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Nissan’s relaunched Nismo model shows dynamic promise, but it’s no substitute for a proper hot hatchback on handling.

What is it?

A car about which there’s a whole heap of pressing questions to answer: the Nissan Juke Nismo, just landed in the UK. Is this a ‘proper’ hot hatchback? Is it quick enough; serious enough? Is it really meant for petrolheads like you and me – to be taken as seriously as the more obvious ways to spend your £20k amusement budget?

You won’t have long to wait for some clarity, supplied as usual by a full Autocar road test. For now, we’ll zoom in on just the one query, because it’s the most important: here, on British roads, is it enough fun?

It certainly could be judging by the ingredients. This car has been developed out of Nissan’s technical centre at Cranfield, Bedfordshire. Its 197bhp 1.6-litre turbo motor is bang on the competitive mark for a fast supermini at the moment, kerbweight is only about 150kg north of that mark, and its price is between £1000 and £2000 more than you’ll pay for an equivalent Fiesta ST or Peugeot 208 GTI.

There’s even a four-wheel drive option, married up (regrettably) to Nissan’s CVT - although our test car was a six-speed manual front-driver.

What's it like?

Quite quick, pretty engaging; more than diverting enough to drive in general to satisfy plenty of tastes. That turbo engine’s punchy, responsive enough, hard-edged and rorty, and doesn’t object to being wrung out. And the power steering and suspension tuning are also high points.

Surprisingly muscular in feel, the Juke’s damping keeps tight check on its body, and makes for flat cornering without ruling out absorption and compliance unequivocally. It’s a sense of tautness that’s all the more suitable for the UK because it seems to rely more on those dampers than the extra-strong anti-roll bars we’ve encountered on taller-bodied hot hatchbacks before.

You can barrel along across country, egged along by the way the car determinedly refuses to be knocked off course by a hard-charged bump, and find yourself quite impressed with the evident purpose and sophistication of the rolling chassis. For a while. And Nissan’s dynamic good work is complimented by weighty, well-paced and informative steering that tells you plenty about what’s going on at the front wheels – but doesn’t bombard you with torquesteer.

However, there’s rather more going on at those front wheels than there really ought to be. What prevents the Juke Nismo from ultimately winning you over is lack of grip. Damp conditions may not have flattered in this test’s case, but the car suffered a clear traction deficiency when cornering hard, and woke its electronic aids all too frequently with power-on understeer. 

Above a certain point, the ultimate cornering balance and adhesion that most would look for out of a driver’s car – the sticky, confidence-inspiring front-end in particular – just isn’t present. And that does burst your bubble from time to time when you’re hustling the car enthusiastically along. Usually, just when you’re really beginning to enjoy yourself.

Should I buy one?

Not as an alternative to a proper fast supermini with a really immersive, scruff-of-the-neck driving experience. Nissan’s Nismo department has demonstrated plenty of talent with this car, but you get the impression that the true potential of the sub-brand is still to be deployed. 

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As a whistle-wetter, the Juke Nismo’s certainly as interesting as it is fresh and different. Should outright handling matter to you only as much as design appeal and novelty value, this may be the only car on the market you care about. But as a true ‘GTI’, it’s something of a ‘nearly-but-not-quiter’. 

Nissan Juke Nismo 

Price £19,995; 0-62mph 7.8sec; Top speed 134mph; Economy 40.9mpg; CO2 159g/km; Kerbweight 1306kg; Engine 4cyls, 1618cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 197bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 184lb ft at 2400-4800rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

 

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Harvey56 15 April 2013

Nismo BHP

Have just taken ownership of Juke Nismo, in white, after owning a Punto Abarth ss,for 3 yrs. good fun !!! was offered remap/rechip from 200 bhp to 250 bhp by Nissan grge. free off charge, part of the deal, which I have accepted, comes in two stages, 1st. stage to 220, then after 500 miles, the full 250, they can also remap/rechip a diesel, so that should answer a few critics/fans.

warren_S3 15 April 2013

250BHP...

...From a 1.6 is a hugely commendable figure (esp. when you think back to last Corsa VXR which took a stage 3 modification pack to reach anywhere near that figure). 

Intrigued to see review on one of these one they are tested.

kcrally 12 April 2013

Where are the go faster

Where are the go faster stripes, and preferably two tone paintwork, to ofset the lower headlamps. please.

MikeSpencer 12 April 2013

Target audience?

How many of these does Nissan expect to sell? And how many of the 4WD CVT auto model does it expect to shift? Not many, I suspect. The phrase 'style over substance' could have been written especially for this car. Still, it's been developed and manufactured in the UK so for that we should be thankful. For that reason alone I hope it sells well, but I'd still have a Fiesta ST and £3k in change, though.