Raw, but not without a certain charm
I am not sure how Nissan has done it, but to an entire generation of younger fans, the word ‘NISMO’ is revered in the way people like me have revered the ‘RS’ badge ever since Porsche thought it might be a good idea to put one on a 911 back in 1973. Go onto YouTube, plug the word NISMO into the search bar and see just how many millions have beaten you to it a.
So now that Nissan is sweating the NISMO brand more than ever before and has even given the name to its fascinating, front-engined, front-wheel-drive Le Mans car, we should not be too surprised to see the name appearing not just on its GT-R supercar, but something a little more accessible, like the Juke. For good measure they’ve even chucked in an RS badge too.
I don’t pretend to understand the popularity of the Nissan Juke and have concluded that, like colour television and black holes, it is enough simply to acknowledge that it exists. This strange-looking hatchback-cum-SUV-cum-creature-from-outer-space has exceeded even Nissan’s most ambitious hopes even if, like the vast majority of these crossover cars, there isn’t a damn thing at which it is excels other than finding favour among the British public.
The NISMO version, however, seems effectively and sensibly enhanced. There are two, though those I trust tell me the one with four-wheel drive and a CVT gearbox is not to be recommended.
The car I drove had a stick shift and front-wheel drive through which its 1.6-litre engine tries, not always with complete success, to transmit 215bhp. There’s the body kit you’d expect, plus stiffened suspension and reprogrammed steering, but it also has a limited-slip differential, which suggests that Nissan’s engineers are taking this car reasonably seriously.
But there’s still a great deal not to like about it. The looks will split opinion, but I can’t see anyone being enthralled by its lumpen ride quality, the wheezy power delivery, the surprising degree of torque steer and the resolute refusal of the steering to provide meaningful information about the condition of the road below. In fact for most of the time I was in it, I found myself really rather wishing I were not.
And then it surprised me. On a road I know well and use for its ability to expose quite ruthlessly all flaws in a car’s dynamics, the Juke suddenly discovered an ability to entertain.
I’d stop short of saying it was great to drive, or even notably capable, but in its own curious way it was quite fun. Partly because it’s not got much traction and only limited body control, but mainly because it could nonetheless be guided through a corner with surprising accuracy, I found myself engaged by the process in a way I’d not previously expected. It was satisfying to guide from entry to exit, and challenging to extract the most from the flawed chassis. Patronising though it sounds, it felt like it needed a little help and I was pleased to be able to assist.
Would I recommend it? Probably not. It’s not good enough as a driver’s car to be recreational, nor is it sufficiently able for everyday use. But everyone is different and, if you feel drawn by the NISMO brand, there might well be something here for you. Ultimately it is an automotive curio and, like all such things, not without interest.
Engine: 1.6 litres, 4 cylinders, turbocharged
Power: [email protected]
Torque: 206lb [email protected]
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Top speed: 137mph