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2013 Nissan Juke NISMO Review - Video
Does a tuned-up Juke deserve the NISMO badge?
By Luke Vandezande, Photography by Chris Blanchette. Video by Chris Blanchette, Aug. 14, 2013

Your opinion of the Nissan Juke NISMO will vary greatly depending on what you expect it to do. First things first: this is not, we repeat not, a super-tuned version of Nissan’s compact crossover. If that’s what you’re expecting, it will be a disappointment.

FAST FACTS

1. A retuned turbocharged 1.6L 4-cylinder engine now makes 197 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque.

2. Transmission options include a six-speed manual or CVT, with AWD only available with the later.

3. Other upgrades include a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch wheels, a body kit, sports seats and a selection of interior trim upgrades.

4. Gas mileage is unchanged at 25 mpg in the city, 30 on the highway and 27 combined.

5. The Juke NISMO is only available in white, black or silver.

But wait, don’t click away yet because the NISMO-tuned version is arguably the best Juke you can buy.

A Body That’s Impossible to Miss

As if its off-beat looks don’t get enough attention, the company is offering an even wilder package courtesy of its NISMO tuning arm. Funky design cues like the car’s split headlights and hourglass shape stand out as usual, but with more pronounced features.

Changes include red mirror caps, special 18-inch wheels, red pin stripes and an extensive aero kit that improves downforce by 37 percent — or so Nissan claims. You’ll never notice the difference.

The alleged extra earthward push comes from a front spoiler, rear diffuser, side skirts and a big back wing. Some people might be put off by the kit, but they hardly match the Juke’s target audience.

Most buyers will probably find that the new bits compliment the car’s looks, even if the downforce enhancements boil down to meaningless marketing material.

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People who’ve spent time around other Jukes might also notice that this one is a little vertically challenged. Credit NISMO again.

A stiffer and lower suspension brings this car slightly closer to ground level. The change is minimal enough that Nissan doesn’t even specify a number and the ground-hugging look is certainly more as a result of the aforementioned aero package.

Cabin Makeover a Real Home Run

Going crazy with an interior makeover can be risky. Nissan dove head first into the loony bin with the interior and the result is splendid.

The front bucket seats are ridiculously well bolstered, yet soft and comfortable. They get faux suede inserts for added style and grip, as does the steering wheel.

The side bolsters are hugely exaggerated, though made of rather soft material, meaning it’s hard not to wonder how they will look after a few years of use.

Most of the cabin is draped in black, but red stitching and embroidered NISMO lettering keep the car far from feeling monotone. At the first glance, it looks like Nissan went overboard with materials generally reserved for more expensive vehicles — not so. After a few minutes of poking and prodding from the driver’s seat, you’ll pick up on exactly where the corners were cut.

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The headliner feels of cheap felt, but without the softness usually associated with that sort of pressed, matte cloth. Similarly, the rear seats have the same matte look as the front buckets, but they’re made of a different cloth material that doesn’t feel as nice. Interior panels and the dashboard are also mostly made of hard plastic.

Don’t let that dissuade you. This is a Juke, remember? Besides, the NISMO version’s starting price is actually a little lower than the top-end “SL” trim and in many ways it ends up being the truest expression of Nissan’s goal with this car: to built an entertaining and affordable compact crossover.

Driving Dynamics

Admittedly, it would have been nice to see Nissan tune the car’s 1.6-liter turbocharged engine to a more than the minimal nine-pony increase. Output gets a slight uptick to 197 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque.

Nissan says it plans to expand the stable of NISMO-tuned products it offers, but it would behoove the brand not to fulfill that promise flippantly.

That raises an important question about which side of the fence this car falls to. Just like downforce upgrades, the minor output increase only improves the car on paper.

But the Juke isn’t bad to begin with, and as a whole the NISMO parts do make a noticeable difference. That’s particularly true in regards to the suspension.

Stiffer suspensions settings and revisions to the electric power steering give the car a heavier steering feel and tighter cornering ability. Claims by Nissan about reduced body roll are difficult to measure, but the car felt composed while cornering at high speeds on the AutoGuide test track.

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Transmission choices are split between a six-speed manual and a “sport” CVT, although the stick is only paired with front-wheel drive models. The all-wheel drive system on all Juke models offers torque vectoring to distribute power to the outside rear wheel. The system helps mitigate understeer, which could actually make the CVT-equipped car a better performer than the manual.

Put to the test it’s actually possible to feel the rear end working to rotate the car, an impressive bit of engineering for what is ultimately a rather budget-oriented machine.

In sport mode, the CVT remains high in its rev range and well within boost, so you’ll actually get the most out of the small engine. Initial throttle response is weak, but there’s plenty of power to play with once in motion. Most drivers will be pleasantly surprised as long as they don’t expect hard off-the-line acceleration.

The high revs do, however, make for a harsh drive that you may grow tired of in daily driving. The Normal and Eco modes are much more hospitable, and in the greener of the two you’ll find the car promotes fuel efficient driving by slowing accelerating to a near crawl.

Stepping on the gas does almost nothing. That’s a good thing and a perfect reason to mention that fuel economy remains the same as other Juke models at 25 mpg in the city, 30 on the highway or 27 mpg combined.

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A real knock against this car’s NISMO credentials came just a few laps into the track portion of our test. Under prolonged hard acceleration, the car went into a limp mode where the engine wouldn’t reach as high in the rev range until the car cooled down.

As disappointing as this is, it’s also not unexpected as the same thing happened during our test of the 370Z NISMO.

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The Verdict

It’s hard not to look at the Juke NISMO with a critical eye because the motorsports badge and name is a little bit misleading if you expect true performance credentials. Check those expectations at the door and the story changes.

Pricing starts at $23,780 for the front-wheel drive, manual model. That skips the navigation package, which costs $1,170. As tested, AutoGuide’s all-wheel drive model cost $27,250.

Nissan built the Juke to be fun, and the enhancements you get with the NISMO package emphasize that. While some buyers might be scared off by its more attention-grabbing style, the Juke NISMO makes an already entertaining crossover even better. What’s even nicer is the fact that it isn’t even the most expensive version of the odd-looking crossover available.

LOVE IT
  • Body kit moves the Juke from looking weird to wild
  • Stiffer suspension improves cornering
  • Sport seats a big plus
LEAVE IT
  • Power increase could be bigger
  • Not a true performance vehicle
  • AWD exclusive to CVT is a letdown