Nissan Juke Nismo RS

Fists clenched to duke it out with who, exactly?

ALEX INWOOD

ITíS HARD to know what to make of the Nissan Juke Nismo RS. Of all the motoring worldís curios, itís one of the more intriguing, not just for its polarising looks and conventionbusting size and performance, but because its circa-$40K sticker price ($37,790 for the manual front-driver, $41,490 for the CVT AWD) places it firmly in the crosshairs of some serious competition. This is Volkswagen Golf GTI and Hyundai i30N territory. And if you critique it objectively, the results arenít entirely flattering.

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

Built on ageing underpinnings (the Juke first launched in Europe in 2010), itís so old that Nissan has stopped making it. Only 240 Juke Nismos are coming to Australia because thatís all that were left.

Inside, the design is outdated (though the supportive Nismospecific seats are excellent), most of the surfaces are finished in hard plastic and even the packaging is less generous than the aforementioned hot hatches.

Thereís also a disconnect between its fussily styled SUV form and the swoopy, two-door coupes people associate with the Nismo badge.

And yet despite all this, thereís something endearing about the Juke Nismo. It dares to be different and this is no stickers-andstripes exercise. Thereís genuine substance here.

The 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo has been fettled and now produces 160kW/280Nm in manual-guise and 157kW/250Nm for the CVT auto. The manual front-driver is the one to buy, not only to sidestep the CVT, but because at 1281kg, itís some 140kg lighter.

Performance is punchy and eager, allowing for surprisingly swift progress, and the chunky gearshift snicks satisfyingly through the tightly packed ratios.

Undoing that goodness is the 1.6Lís soundtrack. Rev the wicked-up unit out and it emits a moan that lingers long after youíve come off the throttle thanks to revs that hang on the overrun.

Nismoís engineers have been busy with the chassis (see sidebar) and if you pedal the Juke below its limits the handling is neatly composed with strong outright grip and steering thatís nicely weighted and accurate, albeit with a slight dead spot off centre.

But the Juke isnít a driverís car that likes to be overextended: scruffy understeer, ESC interventions and pronounced torque steer are all there to be had if you try too hard.

Itís something of a mixed bag, then, and one outshone by rival hatches that offer more space and all-round polish. What they lack is the Jukeís individualism and character, which for someone willing to wear the extra cost is undeniably unique.

ALEX INWOOD

Tightening up

The Juke Nismo body is 40 percent stiffer than the regular Juke and reinforced in 26 places. Spring and damper rates have been increased at both ends (10 percent stiffer all round for the front-drive manual; stiffened by 15 percent at the front and 10 percent at the rear for the CVT AWD), and front-drive versions score a helical limited-slip differential. Body control is adequate on 18in wheels, though the suspension can run out of travel over bigger compressions.