Ride Review: Nissan Juke NISMO

2013 Nissan Juke NISMO - All Photos by Randy Stern
2013 Nissan Juke NISMO - All Photos by Randy Stern
2013 Nissan Juke NISMO - All Photos by Randy Stern

2013 Nissan Juke NISMO – All Photos by Randy Stern

Is there a way to simply be cool?

I am certain there are many ways to achieve coolness. You could wear the latest fashions that would make you near celebrity-like. You could dine at the hottest spot in town, travel to the newest hip destination or simply own the latest gadget known to the tech world. In other words, you are living the life many people could only imagine.

However, being cool is relative. You can be cool amongst one group and not so much with another. What may be cool for some might not be for others. You get the point…

Obviously, we are talking about cars.

Having a cool car is a badge of honor. You could have the rarest, most stylish, most powerful or heavily gadget-laden car around and people will shower you with praise. They also want to live in the bubble of your coolness – human nature, I suppose.

One thing that needs to be pointed out: A cool car is relative, as well. It is true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, let us add one more thing: The right foot knows what is cool when it depresses the accelerator. Synapses between brain, heart, ears, foot, mouth and other body parts react to the cool factor of any given vehicle.

Some might say that the Nissan Juke is pretty cool. Others will disagree. But, what would make some of the naysayers change sides?

A year ago, Nissan decided to plunk the engine from a GT-R – a 3.8litre twin-turbocharged V6 spewing 545 horsepower – under the Juke’s hood. The GT-R’s driveline was installed as part of the package. The result is a Juke that made heads explode. Nissan went ahead and produced 21 examples for select customers worldwide – including an uncomfirmed few in the good ol’ U.S.A.

This is where the team at Nissan Motorsports – NISMO – comes in. If the Americans cannot get a 545 horsepower thermonuclear Juke to own, what would be the next best thing to offer?

NIssan Juke NISMO 4

Between NISMO and Nissan is a strategy to offer the Motorsports badge to every possible model they sell. Nissan is not looking to create a performance subbrand, such as Chrysler’s SRT, Mercedes-Benz’s AMG or BMW’s M. This idea is designed to create awareness of NISMO’s efforts worldwide in motorsport by affixing their badge onto these models.

The first recipient of the NISMO badge was the 370Z. It was a track-tuned Z that was focused with a body kit that made it more racecar than standard issue sports car. Enthusiasts may not have included the NISMO Z is every conversation, but you know they were keenly aware of its presence and potential.

Then, NISMO applied the same badge onto the Juke. Not exactly the R model, but it is the best Nissan North America could do for being “close.”

Having driven the standard issue Juke SV last year, I wanted to find out whether the NISMO package improved it some.

The first thing you will notice on the Juke NISMO is the styling. It looks like a Juke from the roofline down to just about the wheel arches. At that point, it becomes a boy racer. The gloss black eighteen-inch wheels are one dead giveaway, shod with Continental ContiSportContact tires. The aero kit, trimmed in gray and red to compliment the glossy blue-black paint job, as does a newly textured grille and the NISMO badges.

The result yields responses similar to the original Juke’s appearance on here over a year ago. The Juke is polarizing as it is. Add the NISMO package and the gulf of opinion grows wider. Some are drawn to the boy racer looks, while others deride it for adding to a vehicle that several have termed “ugly.”

Being of an open mind, I try to give the looks a pass. Yet, I often keep considering my age (I am pushing 50) and what the Juke NISMO would appeal to. The NISMO package just feels too young for my liking. It is ageist, but it is a gut feeling when I approach it to drive.

Then again, if a teenager or college student wants a Juke NISMO, his or her 50-year parent would assist in buying one. Therefore, the age argument is now moot.

In the regular Juke – the SV, to be exact – I questioned the neoprene-like seating surfaces and the lack of cushioning and bolstering. In the NISMO, it is quite the opposite. These are sports seats and they have serious bolstering and a mix of suede and velour. If anything, these front seats will lock you in through the turns and in traffic on a crowded freeway.

Nissan Juke NISMO 3

The basic instrument panel set up is familiar. The I-CON module on the lower center stack works the same way as in the regular Juke – D-Mode for driving dynamics selection and climate control. Gone is any satin silver finishing, supplanted by plenty of black finishes. That is where a splash of NISMO red comes in. The semi-dark red in a satin/metallic finish can be found on parts of the NISMO logo to the tachometer.

