The Triumph of Style
2013 Nissan Juke Nismo*
There are cars that have hatchbacks, but are too big to be called a “Hatchback” and too small to be called an SUV. So, their manufacturers created a new category of vehicle: the “Crossover”. Nissan’s entry in the Crossover category is called the Juke, and they’ve turned it over to their in-house performance team, creating the Juke Nismo.
So, when you have a chance to spend a day or two with a small Crossover that’s been given the once-over by Nissan’s racing tech people, you jump at it. Clearly, it looks more aggressive than the run-of-the-mill Juke. So, what demons, one wonders, did Nismo release from the powertrain along with the more aggressive styling?
How it looks
The front fascia looks far more sporty than the regular Juke, and comes with extra air intakes, and LED running lights. Out back, a spoiler has been integrated into the top of the hatch, and sporty graphics—and Nismo badges—have been added to the redesigned curves of the body. Nissan says these styling changes increase downforce by 37%. Needless to say, the styling is controversial. Look at the front of the Juke in the picture up top. Frankly, it has an expression that makes it look like it’s trying to pass a particularly difficult stool. So, some have ridiculed its looks.
Inside, there’s a couple of nice things. The faux-suede front seats are pretty nice. They are very well-bolstered, supportive, and they fit my 200lb, 5’10″frame like a glove. They’re good seats, though they are covered with a “suede” material that’s almost exactly unlike suede. The dials and gauges have red backgrounds, so I guess that’s sort of cool, too. The steering wheel—adjustable for height only—is leather and suede, with a red leather stripe stitched into the top, and has the usual array of thumb controls for the stereo and cruise control. It also has bluetooth and USB connections. The air conditioning works really well, too.
Everything else inside is encased in a glorious expanse of hard and/or shiny plastic, which is Nissan’s subtle way of reminding you that you’re driving a $26,000 car, so you shouldn’t expect the nice things your betters have in their luxury cars. The driver’s instrument cluster is surmounted by a plastic hood which looks like it should be adjustable, but isn’t. The suede part of the steering wheel is exactly where you will place your oily, grubby hands, which means it will, in due course, soak up the oils extruded by your filthy, filthy hands and become grubby and oily. And by “in due course” I mean, “within a week”.
In the back, passengers will be uncomfortable, assuming passengers with legs can even get into the back seats. You can, of course, move the front seats forward to give rear passengers some minimal leg room, but in order to do so, everyone in the front will need to detach their legs at the knees. Also, adult passengers in the rear will constantly bang their heads against the hard plastic hand-holds, which are conveniently placed for maximum cranial damage.
It would be best, then, to simply fold the back seats down, and give yourself a decent amount of cargo space in the back, and forget using the back seats for anything but small children.
There is a touch screen in the center console to control your sat-nav, radio, and SirusXM functions. It’s about the size of your smartphone’s screen, or, in other words, about 1/3 the size of the screen you get in the much cheaper—and nicer—Dodge Dart. But, there’s also a secondary screen that can display various performance stats like G-Forces, AWD torque vectoring, etc. It’s about half the size of the main screen, and is mounted so low as to be…well…useless. If you start looking at it and fiddling with it, you’ll simply drive into the back of a semi trailer. It would be safer to text a friend on your cell phone while Instagramming kitten pictures than to try and use the tiny little performance functions screen while driving. Oh, and the Sat-Nav won’t work unless you insert the map SD card into the appropriate slot, because apparently it’s still 2008.
Now, see, I’ve probably given you the impression that the interior of the Nissan Juke Nismo is horrible and inconvenient. That’s because it is. Everything is attractively—though aggressively—styled and, seats aside, everything inside is just…wrong.
How it drives
Nissan gives you two drivetrain/transmission options with the Juke Nismo. You can have All-Wheel Drive, but only with a CVT transmission. You can have a 6-speed manual transmission, but only with Front-Wheel Drive. This is exactly like being told, “Why, yes, you can marry Kate Upton any time you want. You’ll just need to have your penis removed first.”
In addition to the styling changes, Nismo has breathed on the suspension and engine, though. The suspension has been lowered and given stiffer springs, while the 1.6L, 4-cylinder engine’s output has been raised to 197 HP and 184 lb-ft of torque. This output is 9 HP and 7 torques more than the regular Juke. By the way, remember that 37% increase in downforce from the styling? Well, there goes your extra 9 horsies, eaten up by the increase in downforce at speed.
