Good: generous specification, well thought out interior upgrades.
Not so good: changes to chassis means it struggles to put power down.
When Nissan announced that the engineers of its performance division, Nismo, would turn their hands to the brand's road-going cars rather than dedicating themselves to the track offerings the motoring world expected to see high performance versions of the 370Z and all-conquering GT-R. While these cars will come (and Kyle has recently driven the 370Z version) the first model to be Nismo'd was the Juke compact crossover.
Seems odd for a company with at least two sports cars in its line-up to focus on such a vehicle, but Nissan long ago made the decision to move away from traditional hatchback models, meaning it does not have a direct rival to the likes of the Citroen DS3 Racing, SEAT Ibiza Cupra and Skoda Fabia RS. (Yes I realise that the current junior hot hatch offerings are the Ford Fiesta ST, Peugeot 208 GTi and Renault Clio RS 200, but it would be unfair to compare the Juke Nismo to them as these three cars are at the pinnacle of the segment.)
So what exactly has the Nissan Motorsports team done to the segment defining Juke to make you part with the guts of €30,000 for?
Well to differentiate the high powered car from the garden variety Juke, the Nismo models wears an aggressive body kit that substantially bulks up the crossover. So aggressive is the kit that it makes a mockery of the demure add-ons that appear to be becoming de rigueur on modern hot hatches.
Riding on gloss-black 18-inch alloys, the Juke Nismo wears deeper valances front and rear and a more defined front grille framed by integrated LED running lights. There are flared side skirts and a monster rear diffuser and roof spoiler, which Nissan claims reduces lift without affecting drag. A red pinstripe runs around the entire car in a classic '80s hot hatch homage, and like the hot hatches of old you get an exhaust pipe you could fit a Spanish onion into.
Inside, the Nismo touch is even more evident with suede covered seats and a part leather/Alcantara steering wheel that harks back to Nismo's motorsport heritage. The seats themselves are exceedingly comfy with just the right level of support where it matters for when you are driving more enthusiastically.
Both the dials and the aluminium pedals wear motorsport decals and there is a liberal smattering of Nismo badging throughout the cabin. Standard specification is generous with a central screen for all of your media viewing, satellite navigation and Bluetooth with steering wheel mounted controls, air conditioning and even a G-force meter included as standard.
In Ireland the next most powerful version of the Juke you can buy is a 117hp naturally aspirated 1.6 so the Nismo's figures of 200hp (and 250Nm of torque) from its turbocharged 1.6-litre engine certainly seem impressive, but in other markets there's a 1.6 DiG-T model available with 190hp, so the power increase is modest. Thankfully Nismo put more work into the chassis with the suspension stiffness increased by 10 per cent, the roll bars beefier and the steering reworked to give more feel.
The changes begin to show themselves when you are on the open road; you simply do not expect to go as fast in a relatively high-riding crossover. Mash your foot to the carpet and 100km/h will flit by in less than eight seconds. With peak power not arriving until a very un-turbo-like 6,000rpm you do have to work the engine to make the most of it and unfortunately you are not encouraged to do so by the aural delights of the engine. When pushed, it can sound strained while the exhaust sounds more whiny than sporty at higher revs.
During normal driving the suspension does a commendable job of keeping body roll in check, meaning the car remains flat and composed when confronted with all but the worst potholes. It is when you are pushing-on that things begin to come apart.
At speed the stiffened suspension means that even the smallest undulations are translated to exaggerated vertical movement and a loss of wheel control, resulting in an inability to utilise the engine's power. Exit even a moderately bumpy corner (of which you will find plenty in Ireland) and the front wheels spin up due to being un-weighted by bumping over the surface. This results in a wakening of the electronic nannies and the dulling of power as the chassis fights to catch up. Time after time you find yourself having to lift off the throttle to allow the electrics to compose themselves before setting off again.
Were this to happen just in Sport mode with all 200hp deployed we would put it down to the chassis not being capable of handling the power, but it also happens in Eco mode, which reins in power in favour of efficiency.
Which is a shame, as the Juke Nismo has an awful lot going for it; good looks (in a Juke sense), a well thought out interior and an engine that means it is the first hot compact crossover (the MINI Countryman and Paceman JCWs are closer to Qashqai size). The list price and sizeable equipment list - in comparison to rivals - will mean that it is popular however, and indeed Nissan UK has already sold its 2013 allocation. Those looking for a more focused hot hatch may find themselves disappointed though.