Nissan Juke NISMO: All you need is a barrel and some monkeys

2014 Nissan JUKE NISMOThe Juke has been around for a few years, and while many consider it the Steve Buscemi of the compact SUV segment, after a while it grows on you. Those bug eyes and awkward stance have scared off some buyers, but those who are willing to take a chance will be rewarded with a fun driving experience.

NISMO is the motorsports arm of Nissan, and while putting that badge on the back adds a handful of performance goodies, it also adds exterior and interior touches. We’re not quite sure it does much to make the NISMO Juke better looking, but at least it will make you have a healthy respect for it because it looks as if it could kick some butt.

2014 Nissan JUKE NISMOVisually the NISMO Juke gets 18-inch alloy wheels and summer tires, more sport-oriented front and rear fascias, a signature accent stripe, LED front accent lights, red mirror covers, and NISMO-specific front grille and rear spoiler. When the transformation is complete, it’s really something (feel free to interpret that any way you want).

Inside there’s more NISMO treatment, with special seats that offer additional support, a unique shift knob and gauges, an Alcantara suede and leather-wrapped steering wheel, and NISMO gauges. If some is good, more is better. At least that’s how it usually goes on these performance-themed vehicles. The NISMO Juke would feel right at home on display at the SEMA show.

2014 Nissan JUKE NISMOBut as they say, looks aren’t everything. The team also NISMO-ized the engine, suspension and steering systems. Now the jacked-up 1.6-liter turbocharged four cylinder produces 197 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, a slight gain over the mild-mannered engine we have come to know and love as a great everyday driver. The N-Juke is offered with a six-speed manual, or a sport-tuned Xtronic CVT on the all-wheel-drive model. Even with all the fun on tap, fuel economy breezes in at 25 city/31 highway for the manual front-drive version.

Sure, we can talk about the list of interior features that come standard, like power doors/locks/windows, or Nissan’s Intelligent Key with pushbutton start and Bluetooth capability. We can also list the features included in the Navigation Package, such as navigation, Rockford Fosgate audio, and RearView monitor for a reasonable $1,170. But that’s not the deciding factor for making this purchase. It’s all about the performance.

2014 Nissan JUKE NISMOSpending a week with the NISMO Juke made us realize that you can have a blast and still have a vehicle that can go grocery shopping, run people to the airport, and leave your spine intact when climbing in and out. Once you are done with the chores though, take the NISMO Juke on some uncluttered mountain roads and have at it.

The suspension upgrades, combined with the additional power, tighter, more precise steering effort, and sticky tires, will make you wonder why people pay a lot more for fancy-schmancy sports cars. We prefer to have a ride that can satisfy our need for speed and sport without drawing the attention of the local constables.

The transmission shifts with the manual are short but satisfying. We didn’t get into a CVT-equipped unit, but automatic transmissions and performance vehicles belong together as much as honey and vinegar.

2014 Nissan JUKE NISMOFor this amount of fun at the low price of $25K out the door, it’s hard to find fault with the NISMO Juke, outside of its funky skin. And we didn’t even mention how it attracts attention wherever it goes. It may not be all positive, but at least the Juke NISMO doesn’t blend into the mix like a lot of its competition.

Fun, fast, funky, fuel efficient, and ’fordable (okay, that was a stretch), the only thing missing is a barrel full of monkeys.