TOKYO: Nissan’s cool subcompact crossover, the Juke, gets a new addition to its lineup for 2013: the track-inspired Nismo model, which gives this already fun little vehicle some key performance upgrades and unique styling cues.
It’s probably safe to say that the Juke has a polarizing design: You’ll either love it or not. But once you’ve been behind the wheel, if you’re a car person, you’ll have a great respect and admiration for it.
And that goes double for the Nismo Juke, a product of Nissan’s performance division, which is similar to the Chrysler SRT and Toyota TRD teams. The Nismo name is derived from Nissan Motorsports, and until now was reserved for more expensive, advanced vehicles designed specifically with the track in mind.
But with the Juke version, Nissan says it’s applying Nismo’s “near-50 years of engineering experience and expertise to an expanding range of affordable production vehicles.”
Two versions are offered: the front-wheel-drive base Nismo Juke with a six-speed manual gearbox for $22,990; and an all-wheel-drive model, with a sport-tuned continuously variable automatic transmission, for $25,290.
The Juke already was a pocket rocket, with a direct-injection aluminum-alloy turbocharged 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine that cranks out 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. With the Nismo tweaks, the engine has 197 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque.
You’ll have lots of fun driving the Nismo model, but you’ll get the benefits of the Juke’s great fuel economy, as well. This is an efficient four-cylinder engine, not a Hemi V-8. EPA ratings are 27 mpg city/32 highway for the front-drive manual model, and 25/30 for the all-wheel-drive automatic. But I can’t guarantee you’ll do that well if you’re driving this little car with gusto.
The Juke Nismo is offered in three colors _ Sapphire Black, Brilliant Silver and Pearl White. There are red outside mirrors and a matching stripe around the base of the vehicle.
Nismo’s dark-smoke interior has special touches, as well, including bolstered front seats, along with unique instruments (including a red tachometer), steering wheel, shifter knob, pedals and trim.
The seats are suede with red stitching that’s the same color as the exterior striping, and that same stitching carries over to the Alcantara leather steering wheel. There is a black headliner; no sunroof is offered. There is also a glossy piano black trim around the heating/air conditioning and audio controls.
Rubber pedals have been replaced with metallic, and the seatbacks have Nismo labels. Also standard are privacy glass, Nissan’s intelligent key with push-button start, and automatic climate control.
The suspension has been lowered slightly for improved looks and aerodynamics. The speed-sensing electric power steering has been tweaked as well, for “sportier and more-direct handling,” Nissan said.
During some spirited driving on a track, I experienced the great braking ability of the Juke Nismo. Standard are four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.
Combined with the responsive steering, impressive turbo-boosted acceleration, tight suspension and short-throw shifter, this vehicle performed flawlessly on the track as well as out on the highway. Curvy country roads were great fun with the Nismo.
While front drive is the standard mode, the optional all-wheel drive can split torque 50/50 from front to rear _ with up to half of the torque going to either of the rear wheels. This proved to be quite stabilizing in the track environment as well as on the twisty back roads.
The Juke already was the most-fun car in its class, except maybe for the MazdaSpeed3, but the Nismo tweaks bumped it up a notch. But Nismo or not, the Juke is a good answer to small-car boredom.
Nissan calls the Juke a “sport cross,” and it’s available with all-wheel drive in all trim levels, but only with the automatic transmission.
Juke is aimed at young, single men, but the car has appeal across a broad age range. It’s about the same size as the Toyota Matrix, but with more curb appeal and sportier performance even in the base version.
As with the Matrix and other, similar small crossovers, there is room for up to five passengers in the Juke, and its rear-hatch arrangement turns it into a capable cargo hauler, as well. It’s surprisingly roomy inside, considering its compact exterior.
Nismo, SV and SL models have three driver-selectable modes for the CVT: Normal, Sport and Eco, which can be set by using the Nissan integrated control system, or I-CON, which also controls the heating and air conditioning system.
Juke fits in a narrow spot in the Nissan crossover lineup between the less-expensive (but also quite appealing) Cube and the larger Rogue crossover.
My test vehicle was the Nismo front-wheel-drive model with navigation.
Juke’s rear hatch lifts up in one piece, and the rear seatback has a 60/40 split-folding feature. With the rear seat folded, the cargo area has nearly 40 cubic feet of space; with the seat up, there are 10.5 cubic feet of storage.
With the seatback down, there is a flat load floor from the tailgate to the front seats. But there is also covered storage under the rear cargo floor on the front-wheel-drive models.
Turn signals are built into the flared front fenders, and the exterior also features a high beltline and a roofline that is more like that of a sport coupe than an SUV. Also included are body-color outside mirrors and front door handles, as well as hidden rear door handles.
Among standard safety features are electronic stability control with traction control, all-season tires, speed-sensitive electric power steering, and four-wheel antilock power disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.