Rockford Fosgate provided the sound with seven well-balanced ecoPUNCH speakers – and a nice tone, at that! Just like any Rockford Fosgate OEM-installed audio system, there is a big subwoofer in the cargo hold. Since there is not a parcel shelf with the NISMO, you can actually hear it. But, why do you control it from a semi-user friendly audio interface? It is easy to understand, but some of the controls are not as logical as one would want. The readouts are OK, as is the navigation system. You do get SiriusXM with this navigation package, however.

If there is a noticeable difference between the standard Juke and the NISMO, it is the extra nine horses under the hood. Nissan offers the same 1.6litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but NISMO’s engineers and management have massaged it. The result can only be found when you switch the D-Mode to Sport. In the regular Juke, the turbo comes on immediately to eliminate lag for better throttle response. In the NISMO, the turbo truly comes on at first throttle. Keep in mind, this is only when you set the car in Sport mode.

The folks at Nissan Motorsports did not stop at the engine, the seats and badges. The suspension is firmer, more tuned for action. Even with torque-vectoring all-wheel drive, the NISMO Juke is quite the handler. Not exactly near flat through the curves, but enough to pass muster for some cred. Then again, are tuned cars usually unfinished in the suspension department?

Keep in mind one thing: the firmer the suspension, the harder the ride. The Juke rides higher than your average tuned car, so there is plenty of suspension travel to not absorb the bumps, lumps and other imperfections out there. You truly feel them. It is all balanced with sharp, quick steering and fine brakes.

Now you know all about how what the Juke NISMO is and what it is all about. What is like to live with? Can one be real cool in one? Or, perhaps end up being seriously uncool?

To find out, I took the Juke NISMO to a few venues. First, it went to work where the reception drew many questions than reactions. It is a puzzling car to take to an industrial site, if I am honest. Then again, someone might end up commuting in one, regardless of the location of the facility he or she might work at.

It also made an appearance at a weekly car meet. The MN Garage Geeks take over the Sonic in Bloomington every Wednesday night, drawing some tuned cars of all stripes. Since the core of Japanese brands was there, the Juke NISMO received plenty of positive vibes sprinkled with some curiosity. There was no need to explain what NISMO was and the relevance to the Juke R. Believe me, these enthusiasts know what the Juke NISMO is all about.

Nissan Juke NISMO 2

For the sake of supporting some of the readership, I decided the Juke NISMO needed a bath. One of the teams from the Twin Cities Goodtime Softball League had a fundraiser at a local bar on Saturday. They worked over the blue-black car, making it shiny again. How was the NISMO? One of them quipped that it looked like a “spaceship.” We moved on.

Finally, the Juke NISMO served as transport to the drive-in movies. Two local organizations I am involved with – the Minneapolis Movie Bears and the North Country Bears – hosted a second night at the Vali-Hi Drive-In in Lake Elmo, MN. There were a few dozen of us with our vehicles turned towards the screen, loaded with comfortable chairs, mattresses, blankets, coolers and so forth. I only brought the cooler and the chair – not much else. OK, my backpack with my laptop, my camera, my iPhone…

The Juke drew some curious looks, discussions, reactions and more questions. What won a lot of the folks over were the seven Rockford Fosgate speakers. They did a superb job of emitting the soundtrack from the movie.

Appropriately, I only saw the first feature – “Turbo.”

This all brings up an interesting question about the Juke and its new NISMO model. Who is this vehicle for? The normal Juke was aimed for a younger audience, yet with most youth-oriented vehicles – not would not be the case. If you surveyed the over 3,500 new owners of the Juke in July of 2013, you may find a few that would fit the target demographic.

Will the NISMO draw that target demographic? At $27,495, it is on the high side for most young consumers. However, those who want that boy racer look in the Juke NISMO and have that kind of cash around will indeed buy one.

The funny thing about this – try to find one at your local dealer. At last count of all of the Nissan dealers in the Twin Cities – there are no NISMO Jukes available.

This brings up something that goes back to idea of being “cool.” Would owning one of the few on the road an entry into being “cool?” Then again, you would have to look at why the Nissan Juke NISMO would be cool to own.

Whether you are the target demographic for one or not, think of the benefits of owning one of the few of this car…and quantify your “coolness” factor when you decide to be that only one in your part of town to have one.

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