The Nissan Juke is an odd name to begin with, but the Juke Nismo sounds even more offbeat. That is, unless you know "Nismo" is derived from "NISsan MOtorsports, which is the name of Nissan's motorsports division.
The compact four-door, five-passenger Juke hatchback differs from the fun-loving regular Juke in that it has a race-inspired exterior, specially tuned suspension, steering and transmission. It also has more power from its small, sophisticated turbocharged and intercooled 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, which has goodies: direct injection, dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder.
The Juke Nismo is rated at 197 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, versus the standard Juke's 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque.
The Juke Nismo comes with front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission for $22,990 or with an advanced all-wheel-drive (AWD) system and a smooth CVT (continuously variable) automatic transmission with an easily used manual shift feature for $25,290.
The Nissan Juke with the AWD system, which has slightly higher ground clearance than other compact cars, has a torque vectoring system designed to limit understeer by increasing torque to the outside rear wheel. That helps the car more adroitly follow its intended course.
I tested the 2013 Juke Nismo with the CVT and AWD. The car would likely be more fun with the manual gearbox, but the CVT allows more effortless driving in congested areas.
My test Juke Nismo was quick off the line, with no turbo lag, and delivered good passing times on highways. The engine never really felt or sounded as if it was working hard, although the Juke isn't light for a small car that weighs approximately 3,000 pounds.
Fuel economy is an estimated 27 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on highways with front-drive and the manual transmission and 25 and 30 with the CVT and all-wheel drive.
The Juke Nismo has lots of performance-oriented technical features, besides its stronger engine. They include wider (45-series) tires and factory 18-inch alloy wheels exclusive to the Juke, a lowered suspension and vehicle-speed-sensing electric power steering redone for sportier and more direct handling-although it still feels a bit light.
The anti-lock all-disc brakes have good pedal feel, electronic brake force distribution and a brake assist system. The AWD version has slightly higher ground clearance, which causes a moderately higher step-in.
Handling is sharp, helped by vehicle dynamic control. The ride is supple-but on the firm side. Surprisingly, though, the ride gets a little bouncy at times.
Most folks want a performance car that looks like a performance model. The Juke Nismo looks the part. It has a modified front fascia and grille with a lower and more aggressive design. The grille is finished in a darker shade than other Juke models. The Nismo version also has sculpted side skirts, more muscular wheel arches finished in body color and red mirror housings. The B (center) pillars are finished in gloss "piano black."
At the rear are a deeper bumper and redesigned body colored hatch spoiler and fascia. A red pinstripe on the grille continues on the car's flanks at the base of the doors and also is visible on the black bumper sill. There are "Nismo" markings on the front and rear.
There's no moonroof for the quiet and fairly roomy driver-focused dark-smoke-colored interior, which has much decent-looking plastic. It has excellent front sport seats with aggressive bolsters shaped from soft foam that helps hold occupants in place without squeezing them. They've been designed to provide more lateral support. Trimmed in suede, they have vibrant red stitching. The front armrest, however, blocks one of the cupholders when lowered.
Gauges can be quickly read, and climate controls are large. Sound system controls are smaller, but still easy to reach and use.
The easily gripped steering wheel has a red marker at its very top to indicate "top dead center-a feature derived from racing. Seats in the rather tight rear area, which has narrow doorways, also feature red stitching and have the Nismo logo stitched into the seatbacks. But they're not as comfortable as the front seats.The footwell's pedals have been upgraded to a metallic finish.
Standard features include privacy glass, a push-button start, an integrated control system with automatic air conditioning and an AM/FM/CD audio system with steering wheel controls.
Options include an $1,170 navigation system with a 5-inch color touch screen display, upgraded audio system and a rearview camera. There are large folding rearview mirrors, but the camera is handy because direct-rear visibility is poor.
Safety items include front air bags and roof mounted curtain side impact supplemental air bags for all occupants.
The hatch swings open on twin struts. Its opening is wide, but rather high. The flat-floor cargo area is generally large for a compact, and the 60/40 split rear seatbacks flip forward to significantly increase cargo space.
The lined hood is held open with a prop rod instead of handier struts. Too bad, because this is a "driver's car" for owners who generally check engine compartment fluid levels far more often than casual drivers do.
In fact, there's nothing "casual" about the Nissan Juke Nismo.