Nissan Juke — Now with a touch of NISMO

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Many automakers have performance divisions — SRT at Chrysler, SVT at Ford, AMG at Mercedes, M at BMW, V at Cadillac. At Nissan its NISMO (Nissan Motorsports). Usually when the performance moniker is attached to any vehicle, power junkies stand at attention. So when we got word that a NISMO version of the quirky little Juke sport utility was coming our way visions of a hotrod started dancing in our heads. The dance was short-lived when we discovered that in this case performance didn't translate into horsepower.

Indeed, the Juke's 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is endowed with nine more horsepower and an additional seven pound-feet of torque in the NISMO bringing the totals up to 197 and 184 respectively. And it does make a difference, even if only slightly. What we did find was other features that make the special edition worth a few bucks more. And spending a week with a 2013 Juke gave us a chance to become reacquainted with the small sport utility.

So just what is the Juke? Technically, it’s a small five-door crossover. It has no direct competitors in the compact crossover ranks — coming closest perhaps is the Kia Soul — and while we think it appeals to all ages, Nissan has marketed it to the younger crowd.

Perhaps that's the point of tricking it out with the NISMO goodies. In addition to the slight increase in horsepower and torque, the NISMO gets some dandy sports seats that offer outstanding lateral support and proved comfortable for hours at a time. It has an extra dose of road-holding ability over the standard version thanks to a lower ride height and 10 percent stiffer springs, and it has a special body kit that includes a heavily contoured airdam, deep side skirts, and a new rear fascia and wing. The most interesting feature, however, is red side mirrors that really stand out on a white Juke.

Like the regular edition, the NISMO model can be purchased with either a six-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission. To get the most out of the NISMO treatment, we recommend the six-speed, a remarkably easy-to-shift transmission that powers up the fun quotient.

Performance can be measured at 0-to-60 in the upper ranges of six seconds, and a quarter mile can be ticked off in 15.2 seconds at 91 mph with the manual transmission. Times will be slightly slower with the CVT, which is the only transmission available for the all-wheel drive model.

Gas mileage is okay, measured at 25-mpg city, 31 highway and 27 overall with the manual transmission and front-wheel drive. The downside is that premium gas is required.

The biggest drawback to the Juke is space. Front seat room is excellent and the sight lines are good. The problems arise in back. It’s possible to house two adult passengers, but they will not be happy with the minimum leg and head room. Think of the Juke as a personal two-person vehicle that can haul a fair amount of cargo or a vehicle for a small family with two small kids.

Regarding cargo, if all seats are in use the luggage area is rather slim measured at 10.5 cubic feet, but it will open to 36 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. You’ll have to remove the headrests to assure the seats fold flat.

Nissan has done a good job designing the interior of the Juke with less flamboyance than the exterior. The dashboard has a pleasing look, gauges are well done (although some fade out in bright sunlight), knobs are large and operation of controls is intuitive. Storage up front is also in good supply. To keep with the NISMO theme, the tachometer glows red.

The NISMO is the third trim level in the Juke's four-trim hierarchy, but still starts at an affordable $23,780 well equipped. Standard on the NISMO includes 18-inch alloy wheels, the bigger engine and sport suspension, the unique sport seats, keyless entry/ignition, automatic climate control, Bluetooth phone connectivity and cruise control.

We think the optional navigation system at $1,170 is worth the price. It also brings an upgraded Rockford-Fosgate audio system with subwoofer and a USB/iPod interface, and a review camera. That's the way our test car was equipped bringing the bottom line to $24,950. The automatic transmission (CVT) adds $2,000 to the cost of the vehicle.

We got a charge out of tossing the little Juke around and we like the extra handling and performance the NISMO brings, however we wish Nissan would have added a little more NISMO power to the mix.

Base price: $23,780; as driven, $24,950
Engine:1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 197 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 184 foot-pounds @ 2,000 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 99.6 inches
Length: 163.8 inches
Curb weight: 2,930 pounds
Turning circle: 36.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 10.5 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 35.9 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 31 highway, 25 city
0-60: 6.8 seconds (Edmund's)
Also consider: Kia Soul, Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta

The Good
• Sporty handing
• Lively performance
• Nothing else quite like it

The Bad
• Average gas mileage on premium gas

The Ugly
• Small cargo capacity