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.
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