Like AMG (Mercedes), M Performance (BMW), Mazdaspeed, even TRD (Toyota Racing Development), Nismo stands for more. Actually, it stands for motorsports – Nissan Motorsports to be sure – and with that you get more. More style, more performance, more technology, more fun – it's all there in the 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo.
Founded in 1984, Nismo exists to bridge the proverbial gap between racing and street performance. It transfers what it learns on the race track over to parts and accessories that go directly onto its various production vehicles, as well as the shelves of aftermarket parts retailers worldwide. As such, Nismo has competed in various prototype, open wheel and sports car series' in Japan for many years. In fact, Nissan had been racing long before the official start of its motorsports and performance division. That isn't going to change.
When people conjure up images of Nissan race cars, the predominant images are of the R35 GT-R that have been competing in the Super GT and FIA GT Championship series for years now. Nismo is also active in other series' and races around the world, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Formula Drift, Lucas Oil Offroad Series and, more recently, has entered the Australian V8 Supercars series with some V8-powered Altimas race cars. The Nissan Leaf Nismo RC and, of course, the new 2014 Garage 56 electric ZEOD RC race car (set to appear in 2014 at Le Mans) are two of its newest and most cutting-edge racing innovations.
On the production side, Nismo badges can be found on the high-performance 370Z platform and, in some markets, the GT-R – Nissan's halo performance car since 2009. Of course, you can buy Nismo parts and accessories directly through most Nissan dealerships in Canada. There are also aftermarket parts retailers and distributors that can locate exactly what you’re looking for in North America as well as the Japanese domestic market (JDM). You can even find Nismo parts for many late-model Nissan, Infiniti as well as Datsun vehicles from the 240SX to the Sunny 1200 and many in between.
I've driven a few Nismo-badged vehicles in the past – the 2005 Nismo 350Z and its predecessor the 370Z Nismo Edition a couple summers ago – and they proved to be a blast to drive, both oozing the extra performance and style that Nismo promises. The 2013 Juke AWD is just the latest Nismo to go under my right foot.
For me, the Juke is a winner, even in non-Nismo trim. It may look funny to some, but I think it is one of the best-looking crossovers on the market planet. It has nice, flowing body curves with sculpted wide hips, a lighting package like no other – those big round beamers are fog lights actually, the small skinny things are smoked headlights and just look at those LED daytime running lights! – and for the price, the Juke ticks most of the boxes. Some would argue that its looks and personality are things that only mothers could love – I think it looks like a frog, a very stylish frog – but it definitely stands out.
If its silhouette isn't enough to capture your imagination, then the contrasting red side mirrors, Tri-coat paint and Nismo badges ought to do the trick. Furthermore, the front and rear fascias have been reworked on the Juke Nismo with the GT-R in mind and, to improve aerodynamics even further, Nismo adds a lower diffuser, tweaks the wing and gives the Juke lower, beefier side skirts that link everything together from front to back. That spoiler is said to increase downforce by 37% for added stability and responsive handling.
With stiffer spring and dampening rates compared to normals Jukes, the Nismo-tuned suspension offers a really nice, balanced ride whether on rough city streets or smooth highways. The 18-inch Nismo wheels and ContiSport Contact summer tires are great too and, though the vehicle could further benefit from a further reduction in ride height – from a performance handling standpoint – the level of sportiness this offers should satisfy most daily drivers.
Combined with Nissan's latest-generation CVT, the 197-hp 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder feels sufficiently endowed once the car is on the roll with good passing acceleration. There is, however, a bit of lag that's noticeable on starts, and the optional Xtronic CVT always sounds like it's going full tilt. Still, the interior is quieter than the many CVT-equipped Nissans I have driven in the past. It is worth pointing out that this is the only Nismo with one though. This is by no means a track car, but with 184 lb-ft of torque available from 2,000 to 5,200 rpm, it is said to pull to 100 km/h in eight seconds, give or take a couple tenths.
If there is one thing I wish Nissan had done with the Juke Nismo, it is to offer a manual transmission with the optional torque vectoring AWD system. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on the FWD model; and, the CVT-driven AWD version is still a sporty performer with no shortage of traction, but I feel like it should at least have some paddle shifters to help give it a more high-performance drive.
The electric steering is also tuned by Nismo, and provides excellent driver feedback with good weight and linear response. It tilts but does not telescope, so finding the most comfortable driving position will have to be done with the six-way manual seat adjustments. Sight lines are surprisingly good, and the rear passengers are away from prying eyes thanks to tinted privacy glass from the B-pillars back.
The Nismo shift knob and door trim are nice touches, as is the bright red tachometer. But I can't understand why the speedometer right next to it doesn't match. (Go figure.) Save for that wicked cool leather and synthetic suede covered steering wheel – complete with red racing stripe at 12 o'clock – and the superb Nismo-spec front seats – they're well-bolstered, comfy and grippy for spirited driving – the interior is a bit drab. There is perhaps an overabundance of hard plastic on the dash and various trim panels, but there is at least a generous amount of head and legroom for front and back seat passengers – definitely more than enough for average height to tall individuals.
Entertainment and user-friendliness are taken care of aplenty thanks to a two-DIN head unit that plays through a Rockford Fosgate EcoPunch seven-speaker audio system, including the integrated eight-inch powered sub in the cargo area. Steering wheel audio controls, a Bluetooth handsfree phone system, navigation with five-inch colour display and integrated control (I-Con) system with A/C helps the driver listen, talk and find their way in total comfort and convenience. A rearview camera, iPod connection and Sirius XM readiness come standard.
The Juke Nismo also gets an intelligent key and push-button start, power windows and door locks as well as a host of active and passive safety features from ABS brakes and six standard airbags to front seat active head restraints that reduce the chance of whiplash in the event of a collision. Disc brakes are sized at 11.7 inches and 11.5 inches in the front and rear, respectively – the former rotors are vented.
Cargo-wise, the little Juke does alright. Rear volume goes from 297 litres (seats up) to 1,017 litres total volume with the seats folded down. The 60/40 sliding rear bench seat backs do fold flat, but the cargo floor is rather high and the size and shape of the rear opening will limit the amount of things you can take with. That said, it's more than sufficient for groceries and runs to and from the airport, for example.
It's not the most luxuriously-appointed vehicle, and it certainly isn't perfect (what is?). It definitely is nothing like the ultra-low volume Juke-R (a total of 21 will be made), which is essentially a wolf in sheep skin (read a GT-R chassis and drivetrain with a Juke body – Google it, it'll blow your mind!), but it is very much a vehicle with a magnetic personality and solid everyday performance to boot. It gets decent fuel economy, looks great, drives well and doesn't take up the whole driveway. I would be perfectly proud to own one of these. And that is no joke!
+ Eye-catching design with great body kit
+ Comfortable interior, great seats
+ Smooth transmission
+ Stylish design
+ It's a hatchback!
- Too much hard plastic for cheapish interior
- CVT (performance cars deserve a real manual transmission)
- Small head unit display prone to glare
- Push button starter
2013 Juke Nismo AWD
Base Price: $24,998
Price as Tested (before taxes): $30,473
Engine: 1.6L DIG 4-cyl. turbo
Horsepower / Torque: 197 hp / 184 lb-ft
Transmission: Continuously variable transmission (CVT)
Observed Fuel Economy: 12.1 L/100 km combined
Fuel Economy Ratings: 8.0 / 6.6 L/100 km (city / hwy.)
Basic Warranty: 48 months / 60,000 km
Options on Test Vehicle: Tri-coat paint ($300); CVT and AWD ($3,480).
Additional charges: Destination and delivery ($1,695).