What this means is that, when driving the Juke Nismo, you will notice no difference whatsoever in acceleration over the base Juke. What you will notice, however, with the stiffer, lowered suspension, is every single ripple, crack, and cigarette butt on the road surface. You will notice this because it’s transferred through the comfy seats with spine-cracking force to your lower back. You certainly won’t complain about a lack of “road feel”, because youwill feel it. Every. Single. Pebble. Of it.
What you won’t notice, on the other hand, is a lack of body roll. Despite a suspension that’s stiffer than Anthony Weiner with a broadband Internet connection, the Juke is too tall and top-heavy for body roll to be well-controlled, because physics is still a thing. The suspension could be made from solid blocks of basalt, and the Juke would still roll like a tramp steamer in the North Atlantic.
Usually, the trade-off of having a stiff suspension is stellar acceleration and performance. Nissan abjures such trade-offs,providing a power train that will launch you to 60 MPH in slightly over 8 seconds, a level of performance that was mildly impressive in 1986. So, you get the stiff suspension of a race car, but the performance and mileage of a base-spec economy car.
The Juke Nismo I drove had the AWD/CVT combination. I suppose the AWD would be useful in rain or snow, but it’s not really necessary from a performance standpoint, since there isn’t any. But, the stiffest, R-Spec Audi, tuned obsessively on laps of the Nürburgring Nordschliefe, can’t claim a worse, more harsh ride.
As far as steering goes…it does. The car turns in the direction you move the wheel. So, that works. The steering is numb, presumably because feel for the road has already been taken care of by being transmitted directly to your spine.
The CVT transmission—and I hasten to point out that Nissan makes the best CVT system in the world—is every bit as horrible as you’d think it would be. It is manually “shiftable” with the center stick, but “shifts” slowly. Combined with the turbo lag from the engine, “downshifting” and tromping on the accelerator results in…nothing that you’d notice, other than an change in the engine pitch. Eventually.
This is made worse by the traction control system that Nissan has included in the Juke for no logical reason I can determine. It is extremely intrusive. And I can see no reason for that either, since the Juke Nismo still has less than 200 HP and AWD. Unless you’re driving on a sheet of black ice, I’m not entirely sure under what conditions you’d ever break traction. You’re certainly not going to spin tires from the massive torque, so…why? Happily, you can turn traction control off by pressing a button, which makes the Juke perform marginally better.
What’s good about it
The front seats are very good. They’re really the best part of the car. It has all the requisite technological features and smartphone connectivity. Essentially, it checks all the boxes for the minimal requirements you should expect from a small car, so it’s not a complete disaster. Oh, and it’s quiet inside, and has a nice stereo, with 3 free months of XM satellite radio.
What’s bad about it
Well…let’s see…um…pretty much everything else. It’s relatively heavy, at more than 3,100 pounds, and slow. The passenger cabin is too cramped, and too hard and plasticky. The ride is harsh. The CVT transmission and turbo combination induce massive lag. The touch screens are tiny.
Who would buy this? And why? Why sacrifice ride and comfort and get no performance at all in return? Having driven the Juke Nismo, I am left with nothing but questions; fundamental questions, in fact, about the very reason for this monstrosity’s existence.
It’s difficult to see what this does for the Nismo brand. Nismo’s involvement here seems to have been little more than a styling exercise without the addition of any performance at all. The Juke Nismo is, in fact, a rolling embodiment of the triumph of style over substance. In what way does this increase Nismo’s cachet as a performance house? The Nissan 370Z Nismo is a great example of Nismo’s touch done right. The Juke Nismo is the exact opposite of that. It embodies everything that’s bad and uncomfortable about performance cars, while supplying literally nothing that’s good about them, like, you know, performance.
The Kia Rio5 has about the same performance as the Juke Nismo, but is light-years ahead of it in every other possible way. The ride, suspension, technology, luxury, and comfort of the Rio5 are all vastly superior to the Juke Nismo for $5,000 less.
I can only assume that the Juke Nismo was created specifically for people who hate cars. So, if you hate cars, buy it. If you love cars, buy the Rio5. If you really want performance, then take your extra $5,000 and fit it with a factory turbo kit. You will be happier in every possible way.
* This review was published last year on Medium. I’m transferring it here as it’s one of my favorites.