2013 Nissan Juke Nismo - Driven

The 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo is perhaps the most underrated and under-loved hot hatch on sale today. But I can’t seem to work out why. It takes the successful recipe utilized by names like GTI and Mazadspeed3 and adds a dash of Nissan flair. Sounds like fun to me.

Marketed as a crossover, the little Juke is the last car that anyone expected Nismo to fettle, but the results speak for themselves.

The car is basically pocket-sized, it is 16 inches shorter than a Honda Civic , but it comes loaded with a 197-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder, three pedals and six forward gears. That is more than enough grunt to make any enthusiast happy. You can pout all you want about the fact that the Mk VII GTI has 215 horsepower, but the current MK VI model only has 200 ponies, and it weighs more than the Juke to boot. The Juke will hit 60 in about 6.5 seconds, only a hair away from the Focus ST despite its 50+ horsepower advantage.

This little Nissan can hang with the big-boys, regardless of what that horsepower number says.

Read more about the 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo and see my video review below.

Exterior

Nissan Juke Nismo - Driven
Nissan Juke Nismo - Driven
Nissan Juke Nismo - Driven

From the moment you first the Juke Nismo it is blatantly obvious what the mission of this machine is. The car is fitted with a full body kit that looks angry and mean on the Juke’s traditionally silly face. There is also an incredibly attractive red stripe that runs through every inch of the body kit, front to back. At the rear of the car, the Nismo has fitted a roof spoiler that extends from the back of the car by about six inches, and there is an exhaust outlet that is nearly five inches in diameter.

Every piece of this car’s exterior shouts aggression. That said, the car doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. The black 18-inch wheels are very attractive, but that spoiler just feels like Nissan is poking a bit of fun at itself and the tuner seen as a whole.

Interior

Nissan Juke Nismo - Driven
Nissan Juke Nismo - Driven
Nissan Juke Nismo - Driven

The best set of buckets I have ever sat in this side of Recaro.

While the outside feels like a bit of fun and silliness, the interior is all business. The standard Juke seats have been tossed for the best set of buckets I have ever sat in this side of Recaro. They are covered almost completely in a suede-like material (think Alcantara) and they feature lots of subtle design details like red contrast stitching and embroidered Nismo logos. That same soft stuff can be found on the rear seats and the door panels. The steering wheel is half suede, half leather, and it features a small “this way is up” stripe in red leather. It all goes a long way to making the cabin feel more expensive than the sticker price suggests.

Nissan Juke Nismo - Driven

Not everything is perfect in the design of the Juke though. While everything that comes covered in the fuzzy stuff feels fantastic, most of the rest of the interior is cheap hard plastic. Nissan Nissan did a great job to make sure you have to go out of your way to touch most of it, but it is there if you look. The car also seems to have the worst satellite radio system in all of creation. If I turned on the car in an area that didn’t have solid satellite reception, the car wouldn’t play the radio even after I returned to a signal area. I would literally have to shut the car off, wait for a minute or two, and then turn it back on to make it work. It was more than a little frustrating, and I mostly gave up on cranking Alt Nation after two days.

Driving Impressions

Nissan Juke Nismo - Driven

The Nismo does make enough good noises most of the time that it didn’t matter the radio was being fussy. At lower speeds, think 2nd through 4th gear, you can hear the turbo spool up and whistle, and when you went to shift you could even hear the waste gate dumping the boost. This black Juke looked a bit like Darth Vader, and it actually sounded a bit like that too. On back roads I would purposely slow to a near stop just to run through the gears and hear it again.

Beyond the noise, the 1.6-liter turbo with its 197 horsepower is just a sweetheart of an engine. It will willingly rev all the way up to its 6,800 rpm redline, and just keep begging for more. If you can get your launch right, 0 to 60 will arrive in about 6.5 seconds, and you can keep it going well into speeds that will get you arrested. That launch is key. With its full 184 pound-feet torque hitting at just 2,000 rpm, it is easy to spin the front tires in huge clouds of smoke without actually going anywhere.

This black Juke looked a bit like Darth Vader, and it actually sounded a bit like that too.

