Business Autos

Nissan's oddball Juke gets a high-performance upgrade

Both the steering and suspension have been tweaked for tighter performance
The seats are phenomenal; you'll be tempted to steal them for office chairs
The hot-hatch goes for $23,980 for the front-wheel-drive version with a manual transmission

Nissan, in a move that defies common sense and possibly physics, has found a way to make its Juke more weird.

Hence, the Juke Nismo.

Injecting some extra odd into this oddball crossover is no simple task. The squat four-door hatchback looks like a mechanical catfish and drives like a compact car on stilts.

Yet it's been a popular alternative to the mainstream econo-box; sales through April of this year are up a whopping 68% over the same period in 2013. And the Juke isn't even new; it was introduced in 2010.

Nismo is the Japanese brand's performance division, responsible for taking a few already-fast vehicles (GT-R, 370Z) and making them even faster.

The base Juke may not seem as if it shares a performance ethos with sports cars. But with a standard turbocharged engine and manual transmission, the Juke has proved itself to be a capable little gadabout, ripe for some go-fast upgrades.

The bulk of the improvements went into aesthetics and handling. But the 1.6-liter, turbocharged, inline four-cylinder engine has been retuned for 9 more horsepower and 7 more pound-feet of torque, for totals of 197 and 184, respectively. Our front-wheel-drive tester came with a six-speed manual transmission.

The combination works well, delivering plenty of punchy power, especially in sport mode. Just be careful not to get too greedy with the throttle or you'll spin the front wheels.

Both the steering and suspension have been tweaked for tighter performance. The steering from the Alcantara-wrapped wheel is nicely communicative. The stiff suspension clings to the road. For a front-wheel-drive crossover, the hotrod Juke has tons of grip.

The seats are phenomenal; you'll be tempted to steal them for office chairs. They're heavily bolstered on the sides and hug you like a needy child. Nissan even covered them in faux suede.

Outside, revised front and rear bumpers give this Juke an aggressive swagger, as do the standard 18-inch alloy wheels and LED daytime lights. A rear spoiler is a nice touch, and red mirror housings provide that extra dash of weird. Colors are limited to white, silver or black.

What's great about the Juke Nismo is Nissan didn't price it out of reach of the younger buyers who will appreciate it most. At $23,980 for the front-wheel-drive version with a manual transmission, the hot-hatch goes for less than a loaded regular Juke. Another $2,300 gets you torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive — a cool option. But resist the temptation, because it comes bundled with Nissan's much-maligned CVT automatic transmission, and nothing is worth that trade-off.

Our tester added a much-appreciated center armrest ($245) and a 5-inch color touchscreen navigation system, a Rockford Fosgate stereo, and a backup camera for another $1,170, bringing the total to $25,195.

Buyers with more cash and less patience can look for the Nismo RS version. That model cranks up the Juke to 215 total horsepower. It starts at a cool $26,930.

Nissan is one of the few automakers that doesn't have a budget performance car, so it's nice to see the brand build one with its most unconventional model. And the Nismo performance package is a surprisingly good fit.

david.undercoffler@latimes.com

Twitter @latimes_driven

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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