Nissan Juke Nismo RS review
The Nissan Juke NISMO RS is a characterful take on the hot-hatch concept, with compromises
Despite its sporting intentions, the Juke Nismo RS can’t quite compete with the best hot hatches. The updates over the previous version have brought an improvement, but it can feel synthetic and a bit contrived. This unconventional hot hatch’s appeal is in its blend of speed, style and everyday usability.
There’s an amusing amount of hyperbole on the Nissan Juke NISMO RS official website page, where the Japanese maker declares its hyped-up compact SUV ‘brings together decades of knowledge learnt on the race track’ and that ‘it’s the ultimate performance crossover’.
Anyone who really thinks a Porsche Macan Turbo – and an increasing number of other genuinely performance-orientated crossovers – wouldn’t devastate a NISMO RS in any test is probably slightly deranged. But as the NISMO-tweaked SUV itself goes to show, that needn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
Certainly there’s little to touch the NISMO if you want to first make everyone stare, and then to have some fun behind the wheel of a compact crossover. But before you decide that is what you want to do, remember there’s a raft of hot hatches that easily match all those impressive Juke NISMO specs, and comfortably beat its performance. The Juke NISMO 0-60 time of 7 seconds (8 seconds if you order the 4x4 version) is hardly electrifying by modern hot hatch standards. Still, the Juke NISMO for sale today is a little hotter than the original launched seven or so years back, with power uprated in 2015 to 215bhp from the original 197bhp. It’s now also officially known as the NISMO RS.
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The standard Nissan Juke has always been a bit of a ‘Marmite’ car from the design perspective, and the NISMO RS model is likely to harden your views whether you love it or hate it.
It’s a real eyeful, with a butch body kit that includes a gaping front grille, wheelarches fattened by extended lips to cover racy looking 18-inch alloys, deeper side skirts and a big rear spoiler. The overall effect has something of a manga caricature about it, but Nissan – through its tuning division NISMO – reckons all the styling mods have increased aero-efficiency at heart.
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.
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.
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.
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.