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£20,265 when new
Many may wonder why the Nissan Juke was the recipient of the hot-hatch treatment. But then you remember this is a company that doesn’t bother with traditional shapes any more, going instead with bits of SUV crossed with bits of supermini or bits of hatchback and so forth. So although the Juke may be a fusion of fashion and five-door functionality, it’s also the most suitably sized - and priced - car in the range for a spot of extra speed. And so it was decided: one quick and relatively affordable Juke, coming right up. All they needed next was someone to sort the speed… That’s where Nismo - short for Nissan Motorsport - comes in. Its engineers have been jazzing up Nissans since the Sixties, sprinkling magic on various Skylines and racing cars from the circuits of Japan to the straights of Le Mans. In Tokyo, their creations are treated with cult reverence, but elsewhere you’re more likely to have driven one with your thumbs in video games than with your limbs in real life. Until now. The Juke Nismo is very much a car for Britain… and Europe… and America. In fact, it was co-developed by Nismo’s team in the UK, and it’ll be made alongside the normal Juke at the factory in Sunderland. It’s just the first in a string of performance cars that’ll wear Nismo stripes. The idea is to take existing models and heat them by a few degrees, much like Ford does with the Fiesta ST or VW does with the Golf GTI. This isn’t just a stripes-and-stickers quickie, either. The bodykit isn’t just there to look mean: the aero is functional, so it reduces lift and adds downforce, even if marginally. The wing mirrors are red, the 18-inch alloys are black - with slightly wider tyres than usual - and the steering wheel is trimmed in Alcantara, as are the more shapely seats (which feel great). Other Nismoisms go like this: red starter button, red-on-black dials, red-on-black stitching and a red line atop the steering wheel to help you sort your apex angles. The springs and dampers are 10 per cent stiffer all round, and the anti-roll bars are a few smidgens tauter. And it makes 197bhp from its 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine versus 187bhp in the non-Nismo petrol version. Although none of this completely transforms the Juke, it’s enough to make it feel more like a hottish hatch than a modish crossover: not too much roll, just enough power to grab your attention, and a cheeky measure of torque-steer without feeling squirmy. And the exhaust, though not exactly rude, certainly sounds more resonant - especially with the windows down. It’s a playful little thing, this Juke, and although you won’t be monstering lap times, it’ll put you in the mood for a lively drive to work. It’s not perfect. The brakes could use a touch more bite. The engine could have a more growly induction noise, to separate it from the more humdrum version in a normal Juke. The wheel doesn’t adjust for reach, and, although the electric steering has been given a few ounces more weight, it could feel even meatier, especially in the thick of a corner. But here’s the thing: we also drove a prototype of a far more exciting version, likely to form an RS-type model further up the range. We were left to guess most details, but it felt instantly harder and more aggressive, with somewhere in the ballpark of 240bhp. So maybe they’re keeping a little bit up their sleeve for that.