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BBC Autos

Review

First Drive: Nissan Juke Nismo

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What is Nismo, then?

It stands for Nissan Motorsport, and its engineers have been jazzing up Nissans since the 1960s, sprinkling a bit of magic on various Skylines and racing cars. In Japan their creations are treated with proper reverence, but elsewhere you're more likely to have driven one with your thumbs in video games than with your limbs in real life.
 
So this one's for Britain?
 
And Europe, and America. It's the first of a bunch of performance road cars that'll wear Nismo stripes. The idea is to take existing models - especially big sellers such as the Juke - and turn them up a few degrees without adding too much cost, much like VW does with a Golf GTI, or Ford does with a Fiesta ST. We also drove a prototype of a more exciting version, likely to form an RS-type model further up the Juke range. And on the same day we drove this Juke, Nissan also showed off a 370Z Nismo, which we'll know more about in March, before it goes on sale in June.
 
Good. What have they done to it?
 
Visuals, suspension and power. The bodykit isn't just there to look pretty: the aero is functional so it reduces lift and adds downforce, even if marginally. The wing mirrors are red, the 18-inch alloys are black - with slightly wider tyres than usual - and the seats are more shapely and trimmed in alcantara, as is the steering wheel (both of which feel great). The suspension is 10 per cent stiffer both front and rear, and the anti-roll bar is a few smidgens tauter. And it makes 197bhp from its 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol, versus 187bhp in the regular Juke.
 
Doesn't sound like much of a difference...
 
It's only supposed to be lightly toasted. And although none of this transforms the Juke, it's enough to make it feel more like a hot-ish hatch than a stylee crossover: not too much roll, just enough power to get your attention, and a cheeky measure of torque steer without feeling squirmy. And the exhaust, though not exactly rude, certainly sounds more resonant - especially with the windows down. It's a playful little thing, this Juke, and it'll put you in the mood for a lively drive to work. Criticisms? The brakes could use a touch more bite. The engine could have a richer induction noise, to separate it from the more humdrum version in a normal Juke. The wheel doesn't adjust for reach, and although the electric steering has been given a few ounces more weight, it could be a bit crisper. But maybe they're saving all that for the RS...
 
How much for all this, then?
 
That'll be £19,995, which buys you everything you see here, bar the optional body stripes. That means satnav, reversing camera and keyless go are standard, which for our money - and for less than £2k more than a regular top-spec Juke - is a great deal. There's a 4WD drive version for £22,195 but Nissan didn't bring any to the launch. That gets a torque vectoring system, plus multi-link rear suspension versus the plain-ish torsion beam in this 2WD version. It also gets a CVT gearbox, which - going by our experience of the same 'box in the regular Juke - could be its downfall.