Review: Nissan Juke Nismo RS 1.6 DIG-T 6MT 2016
The 214bhp Juke Nismo RS may look like a bullfrog and kick like a mule, but there's a good reason why it stands in a class of its own.
With a jaunty carefree exterior resembling that of a bullfrog, the Juke has no trouble standing out from the compact crossover crowd.
However, if Nissan’s hiked-up supermini wasn’t distinctive or divisive enough for you, great news, there’s now this – the Nismo RS - which applies sportier touches both on and beneath the surface to deliver what is certainly one of the most niche cars available right now.
From the road, a well-judged dash of red detail, emblems on the grille, and fast stubby pipe in the back do enough to mark the Nismo RS out from its conventional counterparts.
However, under the bonnet, you’ll find a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine, sending up to 214bhp to the front wheels and producing 310Nm of torque.
Class of its own
Linked to a six-speed manual gearbox, it has a top speed of 137mph and is good for 62mph in 7 seconds dead. That’s a full second quicker than if you opted for the all-wheel-drive automatic, but most strikingly, it’s frighteningly faster than any other crossover this size.
The nippiest Ford EcoSport takes 12.7 seconds to reach 62mph. Yeti? 9.1. CX-3? 8.7. 500X? 8.6. Its rivals don’t focus on performance and perhaps there’s a reason why the Juke Nismo RS doesn’t have any like-for-like competitors.
To get this kind of performance for this kind of money, you have to look lower, literally, to the more ubiquitous Ford Focus ST [review]. Whoops Nissan, you’ve accidentally stumbled into the lion’s den.
Luckily, the Juke has no trouble dispensing thrills, with sharp, direct handling and a hugely rewarding power delivery from the 1618cc turbocharged unit.
Fun as it is, the whole experience feels a little rough round the edges compared to the more refined drive of the Focus ST, which is half a second quicker to 62mph (6.5s), but there is certainly plenty to love about its candid attitude.
As with the regular Juke, drivers can choose between three driving modes – normal, eco and sport –and even in eco mode, the Nismo RS can still surprise when pushed hard enough. It won’t shock anyone that engaging sport mode brings out the best in the Juke, with plenty of headroom in the power stakes.
The gearbox has been aggressively restyled but it’s the same six-speed manual from the regular Juke and we wish they’d gifted it with a shorter throw between gears to compliment that enthusiastic engine. The manual handbrake isn’t the sharpest either and you’ll really have to drag it up to prevent rolling back on inclines.
The Juke’s elevated ride remains unchanged here and as if ride comfort wasn’t stiff enough already (see our earlier review), suspension tightened right up and on 18-inch wheels, the Nismo RS is naturally even more unforgiving.
It suits the engine’s temperament though especially with the Recaro bucket seats doing a superb job at keeping you secure, even if they can be – how can I put this? – ‘inappropriately invasive’ when getting in and out. A lesson quickly learned.
At idle, the throaty rattle coming from the Juke’s back-end is enough to send giddy shivers through your spine but when pushing the engine, it isn’t nearly as rude as we’d have liked. Expecting F-Type-like spluttering would have been unreasonable but the exhaust noise fails to provide a soundtrack fitting for the Nismo’s giddy drive.
Officially, the Nismo RS claims to return 39.2mpg combined, and it may sound like sacrilege after complimenting that ballsy idle exhaust, but optional stop/start really should have been included.
Yes, performance is at the centre of this car but having the option to rest the engine in heavy traffic would have certainly improved on the 31mpg we achieved. As such, driving the Juke frugally is a challenge with the eager engine constantly raring to go and egging you on to test it.
Tons of kit
Our test car came in pearl white (black and ‘blade silver’) and with tons of kit, so much so that the only option you can pay to include is the £900 Tech Pack which adds the brilliant top-down Around View Monitor, Xenon headlamps and extra safety kit like blind spot warning, emergency self-braking and intelligent cruise control.
That means as standard, you get auto air-con, electric folding mirrors, electric windows front and pack, parking sensors front and back, keyless entry and start, DAB radio, Bluetooth, USB slot, tyre pressure monitor, and an removable boot floor which deepens the 354-litre boot.
Alcantara is dotted around the cabin, most notably (and annoyingly) covering two quarters of the steering wheel. This means that with your hands placed ten-to-two like the disciplined and responsible driver you are, your two smallest fingers touch the cloth while the two bigger fingers sit on leather. It’s a conflicting feeling and we wish they’d have just picked one or the other.
Fabric on the steering wheel is never a great idea anyway; how tired will it look when the car’s mileage enters five figures?
Personal leasing deals average out at £337 a month (£278 business), which is £7 more than the Focus ST-2, despite the Ford’s £2k OTR premium. You’ll hear the Juke take another gulp when it learns that the Golf GTI is only £13 a month more too (£350 av.)
Seat’s 1.8L Leon FR is available for £325 too; it lacks the aggressive styling of the Juke and is half a second slower to 62mph but it does leave £12 extra in your pocket every month and is much more comfortable.
The Juke Nismo RS is a genuine one-off. There is literally no other car in this segment that comes anywhere near its seven-second 0-62mph sprint and its flaws eventually come to form some of its charm.
The bad news is that its closest rivals are quicker and can be picked up for lower monthly leasing rates. That means that only the most persistent and determined will end up getting hold of this most exclusive crossover.
Juke Nismo RS at a glance:
Boot space: 354 / 1189 litres
Engine: 1618cc 214hp turbocharged front wheel drive petrol, six-speed manual
0-62mph 7.0 seconds
Top speed: 137mph
Fuel economy: 39.2mpg combined
CO2: 168g/km (VED Band H)
Price: £21,995 (£22,695 as tested)
Rivals: Ford Focus ST, Volkswagen Golf GTI
Available: Since June 2015