2016 Nissan Juke NISMO RS AWD Review

The Funky Phenomenon

God bless Nissan.

How many other manufacturers would put something funky like the Juke crossover into production? And then if that wasn’t enough, stuff it with a 188-hp turbocharged engine and torque vectoring all-wheel drive?

But wait, Nissan didn’t stop there. Instead of leaving things be, the manufacturer decided the Juke needed not one, not two, but three higher performance NISMO models. Topping the range are the two NISMO RS modes, both of which come with their own pros and cons.

The first version is equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, limited slip differential and a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine boosted up to 215 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque. The downside is that it can only be had with front-wheel drive. Last summer, we included a Juke NISMO RS outfitted this way in the AutoGuide Under $30,000 Performance Car Shootout and came away quite impressed by the crossover’s performance.

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The Other NISMO RS

But we had yet to sample the other NISMO RS; the one that retains the Juke’s torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system. The downside to this Juke is that it only comes with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and power takes a hit, listed at 211 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. That’s a big torque deficit compared to the front-wheel-drive NISMO RS, a decrease that can be blamed on the AWD’s drivetrain not being able to handle the same torque loads as the six-speed manual.

SEE ALSO: AutoGuide Under $30,000 Performance Car Shootout

Even with all-wheel drive traction and a shorter final drive ratio, the heavier, less powerful NISMO RS AWD is noticeably slower than the manual we tested last year. In fact, there isn’t that much of a noticeable performance increase in the NISMO RS from the regular Juke, most likely a byproduct of the CVT’s behavior. That transmission kills some of the fun, even when operated by the steering column mounted paddle shifters.

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Redemption Time

So, it’s slower, heavier and has a killjoy transmission. What’s the point of the NISMO RS AWD then? Well, Captain Obvious would point to the all-wheel drive system. As has been mentioned a few times now, the Juke features a torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system that is a true power-induced torque vectoring system. No trickery using the brakes here. When taking a corner, power is sent to the outside rear-wheel for optimal traction and rotation.

During a recent snowstorm, wearing proper winter tires, the NISMO RS AWD proved to be just short of phenomenal in snowy, icy conditions. The torque vectoring works so well, the NISMO RS is almost too planted over snow-covered roads. When trying to coax the rear-end to step out for a bit of juvenile snow drifting fun, the advanced all-wheel-drive system just sends more and more power to wheels with traction and prevents any sideways delinquency from happening. Unless, of course, oodles of throttle and exaggerated steering are applied.

Although it’s a buzz kill, it does make the NISMO RS ridiculously sure-footed in slippery conditions. While many cars were spinning into ditches during the storm, the NISMO RS drove like it was a Sunday afternoon cruise to the farmer’s market. But the all-wheel-drive system was working, and working hard, as evident by the cheesy graphic in the instrument panel between the gauges that shows which tires are receiving power in real time.

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Unique Be Thy Name

Everything else about the all-wheel-drive version of the RS is the same as its front-wheel-drive counterpart. It receives larger 12.6-inch front brake rotors and quicker ratio steering. All NISMO’s suspensions are upgraded over ordinary Jukes and the RS receives an even more track-focused tune. Tires remain 225/45R18 at all four corners and of course the vehicle wears full NISMO bodywork, exterior accents and projector headlights.

Climbing into a vehicle that looks like a mix between a frog and a crocodile wearing a ground effects package is a bit bizarre and the driving experience is just as odd. The sensation of sitting so high off the road in the super-aggressive Recaro seats, looking over the bulging lights protruding from the hood is peculiar.

With a curb weight of 3,195 lbs, the all-wheel-drive RS is actually a few pounds lighter than the regular NISMO AWD. It handles well for what it is, a subcompact crossover, but cannot rival that of a regular hot hatch. The RS could benefit from sitting a bit lower for a better center of gravity to improve handling. The RS is the hardcore performance model, so Nissan might as well go all-in and forget about leaving any concessions to off-roading in this particular Juke model. As it stands, the suspension is stiff to minimize body roll, which does have an adverse effect on ride comfort.

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Money Spent in the Right Places

Step inside the Juke and it is obvious Nissan put all the money for the NISMO RS into the mechanical bits and not the interior. Finished in down-market materials and beginning to look dated, there are a few positives to note. The steering wheel sides are covered in a fake suede material and it includes a red leather band positioned at the top as a centering reference point for drivers during spirited jaunts.

SEE ALSO: 2014 Nissan Juke NISMO RS Review

The aforementioned Recaro seats are an RS exclusive and may not be for everyone, but offer a ton of support. In a vehicle that’s been transformed from crossover to semi-sporty machinery, it really fits the vehicle’s overall persona. And if you like music, the Bose audio system delivers plenty of punch.

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The Verdict: 2016 Nissan Juke NISMO RS AWD Review

The Juke NISMO RS proposition can be seen in two ways. Optimists will be delighted that there’s a choice of RS models while pessimists will be upset the drivetrains and transmissions can’t be mixed and matched. Regardless of your own personal view point, a choice nonetheless still exists.

Having now driven both vehicles, allow me to break it down to the simplest level. The more powerful, front-wheel drive NISMO RS sporting a manual transmission is easily the more entertaining option. That is, until it rains or snows. Then the NISMO RS AWD is a blast to rip around in slippery conditions. So, better grab a farmer’s almanac and see what the weather has in store for the next couple years before deciding on which NISMO RS is the right choice for you.

Discuss this on our Nissan Juke Forum

  • Cody Beisel

    Such a missed opportunity nissan has with the juke

  • Charles Perry

    and yet they said Aztek was ugly……..waj

  • Jeff T

    I personally like the style in this Nismo setup. I was seriously considering one with the fwd 6 speed as a low km used one can be found cheap. I was turned off though by what people are reporting a real world mpg. Seems hard to get 25mpg on the highway. Also seems like Nissan is really only building them in cvt awd spec now. Very hard to find the 6 speed which has significantly more power.

  • Cody Beisel

    Iv only ever seen these with a fwd manual though the rebates and discounts on these are crazy because it’s such a tough sell. If my significant other had enjoyed the styling more I would have picked one up but she wouldn’t be caught dead having me buy one or let along drive in it. Nissan needs to tone down the styling just enough that the vehicle is more tasteful for the average consumer. Bet with its fun to drive nature more people would buy these then. Personally I don’t mind the styling!

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