With the Nissan Juke freshly updated for 2015 and an announcement regarding the local launch of Nismo imminent, this year's Le Mans 24 Hours presented the perfect time to sample the latest combination of the two, the Nissan Juke Nismo RS.
First unveiled at the 2014 Geneva motor show, the 2015 Nissan Juke Nismo RS basically sits between the standard Juke and the mental Juke-R – a car with its engine and running gear pinched from the Nissan GT-R.
Based on the recently facelifted Juke, the 2015 Nissan Juke Nismo RS is a step up on the mostly aesthetic Nismo (non-RS) variant.
As in its debut guise – first seen at the 2013 Los Angeles auto show – the new-look Nismo RS sources its motivation from a lightly fettled version the standard car’s turbocharged 1.6-litre direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine.
Opt for a six-speed manual transmission and instead of 140kW and 240Nm, you get 160kW and 280Nm to play with.
Three-pedal variants also gain a helical-geared limited-slip front differential,reinforced clutch, strengthened clutch cover, dual-mass flywheel and a unique gear set with a shorter final drive ratio for improved acceleration.
Tick the box for a self-shifting continuously variable transmission (CVT) and you get paddle shifters and all-wheel drive with torque vectoring but a more restrained 157kW and 250Nm.
Regardless of transmission, both setups benefit from a retuned engine control unit (ECU); revised exhaust system and fuel injectors; uprated connecting rods; increased compression ratio; reshaped pistons; reduced turbocharger inertia; variable pressure oil pump; and spray-coated and mirror-finished cylinder bores.
Either will deliver peak power at 6000rpm, though, the manual sees torque peak between 3600-4800rpm, the CVT between 2400–6000rpm.
Following some sneaky on-track snaps at Circuit de le Sarthe’s famous Mulsanne chicanes and Porsche curves, we head around 200km north-east from Le Mans to just outside Paris.
Looking extra subtle in a heavily branded wrap designed to make the little Juke look like Nissan’s latest Le Mans racer, the Nismo RS sits slightly lower than the standard car and features an aggressive body kit, wider guards and a tailgate spoiler.
Smoked headlights and tail-lights, LED daytime running lights and a larger diameter 3.9-inch chrome exhaust tip are also there, along with 10-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels mounted atop upgraded brakes with red calipers.
Hidden by the wrap are additional differentiators including a dark chrome grille, gloss black B-pillars, red door mirror caps, red pinstripes and unique ‘RS’ badging.
Under the skin things get more interesting with a strengthened body structure joined by revised spring and damper rates, specially tuned KYB twin-tube shock absorbers, a reinforced front suspension link and front and rear stabiliser bars.
Inside, the Nismo touches aren’t half as understated as our test cars’ special Le Mans wrap. You get Nismo-branded Recaro sports bucket seats, a red-stitched leather and Alcantara steering wheel with centre-top red stripe, a red-stitched leather gear knob, aluminium pedals, and Nismo-stamped aluminium kickplates.
The standard Juke’s hard and scratchy plastic dash and door tops remain, as does the same low-rent rubberised handbrake lever and gloss black air vent surrounds. But while quality levels seem similar, cabin feel and ambience is markedly lifted.
Helping the cause are highlights such as a suede-covered red-stitched instrument binnacle, suede door inserts, dark grey plastic door trims, a dark grey plastic transmission tunnel and faux-carbon trim used around the centre stack and gear-lever base. Dark grey climate control dials are also a nice touch along with a red-ringed engine start-stop button.
Further Nismo RS differentiators, including a ‘Nismo’ badge fore of the shifter, a red-faced ‘Nismo’-stamped tachometer and an ‘RS’-stamped speedo, are nice splashes that tart up the wee Juke in a sporty way while also adding to the package and driving experience.
With Tertre Rouge behind us, we ignore the route displayed on the basic and ageing 5.8-inch satellite navigation/infotainment unit for a little longer and head down the iconic Mulsanne straight.
