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Wednesday 23rd January 2013


DRIVEN: NISSAN JUKE NISMO

Nismo's European debut is a 200hp crossover - is this the end of the hot hatch as we know it?


Having booked a buxom, undulating Spanish racing track for the launch of your historically significant but new to Europe performance brand would you a) let people loose around said circuit in the first European-orientated product to bare the brand's name b) give people passenger laps in an entirely different but superficially similar car c) have people do the cutting edge equivalent of tea-tray drifting in a lesser model or d) offer people some cone-related exercises in a more powerful version of the same car that's currently still in development?

The alternative hot hatch? Um, not quite
The alternative hot hatch? Um, not quite
All but one of these activities was available to us at the launch of the new Juke Nismo. Take a guess which... Take a guess...

Now, while it may seem absurd that Nissan would lay on a circuit and not let us drive around it in the debut Nissan Motorsport product for Europe in a haze of tyre smoke and toasted brake pads, this does in fact reflect the kind of car we're dealing with here. A blazing, upright alternative to the next Clio Renaultsport this is not.

Instead, the Juke Nismo is a rather likeable warmed over version of a quirky urban crossover, which will no doubt help Nissan maintain the absolute stranglehold over a segment the Juke basically created in the first place. The outcome of all this is rather better than it appears - promise.

Expect a bigger presence from Nismo
Expect a bigger presence from Nismo
Firstly, for all that damning with faint praise, the Juke Nismo isn't a bad egg. Ok, so boosting the existing 190hp 1.6 DIG-T to 200hp probably wasn't the most strenuous of undertakings, and the resulting 0.2-second reduction in the 0-62mph time of the faster front-wheel drive manual gearbox model isn't going to set the world alight. For an engine largely similar to that in the next Renaultsport Clio it also sounds alarmingly weedy. But the chassis upgrades have been developed in cooperation with Nissan's Technical Centre in Cranfield, so even with 10 per cent stiffer suspension it should still play nicely with British road surfaces. Which is only fair given it's built here.

Driving it in Spain, the augmented engine feels usefully urgent from moderate revs, duff noise or not, while the steering - though undeniably artificial - offers convincing enough evidence about what's happening to make the surprisingly playful relationship between available power and grip easy to judge. There is quite a bit of weight transfer to deal with if you cock it up, but in the name of mass-market appeal the Juke is of a deliberately forgiving nature.

Euro debut for Nissan's performance brand
Euro debut for Nissan's performance brand
And this is the smart part. Nismo knows it needs to build consumer recognition quickly if it's to make any kind of impact at all. Which is precisely why it's chosen the Juke - which outsold the Mondeo in the UK last year - for the baby steps. Brighter and more badass Nismo products are on the horizon, including a 344hp 370Z this summer , and the aforementioned extra-enhanced Juke variant, which might just end up circuit-biased. Eventually, Nismo is aiming to be the glue that runs right through the regular Nissan range to the GT-R, suggesting a Nismo Note and Micra might even be possible. Although, actually, that rather makes us shudder.

Anyhoo, back to this Juke. For just under £20K you also get an aerodynamically optimised (it says here) bodykit, a ton of toys - the new Nissan Connect 2.0 infotainment system is standard, complete with bigger 5.8-inch screen and a Google "send to car" feature that allows you to do route planning on your computer, for example - and some Alcantara. It has the word 'lifestyle' written all over it.

Possibly not the PH lifestyle. That would have involved the track. But for Nismo in Europe it's a curiously compelling if not exactly earth-shattering start.


NISSAN JUKE NISMO (FWD MANUAL)*
Engine:
1,618cc 4-cyl in-line turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 200@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 184@2,400-4,800rpm
0-62mph: 7.8sec
Top speed: 134mph
Weight: 1,293kg
MPG: 40.9
CO2: 159g/km
Price: £19,995

*Slower, heavier, CVT auto four-wheel drive version also available, priced £22,195; does get multi-link rear suspension and torque vectoring by way of compensation. We weren't offered the chance to drive it.





Author: cjhubbard