When the quirky Nissan Juke crossover burst on to the scene in 2010, it tempted a legion of buyers out of superminis and into small SUVs. And just as the regular high-riding hatchback stole sales from the conventional class leaders, this latest performance-focused Juke Nismo RS is looking to do the same to established hot hatches. Here we test the more powerful £21,650 two-wheel-drive manual version.
In the five years since it launched, the Juke has undergone one facelift and it’s still no less ordinary to look at. The unusual mix of flowing curves and sharp lines shocked when we first saw it. And although a restyle last year tightened up the overall appearance, the Juke is still a divisive car when it comes to design.
On this hardcore Nismo RS version, the smooth surfaces of the regular Juke have been butched-up with a beefy bodykit. At the front there are twin gaping grilles that gulp air to cool the tuned engine, and a small front splitter. Wider wheelarches are filled by Nismo-specific 18-inch alloys which, together with the deeper side skirts and short wheelbase, give the Nismo RS a squat, chunky profile on the road.
Image 2 of 20
At the rear, a deeper bumper featuring a diffuser insert and a single, large tailpipe make the Juke look lower and wider. A small boot lip spoiler and Nismo’s trademark red accents for the door mirrors and brake calipers complete the transformation from compact crossover to small, hot SUV.
Nissan has approached the Juke’s interior in a similar way, placing the focus firmly on the driver. There’s an Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel and suede sports seats, all with racy contrasting red stitching.
The RS is well equipped, featuring climate and cruise control, and a 5.8-inch touchscreen for the sat-nav and reversing camera. But the Juke’s cabin is showing its age now, and although the Nismo flourishes do lift the atmosphere, they can’t fundamentally change what is a cramped and awkward space.
Image 3 of 20
The RS model benefits from a host of performance upgrades over the previous Juke Nismo, including a limited-slip differential, bigger 320mm front brakes and stiffer springs and dampers.
It still rides nicely, even on rippled roads, with a comfortable edge to the damping, but despite these tweaks to the suspension, the jacked-up ride height means the compact crossover rolls around in corners. Drive the Nismo RS hard and you’ll find that it doesn’t live up to its looks. There’s not much grip, so if you approach a bend too quickly, the car will understeer badly.
Turn-in isn’t particularly sharp, and the light steering doesn’t deliver much feedback, either, which makes the Nissan feel wayward and indistinct on the road. It’s compounded by the Juke’s 215bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged unit.
Image 10 of 20
Even with that mechanical front diff to help traction, the Nismo RS doesn’t put its power down effectively. The engine overpowers the front tyres, with lots of wheelspin and torque steer tugging at the steering wheel.
Packaging isn’t the Juke’s strong point, and it shows as soon as you climb aboard. The driving position is flawed, with no steering reach adjustment, while the sports seats don’t offer the support or adjustment we’d expect – although you can add supportive Recaros for £1,300 extra.
Image 5 of 20
The Nismo RS feels cramped and low-rent, too, with hard plastics for the dash and doors. Sit in the back and it’s even more claustrophobic, with limited headroom and a tiny door restricting access. The tight cabin limits rearwards visibility, although the view forward is better thanks to the high-up driving position.
The Juke’s flexible boot floor allows you to use all 354 litres of space, or a smaller volume with a more secure area out of sight. It’s the only neat storage feature, as the glovebox and door bins are quite small.