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First Look: 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo

When automakers release a new car, it's rarely long before enthusiasts and the media beg for a faster version. That proved true with the Nissan Juke: though the quirky styling grew on us, we kept wishing that our Four Seasons 2011 Nissan Juke weren't so slow. Nissan has finally answered that call with the Juke Nismo, a range-topping variant that bows at the Chicago auto show.

Yes, the Nismo version (it gets its name from the company racing arm Nissan Motorsports) actually offers more performance than a base Juke. The first modification is a reworking of the 1.6-liter turbo-four engine, adding nine horsepower and seven lb-ft of torque for totals of 197 hp and 184 lb-ft. Buyers can have a front-wheel-drive model with a six-speed manual, or an all-wheel-drive Juke Nismo with a continuously variable transmission and a torque-vectoring rear differential.

The Nismo treatment also provides a lower suspension ride height and reduced power-steering assist, for better handling and more driver feedback. Eighteen-inch alloy wheels wear wide Continental ContiSportContact5 summer tires -- standard Jukes wear 17-inch wheels.

In another nod to performance, Nissan says the Juke Nismo's bold new bodykit actually increases downforce by 37 percent compared to the standard crossover. A new diffuser and a larger spoiler adorn the car's tail. Out front, the lower fascia and integrated splitter help direct more air to the engine; front-wheel-drive models have half the grille blanked off for reduced drag, while all-wheel-drivers have an oil cooler for the CVT.

Thin Red Lines

Customers can select from Sapphire Black, Brilliant Silver, and Pearl White for their Juke Nismo, but all versions wear thin red pinstripes along the lower front fascia, rocker panels, and rear diffuser. The mirrors, too, are painted red, and the last letter of the car's abundant Nismo badges are also red. The V-shaped front grille surround is painted darker than on standard Jukes, and strips of LED running lights appear below the car's primary round headlights.

The front seats, which gain suede upholstery and larger side bolsters for sporty driving, have red stitching, and the tachometer now has a red face. Nismo wraps the steering wheel in red-stitched Alcantara and adds a rally-style red marker at the very top of the wheel. More Nismo badges are present in the cabin: metallic-finish pedals are accompanied by a Nismo-badged dead pedal, and the brand's emblem is embedded into the back of each seat. The remainder of the interior is darkened: smoke-grey trim around the shifter, piano-black plastic for the center stack, and a black headliner.

The rest of the equipment lineup closely mirrors that of other Nissan Jukes, with items like Bluetooth connectivity, an iPhone interface, and a 60/40 folding rear seat. A touchscreen navigation system, Rockford Fosgate sound system, and backup camera are all optional.

At What Cost Performance?

Despite revealing everything else about the quicker, sportier crossover, Nissan has yet to announce when the Juke Nismo goes on sale or how much it will cost. Given the upgrades, and its position as one of the model's top trim levels, however, expect a price that meets or beats the $27,730 sticker (including destination) of a 2013 Juke SL AWD.