What is it?
Another success story for the UK car industry: a new kind of hot hatch we can lay claim to as our own. The Nissan Juke Nismo is the go-faster performance version of the smash-hit supermini-sized crossover. More than a third of a million Jukes have been built at Nissan's Sunderland plant (now officially the largest car plant this country has ever seen) since 2010, and now the plant has a flagship performance model to produce.
The Juke Nismo is not just built in Britain; a significant amount of design and development for the model has taken place here, with Nissan's Paddington design studio and Cranfield technical centre assisting Nissan and Nismo engineers in Japan.
The result of this collaboration is a 197bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol-powered Juke, with a host of revisions to the chassis and exterior and interior styling to make it worthy of the hallowed Nismo badge.
That Nismo badge also needs an introduction. Short for Nissan Motorsports, Nismo has been tuning Nissans and producing highly successful factory race cars for the best part of 50 years and has become enshrined in popular culture thanks to its presence in the Gran Turismo video games, the first of which appeared in 1997.
The thinking behind taking Nismo global now with volume products rather than high-performance niche models or aftermarket upgrades is that the Playstation generation has now grown up and, as now as a 20/30-something with a disposable income, has the funds to buy a car of their own, and a £19,995 compact crossover take on the hot hatch formula seems a good place to start for Nismo.
What is it like?
Something a bit different, but something that's really rather good. It's certainly the best and most involving Juke we've ever had to try, but it's a model that goes quite a bit deeper than that in being a very different kind of performance tool.
Think of the Juke Nismo in terms of a Renaultsport Clio and sure enough it ends in disappointment. But it's a hot hatch that if driven quickly and smoothly at seven or eight tenths, and without ever really fully going for it in Michael Schumacher mode (ie, most of the driving you'll ever undertake on public roads) then it is a very accomplished and rewarding machine. Oh, and there's room for four and a fair amount of luggage, too.
Let's start with that engine. Nismo tuners have resisted the urge to turn the Juke Nismo into a torque steer special, rather offering small but noticeable increases in power and torque that give it an altogether more urgent character without descending into an aftermarket special.
The engine does have somewhat of a torque vacuum before the turbocharger fully gets involved at around 2000-2500rpm, but keep it above this and you'll find an urgent performer with pleasingly linear power delivery right through its six forward manual cogs. That urgency is still felt even when settled at motorway speeds, so a taller sixth ratio would be appreciated in this scenario. An all-wheel drive version hooked up to a CVT transmission is also available.
The ride is firm, but never uncomfortable; it feels as if great time and attention has been spent to cater for the most demanding UK buyers. Body control is excellent also, and the predictable body roll is well controlled, certainly when you drive within the car's limits.
Push the limits and you'll get understeer and front wheels that slip and spin, but to drive the Juke Nismo on such a ragged edge is to miss the point; it's a car to be driven quickly and smoothly to get the most from it, rather than to rag the hell out of it and be left wondering why you didn't order that Renaultsport Clio. It is not that type of car.
Where the Juke Nismo feels sufficiently sporty is inside the cabin. There are new sports seats which grip well and will give you a numb bum if sat in for long enough. The Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel and red and black-trimmed cabin are subtler mods but no less welcome, in a cabin where the real star is a new infotainment system mounted in the centre console that does a lot better job than the £19,995 price tag would have you think given its lis of standard functions.
Should I buy one?
Like the Juke? Then yes. The Nismo is the best Juke we've ever driven, certainly the most rewarding and now competitive and unique enough for you to consider whether you need to buy a hot hatch and except the sacrifices that usually entails (rear room, space etc).
The looks will probably still be the deciding factor here for you, but warm to them or see through them and you have a dynamic machine that's ever so rewarding when driven within its limits quickly and smoothly, if not one that'll give you as much satisfaction as a full-blown hot hatch in the Renaultsport Clio mould.
Nissan Juke Nismo
Price £19,995; 0-62mph 7.8sec; Top speed 134mph; Economy 40.9mpg CO2 159g/km; Kerb weight 1295kg; Engine 4cyls in line, 1618cc, turbocharged, petrol, Power 197bhp; Torque 184lb ft; Gearbox 6spd manual