The red and black Recaro bucket seats are heavily bolstered and largely comfortable - not too narrow, and they can be set quite low towards the floor. More time behind the wheel does accentuate a lack of lumbar support, though.
Cabin space remains much like the standard car – as you might expect – with overall space, storage and comfort being sound up front and ample in the rear.
Head and legroom are good and new rear seat upholstery with more red stitching looks and feels nice. Rear passengers’ view out the windscreen, however, is now mildly impeded by the Recaro bucket seats.
Matching the recently driven Nissan Juke ST, the Juke Nismo RS’s speed-sensitive power steering and brakes (in the manual) are both strong suites.
The six-speed gearbox is a little notchy, though, and while the brakes on the manual’s feel positive and progressive, our CVT-equipped test car felt relatively slack and unresponsive in comparison.
In manual trim the turbocharged engine has reasonable gusto with good low-end torque and is happy enough revving towards it’s near-7000rpm maximum. There is legitimate pull available, but weighing 1315kg it’s still far from fast.
Whatever excitement or thrills the lighter manual Juke Nismo RS may have, the heavier (1446kg) CVT all but extinguishes due to being noticeably less punchy and engaging from the driver's seat.
Accompanied by a trademark whine under enthusiastic throttle, the CVT makes the experience somewhat uninspiring, with 'changes', while smooth and unobtrusive, often slurring together. That said, most Nismo RS sales are expected to be the CVT and owners of these cars will like its unassuming ratio ‘shifts’ and paired race car-style paddle shifters.
Flicks between Normal, Sport and Eco modes via Nissan’s dynamic control system were noticeable in our CVT car, with Sport resulting in the gearbox reacting slightly quicker to inputs and being keener to hold revs. The same can’t be said of the manual, though, where any variances are largely negated by driver behaviour.
Suspension will be the biggest question once the car is confirmed and launched locally.
Definitely more firmly sprung than the standard version of the Japanese brand's sub-compact SUV, other than not loving haggard roads and hating speed humps, it proved liveable and compliant enough over the majority of surfaces encountered on our short drive. Clearly though, the package is still a compromise between comfort and performance.
Mirroring our own Juke models, road and tyre noise in the Nismo RS is present, with possibly more tyre roar being transferred into the cabin thanks to the model’s racier suspension setup and lower 45-profile Bridgestone Potenzas.
The Nissan Juke Nismo RS is most definitely several steps up on its base car, but at the same time is missing some character. Perhaps – particularly compared with its rather spicy 370Z and GT-R Nismo brethren – it’s not quite ‘Nismo’ enough.
Like all Nismo models at the moment, the Nissan Juke Nismo RS is not yet confirmed for Australia but it will most likely be the entry-point into a Nismo trio also comprising the 370Z and GT-R Nismos – in Western Europe, where Nissan sells approximately 100,000 Jukes annually, around three per cent are Juke Nismo RS models.
Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Richard Emery told us just before our drive that Aussies could have had Nismo earlier but the local division didn’t want to launch the performance arm with “just stickers and spoilers”.
“These models are ‘warmed’ by Nismo (as opposed to being genuinely hot),” Emery said of the two Jukes sampled.
Far more than just ‘stickers and spoilers’, the Nissan Juke Nismo RS certainly has some pulling power on the road, but the question will be if it has pulling power with local buyers.
Pricing here will be crucial to its success, and, based on US prices, $37K could be in the ballpark locally – though Nissan Australia says it’s still too early even for indicative pricing.
Sound expensive for a Juke? Consider this. Currently, if you're after a sporty five-door compact SUV that aims to combine style with performance, the turbocharged 1.6-litre Mini Countryman S (with less power and less torque) starts at $42,550. And to match the outputs of the Juke Nismo RS you’d have to drop at least $56,900 on a flagship Countryman John Cooper Works. Perhaps some food for thought for now at least…
Click on the Photos tab for more 2015 Nissan Juke Nismo RS images by David Zalstein.
Note: Image of Nissan GT-R Nismo, 370Z Nismo and Juke Nismo RS together provided by Nissan.