With those shenanigans going on, I was happy Nissan gave the Juke a solid manual transmission. The clutch has little feel to it, but it is perfectly linear making it easy to adjust to. The shifter itself feels solid with its leather wrap and the throws are short enough. It is not as nice and crisp as something like a Porsche Cayman, but it is more than enjoyable for your favorite back road romp.

While carving that canyon, you do need to be mindful of your speed. The car will build velocity quickly, but come too hot into a corner and you will plow much wider than you expect. The car features a lowered suspension versus the normal Juke, and the spring rates have been boosted about 10-percent, but this is still a nose-heavy and tall machine. If you keep it under control though, it rewards aggressive driving. Go in slow to keep the nose tucked and try to blast it out of the other side of the corner. The car will hold its line impressively well and even demonstrate a bit of rear sway on lift-off. You can tell some substantial time was spent getting the suspension sorted.

I was looking for reasons to drive it.

After spending more than 500 miles or so in most cars, I sort of get used to them. I appreciate them for what they are, but the overwhelmingly move me. The Juke Nismo was different. Every mile I piled on the clock, the more I liked it. I was looking for reasons to drive it. Even after 700 miles. Any errand or need, and I would jump up immediately to handle the task. Is your Aunt Lucy in Alaska complaining she is one cup of sugar short to make her famous pie? I’ll run some sugar up to her right now. It seems silly, but that is how I felt.

The best part is, it wouldn’t cost me that much to run up there. The sticker says the MPG rating of the Nismo is 31 mpg. After all the flogging, running and hooning I wanted, the car was displaying 30.9. If I can get that high the way I was driving, it wouldn’t surprise me if my mom managed 35 mpg on her daily commute.

Pricing

Nissan Juke Nismo - Driven

That sticker price is not very high either. Our tester came in at a Benjamin over $25,000. That makes it the same price as a base level GTI. Despite that, our car was fitted with an upgraded Rockford Fosgate stereo, complete with subwoofer, and Navigation. The base Focus ST starts under $24k but the cheapest model I can configure with Navigation is nearly $27 grand, and you get stuck with the mostly terrible MyFord Touch system. Nissan has given this Nismo a lot of bang for its buck.

Competition

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI

The Golf GTI is probably the closest competitor to the Juke Nismo. It started the hot hatch craze in the 70’s and it still regarded by most as the benchmark for the class today. While the GTI is incredibly fun to drive, and astonishingly well built, but that quality comes with a price. You can spend upwards of $30k dollars to secure a well equipped model.

The GTI has also been on the lower end of the power scale. The new car ups the stakes with 215 horsepower from a new 2.0-liter turbo, but it still far less grunt than Mazda Mazda or Ford provide. Compared to the Juke Nismo, the GTI is a great car with relatively similar performance, but it carries a high price to go with it.

Ford Focus ST

Ford Focus ST

Ford has always had a strong history of great hot hatches, but most of them were not sold on U.S. soil. The new Focus ST changes that. It takes the new Focus and fills the engine bay with a 252-horsepower turbocharged engine. This drops its 0-to-60 time to near six seconds, and makes it one of the quickest hatches on sale today. Ford was even smart enough to give it a fancy front differential to cut down on torque steer and understeer.

The interior is typical Ford, lots of technology and shiny surfaces. It looks fancy, but I prefer the simplicity of the Juke’s cabin. The Focus ST does hold the performance advantage thanks to that horsepower, but if you want to get one as well equipped as this Juke, you will be looking at nearly $3,000 more.

Conclusion

Nissan Juke Nismo - Driven

In the years that I have been doing this job, there have only been a handful of cars I truly missed, and desired. Among that list are things like the GT-R and the Cayman S. I can now add the Juke Nismo to that collection. It might just be my favorite car that Nissan makes right now.

If you are one of those people that just can’t imagine buying the Juke Nismo because of its power deficit. Well don’t worry. Nissan makes a Nismo RS version with a GTI matching 215 horsepower, and I heard the seats are even better in that one.

Hey, Nissan, I’ll take that one next. Maybe as a long-term loaner. Thanks.

LOVE IT
  • Tons of fun to drive
  • Nice Manual Transmission
  • Incredible bucket seats
  • Great value for the money
LEAVE IT
  • Interior can feel a bit cheap
  • Less powerful than some competitors
  • Understeer at the limit
  • Clutch is a little mushy

What is your take?

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