The Nissan JUKE is a sporty compact crossover, with wheels at the corners and a high window line. Its face is not pretty. But it's practical, seating four and carrying nearly 36 cubic feet of gear when the seats fold flat.
NISMO stands for NISsan MOtorsports. For nearly 50 years, this engineering group within Nissan has been specially tuning cars for racing, including the GT-R sports car for Japan's Super GT series. Bringing the special look and tuning of NISMO vehicles to the compact JUKE gives car enthusiasts of modest means fun out on the streets.
The JUKE NISMO contains nearly 100 parts changed from the standard car’s list. The body wears aerodynamic enhancements, including aerodynamic adjustments to the front fascia and grille and sweeping side skirts. The tail wears a body-colored liftgate spoiler and fascia diffuser. Red is applied strategically to make an impact - it's even in the O of the NISMO logo.
The lightweight 18-inch alloy wheels are an inch larger than on the standard JUKE, and the spokes are sprayed a two-tone gray to go with the three available body colors - black, white and silver. The deep Sapphire Black of my test car was handsome in a manly way.
Inside, deeply bolstered, suede-covered front buckets hold you in place. They feature NISMO badging embroidered into the seatbacks, and wear red stitching. The ceiling is black, and there are gray sueded door panels and piano black accents on the dash. And, of course, there are more red accents, including a narrow bar at the top of the leather and alcantara-wrapped steering wheel. It’s a racing tradition to mark "top dead center" for drivers.
My tester had the Navigation Package ($1,170), which included a small-screen Nav system. I was able to confuse it while descending a parking lot ramp but it recovered itself later. The Rockford Fosgate ecoPUNCH premium audio had plenty of bass response, thanks to a subwoofer, but working its small screen took some care.
NISMO is a performance-driven organization, so there are some real enhancements to the JUKE wearing the NISMO badge. The suspension, steering and transmission are adjusted for a sportier feel. In addition, the I-CON system lets you select Normal, Sport or Eco settings. Normal is fine for all driving, but Sport adjusts the steering for quicker response, firms up the suspension and, with the automatic, adjusts the shift feel.
The JUKE NISMO uses a 1.6-liter, direct-injected inline four-cylinder engine, which puts out 197 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. The standard JUKE has 188 and 177 respectively. Direct injection enhances engine performance and is becoming more common in the auto industry today, as manufacturers look for ways to maximize the performance of smaller engines.
The NISMO folks lowered the car an inch - it's not only more sporty looking but it creates a tighter fit between the wheels and wheelwells, for better aerodynamics.
JUKE NISMOs come with either front-wheel drive and a quick-shifting six-speed manual (like my test car) or all-wheel drive and the XTronic continuously-variable automatic. Manual shifting is more fun, in my opinion, if not ideal in commuting.
The manual version is rated slightly higher than the AWD with auto (probably because of the additional weight of the automatic): 25 City, 31 Highway, and 27 Combined. I averaged 29.1 mpg during my test week. The EPA awards it a 5 for Smog and 7 for Greenhouse Gas - a little better than average.
At just under a ton and a half, the JUKE rides fairly smoothly on the freeway, despite its short 99.9-inch wheelbase. It sticks nicely in the turns, and hums along with the 1.6-liter on the boil. It's highly practical, too, and a tall upright bass fits with no problem, sliding easily along its flat, carpeted cargo hold. In FWD models, there's hidden storage under the cargo area.
It's hard to find complaints. My wife wasn't keen on having to climb into the deeply-bolstered passenger seat. The sunvisors are short when used on the side (and they don't slide). The XM Radio listings are truncated so you can't see the year of most songs on the oldies channels. That's about it.
Pricing for NISMO-equipped JUKEs starts at $23,780 for the FWD/manual models and $26,080 for the AWD/automatic version. Just for comparison, the base S model JUKE (which comes only with the CVT automatic) is $19,780. My tester came to $25,195.
In the highly-competitive auto industry, it's essential to distinguish your products from the others - in the right way. Nissan has some distinctive styling, and the JUKE NISMO has the fun factor dialed up high. You don't need to spend a lot to own a little piece of the racetrack, and get nearly 30 miles per gallon as you race around your neighborhood.