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NISSAN JUKE NISMO RS

ROAD TEST

By Jacob Black

My name is Jacob Black, and I adore the Juke NISMO RS. To love a Juke NISMO RS is to know, with all your heart and soul that you are wrong. Totally, completely, and utterly wrong – and stand your ground anyway.

The reasons why I love the Nissan Juke NISMO RS may not resonate with most buyers. In fact, they will probably not even resonate with most people who buy a standard Juke. But they are powerful reasons nonetheless.

To love a Juke Nismo RS is to ignore its numerous shortcomings. To self-indoctrinate a sense of superiority and evangelical devotion that would make hipster to ever don a tweed coat feel like a mainstream shill.

Nissan’s Juke in regular guise is blessed with the sort of styling that could end relationships… “You like that thing? I feel like I don’t even know you anymore…” But clad in NISMO aerokit and shod with 18×7-inch alloys the Juke loses any sense of dorkiness and adopts a tough, edgy demeanour. Short story – it looks hot, and is probably the reason some people can’t decide if they like the Juke or not.

With its dramatic sloped-back roofline, bulging flares and razor-back LED running lights a sleeping Juke looks like it’s about to leap forward and eat you. The hidden rear door handles further the “I’m a coupe, honest!” design and the roof spoiler ups the street cred. The whole car oozes cheerful aggression. Like it would smile at you and tell you jokes while it ate you. Maybe I’m wrong, but I like that.

The seats of the Juke NISMO RS, however, are definitely not wrong. They are beyond right. Alcantara and leather masterpieces with thick bolsters and the right amount of width to accommodate just about every frame greet you when you slide into the Juke. Okay, you don’t slide so much as climb in over the very deep thigh supports – but the feeling is incredible. They feel as good as they look, and they look amazing. The suede-like alcantara inserts also offer grip, further helping keep you in place.

The steering wheel is also wrapped in leather with alcantara inserts at 9 and 3 – just like the amazing 2014 Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG S-Model 4Matic Wagon tested by Senior Editor Jonathan Yarkony. It even has a red stripe to help locate the centre – just like a real race car.

The design exercise doesn’t stop there. The instrument cluster is fitted with an intricate, suede-like covered hood, there are intriguing but thoroughly pointless bulges in the shift-lever surround and there is even a g-force meter in the centre stack.

Why? Who cares why, it is awesome, that is why! At least that’s the title of the photo essay I’ve included at the bottom of this page. At this point, the hardcore, die-hard car enthusiasts of this site will be screaming at me through their screens – “You must be joking?!” I am of course – well kind of.

All these things are ridiculous and pointless and frivolous and wrong – and I love them. When you first sit in the Juke NISMO RS you feel like you’re behind the wheel of a racecar. I could see myself tackling a rally or a Baja in this thing. Even the profile with its high roofline over the front row looks like it was designed to house a helmeted driver. It’s an engaging, endearing experience that will make those who fall for such tricks (like me) completely fall in love with the car.

Despite the NISMO tuning and the race-inspired interior however, the Juke is not a race car. My Dad would say it’s “all show and no go”. That’s not entirely accurate because the NISMO is a decent little performer, but there is more promise than prowess here.

In fact, my three-year-old daughter summed up the main drama with the Juke perfectly. “This race car is too big and high Daddy,” – I beamed with pride. The exhaust, while large, is not loud and has no real growl to it. The result is complete surprise when you stomp on the throttle to ignite the 1.6L turbocharged inline four and it erupts into torque steer. With 215 hp at 6,000 rpm and 210 lb-ft of torque between 3,600 – 4,800 rpm you might expect it to take time to wind up and generate torque steer, but this little mill spools up readily, and the gearing is short enough that the 3,600 rpm threshold arrives mighty soon.

It’s surprising to me that in 2014 you would need to wrestle any car back into compliance after taking off in a straight line – let alone one with a 1.6L engine – but the NISMO RS requires strong forearms.

Nissan has done a fine job squeezing juice out of that little mill, it produces more power than both the Mini Cooper S and Ford Fiesta ST. But maybe because the exhaust note is too tame, maybe because the Juke is 60 kg heavier at 1,313 kg, or maybe just because it’s so high off the ground, the Juke doesn’t feel faster than those cars. It should be, but without a drag strip on which to compare there is only the seat-of-the-pants experience to go by – and the NISMO RS doesn’t provide the g-force sensation of the Mini or Fiesta.

At the next traffic light you’ll jump on the brakes, and they’ll provide adequate stopping power and feel, but not the racecar-like feel the bright-red calipers would suggest. Repeated heavy applications of the 11.7-inch vented fronts and 11.5-inch rear discs returns even and predictable response though – no fade here.

Steering is over-boosted at speed. The harder you go, the less feel it provides. It’s also not particularly quick or responsive. It is however, competent and the NISMO RS takes mid-corner bumps and driver inputs in its stride. It’s not that the steering is bad, it’s just a little flat.

The Juke looks like an AWD car, and usually is but in NISMO RS manual mode it is FWD only – hence the torque steer. You can get an AWD NISMO, but then you have to take the CVT, and you lose that sexy gear lever.

Regardless, the Juke would still under steer like all get out. If you drove this car like a normal person on a normal street you would be impressed by its handling – but you’d be doing it wrong. Nothing about this car says “drive me normally” – except the handling.

When you produce such a striking design statement you need to back it up with genuine substance and the Juke NISMO RS fails to deliver on the joy that it promises.

Fuel-wise I landed on 9.8 L/100 km for the week. That’s a way off the 8.7 L/100 km combined rating the EPA gives it – but the NISMO RS isn’t separated out in either the EPA or Canadian guides. The new and improved 2015 ratings from NRCan say the Juke in manual trim is good for 9.5 L/100 km in the city and 7.6 out on the highway.

I spoke in volumes about the car’s interior styling earlier, and as an ergonomic exercise the Juke delivers. The LCD screen it tiny by today’s standards but the combination of simple buttons and knobs with a touchscreen is always a winner. Nissan has this clever habit of putting their tuning and volume knobs low in the layout too. It looks a little wonky but it’s amazing how much easier it is to reach them in that configuration – Toyota take note. The climate and drive-mode controls share a screen lower down in the centre stack. Again they’re easy to reach and use. Apart from changing the display from g-force to boost meter though, I couldn’t determine any real difference between the three drive modes. Ultimately I left it in sport so I could see the g-force meter.

RATINGS:

Overall – 4

Comfort – 4.5/5

Performance – 3/5

Fuel Economy – 3/5

Interior – 5/5

Exterior Styling – 4.5/5

Nissan does some other things that are not clever though. For example, the doors don’t automatically unlock – ever. Not even when you take two pulls of the door handle. You have to reach out, unlock the door manually and then open it. It was enough to make your writer say unfair things about Nissan’s nanny department in a loud voice. Things like, “Oh those folks really aren’t clever or fun and I don’t like them for this bit of silliness.” I genuinely feel like this is a safety issue and not just a frustrating inconvenience. I’d be asking the dealer to hack in to the car’s computer and fix that one immediately.

The gripe is not enough to keep me from loving this car though. It is rewarding in a deeply emotional way. It connects with me through those incredible seats and that wonderful steering wheel, and captivates me with its promises.

Nissan has taken the Juke, waved the NISMO wand over it and turned this ugly duckling into something truly lovable. I’m smitten. Even though I’m