Mountain Wheels: Hey, neighbor, wanna go joyride in the Juke Nismo?
2013 Nissan Juke Nismo AWD
MSRP: $26,200; as tested, $27,710
Powertrain: 197-HP 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, continuously variable automatic transmission
EPA figures: 27 mpg combined: 25 city, 30 highway
Would you describe yourself as the kind of person who enjoys irritating others, even if just by accident? Do you consider Larry David a personal role model?
If so, do I have the car for you. I don’t believe I’ve had quite as much negative attention — which then fed into my innate compulsion to return the favor to the general public — as I did in the strange (but wonderful) Nissan Juke Nismo.
I’m not sure what it was about this race-tuned and tarted-up Juke that raised the ire of so many fellow motorists over the Labor Day weekend (I’m sure my fleet car’s blazing white Tennessee manufacturer’s plates did not help), but it got me into the mind-set of the kind of a guy who would opt in for the Nismo game. I started playing a whole lot of N.W.A on the stereo, really really loud. And left the windows down.
As you may have seen, the standard Juke is itself about the most unusual thing on the road, besides the washing machine-shaped Nissan Cube. Juke’s the micro-crossover that looks like a shrinky-dinked Murano or Rogue, which has then had a set of Japanese-styled rally lights bolted on at bumper level — leaving the oversized turn signals sticking out of the top of the hood like a set of frog’s eyes.
It’s certainly a distinctive little bastard. And if you’re a Jalopnik.com fan, you’ll know that the Juke provided the donor body for one of the most awesomely ridiculous Frankenstein projects in recent history — a modified GT-R supercar engine and chassis that looked, to the world, like a regular Juke. Considering that the standard car is a marginally anemic 188 horsepower, shoving a 545-horsepower engine under the hood apparently changed things quite a bit.
Nismo is not that car, though its collection of body and aerodynamic modifications might fool a few people. And it did get a small performance tweak (horsepower is now 197), though you will not be beating Corvettes and Vipers, unless you are on a very tight autocross course.
That’s because the Juke Nismo handles surprisingly well, with all of those nose, side and body aero mods upping the car’s downforce by nearly 40 percent. Full-blown weekend racers will probably be more interested in the new Nismo makeover of the 370Z; the Juke Nismo is a first step geared a little more squarely at boulevard impresarios than Piloti-wearing cone-crushers.
The all-wheel-drive system also means any high-country variants of that stereotype — at least the ones not driving WRXs — can use the hopped-up Juke all year round, enjoying the brisk ride afforded by the Nismo version’s oversized but attractive 18-inch wheels and punishingly precise summer tires.
I conned a couple of friends into riding along and they report that the back seat may not be the best place in the world to be for a long ride, with limited visibility, lots of road noise and a less comfortable position above that hard-tailed suspension.
My particular model had the red-on-black color scheme — like the second-generation Spider-Man — which is blended into the overall body, including a large splitter under the grille and a big ol’ scoop on the back. You also get colored caps on the side mirrors and large chrome exhaust tips.
The Juke Nismo treatment is most prominent inside the cabin, where full, race-worthy but still comfortable race seats have been installed (more NASCAR than go-kart). Juke’s other design affectation, a transmission channel that looks like a small sportbike has been squashed between the seats, remains … a funny design affectation, with red aluminum added to the panel instruments for better looks. The top of the leather and Muppet-fur wheel also has a red leather insert to indicate center.
You do eventually get used to the two-mode, one-screen AC control/performance screen, which can be manually toggled between two different functions — not unlike an oven with a TV set in it. Keep the sport mode dialed up to get as much boost as you can out of that engine; she’s turbocharged, but there will be times where you wonder if that is really the case, especially on starts from lights.
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