You might think that roaring around Nashville Superspeedway in the 2014 Nissan 370Z Nismo and the 2014 Nissan GT-R Track Edition would get a little old. Apparently so did the Nissan representatives in pit lane, who keep gesturing at us to come in from the track.
But perhaps we are mistaken about their intentions. Anyway, we kept roaring around, even though the Nissan guys seemed to grow a little agitated after a while.
Once we finally came in, we were invited to try out the 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo on the autocross course for a while. As it turns out, it all worked out in our favor.
Not Just Marketing
Well, maybe a little marketing.
Nismo has always been the most serious of the go-fast operations under the umbrella of the various Japanese carmakers, and it has been a force behind Nissan’s racing operations as well as a maker of aftermarket speed parts. Now it’s moving beyond its customary catalog of camshafts and anti-roll bars into a full-fledged operation in the style of Audi quattro GmbH, BMW M Division, and Mercedes-Benz AMG. A brand-new showroom for Nismo bits and Nismo-prepared cars has even opened next to Nissan’s powertrain engineering center in Tsurumi, where the Datsun 240Z and Datsun 510 sedan were once built.
The 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo is meant to be a taste of what is to come from Nismo. Yes, it’s a collection of specialty equipment applied to a faintly unlikely vehicle, yet the result goes down the road in a way that driving enthusiasts like us can fully endorse.
The Atomic Frog
As we walk up to the Nissan Juke Nismo, we think (and not for the first time), that this is a vehicle that looks pretty unlikely, even as a ride to the grocery store. But while the Juke might look like a frog, this particular frog has apparently been irradiated in some kind of A-bomb test and turned into a monster from one of those Japanese movies of the 1950s.
The good part begins with turning up turbocharger boost for the direct-injection, 16-valve, DOHC inline-4 engine. That increases output from the 1.6-liter engine to 197 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, which compares to the 188 hp and 177 lb-ft ratings of the stock powerplant.
This engine is matched with a firmer suspension springs (about 10 percent), a lower ride height, stiffer anti-roll bars, and 225/45R-18 Continental ContiSportContact5 summer-performance tires on eighteen-inch wheels.
These changes aren’t big, yet it makes the Juke come alive. It’s alert in your hands and feels like a real driving machine when you specify the six-speed manual transmission. It even rides pretty well, as we discovered on a long loop on country roads through the woods around Smyrna, Tennessee, where Nissan builds the Altima and the Frontier.
If you pick the continuously variable transmission (CVT), the Juke Nismo gets even better, since the transmission has been calibrated for more responsiveness rather than for pure fuel economy. Moreover, the CVT allows electronics to shift engine torque fore and aft to enhance traction. Plus, the torque also shifts from side to side across the rear axle to give the chassis a little more cornering bite. The result is not just tire smoke in the autocross but actual speed as well.
Looking Good in a Sci-Fi Way
There’s more than lipstick on a frog in the way the Juke Nismo looks, as Nissan has tried hard to make this a real Nismo vehicle.
The front and rear fascias for the bodywork are dedicated Nismo pieces, and the LED accent lights, the red stripe on the rear bumper, and the red outside mirrors are just a few of the detail changes. In fact, the Juke Nismo’s bodywork represents a 37 percent increase in aerodynamic downforce over the stock Juke (not that the baseline standard is very demanding).
It’s more likely that you’ll appreciate the suede-trimmed Nismo seats, which are shaped to deliver some useful support while cornering even while the upholstery shrugs off the occasional spill in the drive-thru lane. The instrument faces are red, and you’ll find plenty of special red trim elsewhere within the interior.
The faux-suede rim of the steering wheel even has a bright red band at the twelve o’clock mark to help you center the steering if you get crossed up after falling off the last corner and swirling through the mud. It might seem like an affectation to you, but every racer we know has been in a situation where the red hash mark has come in handy.
The Return of the Nissan Coupe
If you’re looking for a little sports coupe from Nissan, the 2013 Juke Nismo is it. It might not look like a Nissan 240SX or even a Subaru BRZ, but the atomic frog delivers the same kind of personalized, high-performance driving experience.
Vehicles like the Juke, the Honda CR-Z, and the Hyundai Veloster show us that driving goodness can come in untraditional wrappers, and things like utility, fuel efficiency, and even sheer affordability make driving-oriented vehicles more appealing, not less.
The 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo lets you ride around with your friends, buy a big-screen TV, take the dirt road to the lake (slowly, please), and still get those Nismo-style thrills when you take the long way home. It’s not exactly a Nissan GT-R compressed into the shape of an atomic frog like the wild Nissan Juke R, but you get the idea.
2013 Nissan Juke NISMO
- On sale: Now
- Base Price: $26,080 (Nismo AWD)
- Engine: 1.6L inline-4 turbocharged
- Power: 197 hp, 184 lb-ft
- Fuel Economy: 25 mpg city/30 mpg Highway
- Drive: All-wheel
- Curb Weight: 3168 lb