2013 Nissan Juke NISMO AWD - Frog Hopping the Gridiron - Review

You wouldn't normally describe the amphibian Rana temporaria, aka the "Frog", as particularly "Cute."

Unless you happen to be a 21-year-old to 30 something urban gal in search of a squatting, bug-eyed sub-compact crossover-utility vehicle.

For the boys, whose interest in amphibians leans to more menacing creatures, for 2013 Nissan introduces a [mild] factory tuner special, the Juke NISMO (Nissan Motorsport). It comes in but three colors: white, silver or black, each with racy red striping. A host of exterior "X-Treme" mods include a deeper front air-dam with splitter, LED daytime running lights, a prominent roof spoiler and antenna, and lower rear-diffuser. NISM with red "O" badges adorn the grille and the liftgate.

What Webbed Feet?

Just a 10% power increase to 197-horses won't send the 2900-pound Juke NISMO breaking lap records at the Nurburgring Nordschliefe. To do that you'd need the 545 hp Godzilla Juke-R, based off GT-R supercar mechanicals. And another $550,000.  Expect 0-60 mph in 7 seconds.

For us mere mortals NISMO increased spring rates and shock damping, for a ride drop of 0.5"-inches. Diamond-cut, lightweight 18" wheels wrapped in Continental ContiSportContact 5 W-rated rubber sized 225/45 look and run less web-footed. (This is the same rubber fitted to the Volvo S60 T6 R.) If it can be believed, ride compliance doesn't suffer terribly. Still, over rougher stuff the ladies may want to opt for sports bras. Men: choose briefs over boxers.

The toy-like I-CON LCD screen on the lower half of the center-stack offers the same choice of Drive Modes as in other Jukes.  "Eco," is hell-bent on taking all the fun out of driving with such a slow throttle spool-up and tall gearing. "Normal" is the default setting for steering and gearing. We spent more time in "Sport" where steering is less artificially boosted and the  CVT maintains higher engine revs of the turbocharged, DI 1.6L twin-cam gas inline-four. Combined fuel economy: 24.5 mpg.

A re-programmed  CVT almost thinks it's a crisp automatic gearbox making a two physical gear drop from 4th to 2nd, without that pause in forward movement that plagues lesser spool + band transmissions.

Electronic viscous driveshaft coupling shifts up to 50% of torque rear-wards. From there, electronic clutch packs can limit all rear torque to just one wheel based an yaw, speed and steering angle info. Improved grip and more squat attitude of the front strut, rear multi-link chassis enable easy recovery from slight throttle-corrected oversteer. Disc brakes, vented only in the front, were already progressive enough in feel if not fade-resistant demons.

Suede? Alcantra? Phablet?

Turns out then the suede trimmed NISMO bucket seats with near competition level side thigh and torso bolstering were not wasted after all. Alcantra spanning the 8-10 and 2-4 o'Clock hand positions on the attractive red/ black contrasting steering wheel, nearly dictates driving gloves. The inability to adjust for reach is gonna' generate some sore, outstretched arms.

The instrument cluster is also a NISMO piece with sporty analog white-on-red tachometer. Culled from Sentra-land is a navigation/ media / rear-view head unit with the barely Phablet sized 5" LCD display. Menus are easy to scroll through. Not so, tapping the correct portion of the screen. The Rockford Fosgate "ecoPunch" sound system lacks enough presence to knock-out tire and drivetrain noise during full gallop. Dark plastic trim is un-exciting and the headliner seems a  lint collector. Yet, solid "door-thuds" announce a build level above the Kia Soul.

Where the Soul has the Juke NISMO beat is in rear-seat space. Nissan clearly isn't going after family types here. What is welcome: a large rear-hatch opening, a subwoofer, which doesn't hog up much space, and  60/40% split seat-backs that expand storage from 10.5 to 36 cubic-feet.

Who will be shopping the 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo? Starting at $22,990, even the front drive model with six-speed manual transmission is frisky with it's torsion beam rear suspension. Fully-loaded, our Sapphire Black AWD tester lists at $27,200. That is $200 less than a base Mini Cooper Countryman S ALL4. Granted, the Juke NISMO doesn't permeate the Mini's orbit of refinement and cabin isolation.

Meanwhile, "Drive...He Said" is still awaiting a Scion xB or Kia Soul that can first step in one direction, and then cut back in the other on the gridiron, like the Juke NISMO can.

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