It’s hard not to smile when in the company of a Nissan Juke. Even the name is amusing, and the car’s odd, unpredictable lines sustain the humor. But it has a serious side, too, especially when clothed in Nismo garb.
What’s Nismo? It’s an acronym for Nissan Motorsports, the Japanese automaker’s racing division. To carry off the label, the 2013 Juke Nismo has a 197-horsepower turbocharged engine, sport-tuned suspension and transmission, sport seats and special external effects. It also has all-wheel drive, which combine with its 7-inch ground clearance to make the Juke a creditable winter car – if the low-profile summer tires are swapped for all-season rubber in time for the first snowfall.
Once one gets past the Juke’s frog-like appearance, one discovers this car does quite a few things well. It corners like a go-kart, delivers 25 to 30 mpg (on premium gasoline, unfortunately), and accelerates vigorously . We would have preferred the 6-speed stick shift, standard equipment on Nismo-badged Jukes, but Nissan’s continuously variable transmission is more responsive than most.
The Juke competes with … well, a wide assortment of sporty small sedans, compact SUVs, and quirky little cars like the Hyundai Veloster, Scion xB and the discontinued Volvo C30. These cars are not only for drivers who dare to be different; they’re for drivers who must be different.
How different is the Juke? It seems there’s almost nothing Nissan stylists won’t try. We were struck by the red exterior mirror covers contrasting with the test car’s glossy white paint. They made us think of, say, a 1993 Chevrolet Cavalier with mismatched mirrors from a junkyard. Closer inspection revealed the red mirror covers matched certain interior flourishes and pinstripes along the bottom of the door frames. But understanding how they fit into the car’s décor didn’t make us like them.
From a purely functional standpoint, the Juke has one major asset that most cars of its size don’t have: all-wheel drive. But in other respects, it falls short of many small sedans as well as larger compact SUVs. The ride is quite stiff, the interior is cramped for large adults, even in front, and room in the back seat is inadequate for tall passengers. The cargo bay’s capacity, with the back seat upright, is just 10 cubic feet. And the price for a Juke in Nismo trim, while by no means exorbitant, is high for this segment: $25,290 with no options, and $27,495 for our well-equipped test car. (The base Juke, with front-wheel drive, starts at $18,990.)
Nissan’s own Rogue, a compact crossover, has conventional looks and a slightly higher price than the Juke, and it’s a lot less fun to drive. But it has three times the cargo room and accommodates passengers much more comfortably.
Rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Juke, like most Nissans, has a reputation for solid reliability.
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged inline Four, 197 horsepower, 184 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic
Ground clearance: 7 in.
Weight: 3,168 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 18×7-inch painted alloy
Tires: P225/45R18 summer
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 10.5 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 35.9 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 11.8 gallons
Fuel economy: 25 mpg city, 30 mpg highway
Fuel type: premium unleaded (recommended)