2013/2014 Nissan Juke NISMO review: From pug to bull

2013 Nissan Juke NISMO

2013 Nissan Juke NISMO

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The Nissan Juke is one of the most controversial designs on the U.S. market today, what with the splayed wheelbase and track, the unconventional proportions and its googly headlights with high-mounted running lights that can be seen from the driver’s seat.

Even among the CarBuzzard crew we’ve had differences of opinion, with Dave Boldt has, ah, less complimentary things to say about it: “drawn in a studio next to a meth lab,” though he meant that in the nicest way. Buzzardette B.J. Killeen said “so ugly it’s cute,” likening it to a pug. This writer also called it “a [Nissan] Rogue gone rogue. It’s about the same size but with practicality shoved way down the list of priorities and sport cranked up more than a notch.”

On the other hand, as Mr. Boldt said about the 2013 Nissan Juke Midnight Edition, “We’d like to get the party goin’…”

Well, Dave, Nissan turned up the party knob on the Juke’s amplifier another notch with the 2013 Nissan Juke NISMO. The trim level NISMO” is a contraction of Nissan Motorsports, a Nissan division with activities ranging from Le Mans prototype racing to logo wear to high/increased-performance road cars, including the Nissan GT-R and the Nissan 370Z NISMO, as well as the limited-production-and-not-sold-here Nissan Juke-R, the latter a Nissan Juke with a Nissan GT-R stuffed inside.

2013 Nissan Juke NISMO engine

The 2013 Nissan Juke NISMO is powered by a direct injection turbocharged 1.6-liter engine. (click to enlarge)

But back to the Nissan Juke NISMO. It’s a temptation for carmakers to go with bigger wheels and wider tires, a noisier exhaust and sport/sportier seats…and maybe a suspension upgrade and call it a special sports version. But notice the absence of engine modifications. Engine mods are expensive. It’s not so much the cost making added power, but just for starters, it’s the EPA emissions certification. It’s a not-so-cheap process. So if stickers and swaybars will sell more cars, why spend the extra money to get more ponies?

Because more ponies. A special performance edition without adding horsepower, isn’t that like a birthday cake without the icing?

Well, rejoice. NISMO lit the candles on this slice of the automobile baker’s, uh, maker’s heart. The 2013 Nissan Juke NISMO (and the 2014 Nissan Juke NISMO, which has only minimal changes from2013) gets more horsepower than the standard Juke. In fact, power for the direct injection turbocharged 1.6-liter is up by nine horses, at 197, peaking at 6000 rpm instead of 5600 rpm. The max torque number jumps from 177 lb-ft to 188 lb-ft, still across the wide range from 2000 to 5200 rpm.

 2013 Nissan Juke NISMO interior

The 2013 Nissan Juke NISMO adds sport seats to its unconventional interior. (click to enlarge)

In a sporty car, more power is always good. We didn’t have a standard Juke and a Juke NISMO side-by-side, but the Juke NISMO was energetic and willing to rev.

There’s one bit of a downer, however. While the 2013 Nissan Juke NISMO is available with either front- or all-wheel drive, and a six-speed manual or a continuously-variable transmission (CVT), you can’t mix and match. It’s front-wheel drive with the six-speed, or all-wheel drive with the CVT.

The good news, however, is that the CVT has paddle shifters and in “manual” mode, the CVT will mimic a conventional manual transmission. It’s not the first time that’s been done, but the shifts are solid and in certain instances border on harsh. Nissan refers the manual mode shift as “rhythmic.” Uh, sure. It’s a welcome tradeoff, however. We always put the vehicle in manual mode when we drove. It just suits the car better.

 2013 Nissan Juke NISMO instrument panel

The tach of the 2013 Nissan Juke NISMO glows red when the car is in Sport mode. (click to enlarge)

The Juke has Nissan’s I-CON (Integrated Control) system which has three driving modes, Normal, Sport and Eco. Sport allows higher engine revs and a quicker throttle action, and Eco dials back on the revs and response. Also, in Eco, Nissan says “the quantity of cold air circulating in the cabin is optimized, reducing load on the climate control and lowering the system’s power consumption.” In other words, it cuts back on the A/C.

The I-CON system has a small display at the bottom of the center stack with the usual trip computer data along with fuel mileage graphing. It also includes a G-Force indicator as one of its display choices. It’s hard—impossible—to drive and watch the g-meter at work, but it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t take much to peg it in any direction.