There’s nothing like a brisk spray of torque steer scrambling the front tires to get me to slap both hands on the wheel.
Nissan juiced its Juke Nismo model last year with the higher-horsepower RS model and then layered on more improvements for 2015.
I just tested the 2015 RS with turboed 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 215-horsepower — 18-horsepower more than the entry Juke Nismo. Its 210 foot-pounds of torque will spit sparks from 3,600-4,800 rpm. The turbo lag on an energetic launch is alarming and fun as the motor grabs a breath and then cuts loose. And that’s with a helical-geared limited-slip differential that is supposed to trim torque steer and hook up more traction.
Updates for 2015 include revised front-end styling with projector beam headlights and LED accent lighting. The redesigned rear fascia is a little more aggressive with revised “boomerang” style taillights and LED accents.
The compact, five-door Juke hatchback is sold in front- or all-wheel drive in three standard trim levels and two higher-performance Nismo models. The standard transmission is an Xtronic continuously variable automatic. The front-drive Nismo models have a six-speed manual transmission or Xtronic with AWD.
The mainstream Jukes have starting prices that range from $21,075 to $26,065, including the $825 freight charge from Oppama, Japan.
The base Nismo starts at $25,655 and the Nismo RS starts at $28,850. The AWD model, only with the Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission, starts at $30,845.
The RS pricing is a few thousand more than the base model, but the result is a much more exciting and entertaining car to drive and a purer expression of NISsan MOtorsports.
The clutch is light and the shifts slot easily, which is good because the driver will be running up and back through the gears to keep the revs on point. Before getting through the traffic light, I was reaching for third gear. In sixth gear at 65 mph the engine is spinning at about 2,800 rpm, which is fairly high but not annoyingly so. The power is in its sweet spot by about 2,500 rpm, so there’s decent force in fifth and sixth at cruising speed.
Fuel economy isn’t bad at 25 mpg city, 31 highway and 27 mpg combined, on premium fuel. I was averaging 28.9 to 28.6 in a week of driving.
The Nismo suspension tuning helps keep it stuck to the road, sharpened by KYB shocks and stabilizer bars front and rear. It corners well and is a toy to throttle steer in the turns. The tires are always itching to pull harder.
The styling of the five-door Juke (Nissan calls it a “sport cross”) isn’t for everybody. But its coupe-like roofline is custom camouflage to conceal the rear doors with the handles built into the design. Some owners call it their SUV sports car.
The Nismo trim treatment dresses up the economy-car cabin with radically bolstered Recaro front sport seats, suede door accents, a black headliner and painted pieces. The leather and microsuede steering wheel has baseball stitching with a red leather strip to mark top-center of the wheel.
Yards of molded plastic panels have an appealing grain and satin finish. Fabric-covered visors include covered mirrors and a visor extender. There is a deep (non-locking or lighted) glove box. And there are other small stash areas and a 12-volt plug and USB-audio inputs.
The back seat is raised with good footroom but restricted legroom. There are generous-sized cup holders in the doors. There is no center rear head restraint (common in small cars), and the center seat is short-term only for a thin person, making this a better four-person car — which maybe it should be as a Nismo model.
While it’s a hoot to drive, it’s not the car I’d drive cross-country. I’d want the optional center armrest, for starters. But I felt bunched up behind the wheel. The Recaros are restricting, the steering wheel has tilt but no telescopic adjustment and the side mirrors and windshield pillars create a side-view blockage.
Mark Maynard is online at email@example.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage