Four years after the introduction of the Nissan Juke, people walk right up and tell me that they don’t get it. I confess that I roll my eyes like a sullen teenager in response. Why are old people so dense?
Who says that a hot little car has to look like your great aunt’s Pontiac Sunfire? Who says that a utility-type vehicle can’t be fun to drive? Who says that a car can’t be striking (or just plain weird) instead of merely beautiful?
Maybe the 2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS will help the zombies around me finally get it. An intercooled, turbocharged 215-hp powerplant ought to help. I tell them to think of the Juke Nismo RS as a Sentra SE-R, only one that can carry a surfboard.
Not the Juke R, but it’s trying
Introduced last spring, the Nissan Juke Nismo RS sits atop a little pyramid of Juke models that begins with the plain old Juke, steps up to the Juke Nismo with the blessing of Nissan’s racing-oriented Nismo subsidiary, and then takes the final step as the Juke Nismo RS. It’s not exactly the Juke R, the Juke powered by a twin-turbo, 545-hp Nissan GT-R V-6 that RML built as a stunt machine in 2012 (you can buy a copy for $665,000), but it’s trying.
When you select the front-wheel-drive version of the Nissan Juke Nismo RS, you get a six-speed manual transmission with a short-throw shift linkage, so you can pretend that you’re in a Juke R when you light up the front tires. You don’t even have to be in the sandy part of the beach parking lot to do so, as the bottom three ratios in the gearbox are extra short for quicker acceleration, so this 2884-pound package gets moving pretty quick.
Other racy stuff includes twin-tube KYB dampers, a helical-type limited-slip differential, 12.6-inch brakes in front matched with 11.5-inch vented rotors in the rear, and 225/45R-18 Continental ContiSportContact 5 summer-performance tires. And don’t forget the Recaro racing seats that are set up to accommodate a racing-style seatbelt harness. Plus all the electronic tricks that no one wants to read about but always appreciates on a long drive up the coast.
It carries stuff
We won’t kid you, because we’ll admit that the best thing about the Juke Nismo RS is the fact that it carries stuff, thanks to its utility configuration and roof that’s a handful of inches taller than the usual wagon. You can put humans in the rear seat and expect less whining than you get from passengers in a Mazdaspeed 3, though the legroom is not capacious.
More important, the 60-40 split folding rear seat will let you slide in a bunch of stuff, like the cooler, the wetsuit, and the board (a short one; get a roof rack for the Stewart longboard). Or throw in the wakeboard. Or the skis, when winter comes. See, people who drive a Juke actually do things on the weekend; they don’t just sit on the porch and shuck peas. There’s 10.5 cubic-feet behind the second-row seat and 35.6 cubic-feet once you fold down the rear seat.
Maybe you think there’s no reason to build some speed into a utility-style vehicle, but when the big waves came in from Mexico last weekend (6-foot breakers, with 8-footers in the sets), the parking spots on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu were full by 5:15 a.m. If you didn’t get there in time, it was a long walk to the beach. (At least that’s what surf guy Frank told us.)
It’s painful to crawl across the narrow bolsters of the Recaro racing seats, but you’re held firmly in place once you get into position. The steering wheel is adjustable for tilt but doesn’t telescope, and you find yourself placing it low, as if it were a bus wheel.
Lay into the gas and the Juke Nismo RS starts moving, only by this we mean it not only moves forward but also pitches and rolls. There’s plenty of driveline reaction to pitch up the nose, and the tall center of gravity also makes you more aware of body roll. There’s not too much of either, but you’ll feel more secure and go faster if you learn to left-foot brake, balancing the Juke in the corners to get the most of it. With a nose-heavy weight distribution of 62 percent front/38 percent rear, it’s the smart thing to do.
We got a taste of this while driving the Juke R a year ago, which began with a little bit of high-speed lawn mowing across the infield grass of Nashville Motor Speedway when we understeered across a medium-speed bend while trying to drive too precisely. As the test driver from RML showed us afterward, you can make the thing dance, but you have to be a little aggressive with the controls.
Actually, this sort of thing is what makes the 2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS more fun than a Mazdaspeed 3 or a Subaru WRX. It looks unexpected, and it does unexpected things. And when you’re having fun at the wheel, you do best when you drive in unexpected ways.
Sure, the Nissan Juke isn’t like anything else. That’s the point.
2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS
Engine:1.6L turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4/215 hp @ 6000 rpm, 210 lb-ft @ 3600-4800 rpm
Layout:2-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD crossover
EPA Mileage:25/31/27 mpg (city/highway/combined)
L x W x H:163.8 x 69.7 x 61.8 in
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