What is it?
The Nissan Juke Nismo. Finally Nissan is harnessing the motorsport and Gran Turismo cool of the Nismo brand into something available in your local showroom. We’ll see a whole range of Nismo-developed performance models in the future, kicked off by this 197bhp, £19,995 Juke.
The Juke Nismo is available in front- or four-wheel-drive configurations. The latter costs from £22,195 and benefits from multi-link rear suspension (as opposed to the torsion beam in the front-driver) and torque vectoring on the rear axle to reduce understeer. However, the four-wheel-drive model is only available with a CVT gearbox. The biggest seller by a huge margin is expected to be the front-wheel drive, six-speed manual car and that’s what we were given to try on epic Spanish roads.
So your £19,995 buys you a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine with 197bhp and 184lb ft (up from 187bhp and 177lb ft in the Juke DIG-T), retuned suspension with 10 per cent stiffer springs and revalved dampers, 18in wheels, a more responsive steering rack and a comprehensive aero package. The Juke Nismo will reach 134mph and hit 0-62mph in 7.8sec.
What’s it like to drive?
Probably a lot better than you’d imagine. The Juke Nismo is a fluid, well-balanced and pretty keen little thing. It all starts well when you climb into really supportive seats and grip the Alcantara steering wheel. The turbocharged engine sounds pretty plain at idle but immediately you sense the well-judged damping and a real tactility to the steering. In fact it’s the balance in weight and feedback of all the controls that defines the Juke. It’s an easy and intuitive car to jump into and drive fast or slow.
However, this is not a Renaultsport-style hatch – it doesn’t have that aggression or focus and the tall architecture of the Juke does start to tell when you start driving it really hard. Body control is good and the car doesn’t fall to pieces, it’s just the limits are a bit lower than you might expect and when you breach them there’s not much more than mild understeer and lots of wheelspin to discover. The rear of the car is pretty planted and should you provoke a bit of angle the ESP reins it in sharply (it never truly turns off). Having said that the engine delivers plenty of go, the ‘box is great and the brakes are really resilient even when slowing 1295kg on steep mountain descents. Sadly the engine sounds painfully dull. It’s the one area crying out for some attention.
How does it compare?
The Juke Nismo is a tricky car to pigeonhole. Is it a cut-price Mini Countryman JCW? A Renaultsport Clio 200 rival? It certainly doesn’t have the performance and control of the very best hot hatches, but it’s obvious that Nismo has a great understanding of how to meld controls and suspension to create a supple and precise experience. At the moment though, it’s not quite a full fat hot hatch.
However, the fitter, faster Juke Nismo RC will have 218bhp, a much more focussed chassis set-up and a lot more attitude. It could be great fun and a quick drive in a prototype of the RC on a narrow autotest-style coned circuit revealed a much more aggressive set-up, strong grip and a rorty turbocharged soundtrack. Much more our sort of thing.
Anything else I need to know?
The hotter Juke Nismo RC arrives later in 2013 but before that the Nissan 370Z Nismo will be launched. It has 339bhp, revised suspension (described as a ‘fast road’ set-up by Nismo engineers), as well as a funky aerokit, a splash of Alcantara and a pair of sports seats. We’re looking forward to that one.