juke Nismo RS. Of all the motoring world’s curios, it’s one of the most intriguing, not just for its polarising looks and convention-busting size and performance, but because its circa-$40K sticker price ($37,790 for the manual front-driver, $41,490 for the CVT AWD) places it firmly in the crosshairs of some serious competition. This is Volkswagen Golf GTI and Hyundai i30N money. And if you critique it objectively, the results aren’t entirely flattering.
Built on ageing underpinnings (the Juke first launched in Europe in 2010, this platform debuted in the mid-2000s), it’s so old that Nissan has actually stopped making it. Only 240 Juke Nismos are coming to Australia, not because Nissan didn’t want more, but because that’s all that were left.
Inside, the design is outmoded (though the supportive Nismo-specific seats are excellent), most of the surfaces are covered in hard plastic and it’s no packaging triumph either – the cabin is less generous than the aforementioned hot hatches, particularly in the rear.
There’s also a disconnect between its SUV form and the expectations brought by a Nismo badge. People associate Nismo with swoopy Skylines and two-door coupes, not fussily styled, front-wheel-drive crossovers.
And yet despite all this, there’s something endearing about the Juke Nismo. It dares to be different and this is no stickers-and-stripes exercise. There’s genuine substance here.
The 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo has been fettled and now produces 160kW/280Nm in manual-guise and 157kW/250Nm for the CVT auto. The manual front-driver is the one to buy, not only to side-step the CVT, but because at 1281kg, it’s some 140kg lighter.
Performance is punchy and eager, allowing for surprisingly swift progress, and the chunky gearshift snicks satisfyingly through the tightly packed ratios.
Undoing that goodness is the 1.6L’s soundtrack. Wind the wicked-up unit out and it emits a moan that lingers long after you’ve come off the throttle thanks to revs that hang on the overrun.
Nismo’s engineers have been busy with the chassis; the body is 40 percent stiffer, spring and damper rates have been increased on both axles, and front-drive versions score a limited-slip differential. Pedal the Juke leaving a respectable buffer to its limits and the handling is neatly composed, with strong outright grip and steering that’s nicely weighted and accurate, albeit with a slight dead spot off centre.
Push harder and the diff’ enters the fray, but the Juke isn’t a driver’s car that likes to be overextended: scruffy understeer, ESC interventions and pronounced torque steer are all there to be had if you try too hard. At least the ride on 18-inch wheels is well controlled, even if the suspension does run out of travel over bigger compressions.
Classic MOTOR: GT-R R32 v R33 v R34 v R35 comparison
The Juke Nismo is something of a mixed bag, then, and one pragmatically outshone by more conventional rivals that offer more space, polish and driver appeal. But what these others lack, of course, is the Juke’s individualism and character, which for someone willing to wear the extra cost is undeniably unique.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Taken in isolation, the Juke Nismo is an endearing thing. Bursting with its own personality and character, the Nismo treatment delivers a welcome boost of performance and handling know-how, providing you don’t ask too much of the front axle. But its charisma and Nismo cachet are being relied upon heavily to win buyer’s wallets before they consider equally priced alternatives, and that could be a tough ask.
PLUS: Perky 1.6; great seats; decent outright grip; quirky character; brave design
MINUS: Cabin materials and design; weezy soundtrack; torque steer; feels its age; costs Golf GTI money; brave design
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