Compelling contender

by Lesley Wimbush . Mar 11 2016
credit: Lesley Wimbush2016 Nissan Juke Nismo RS AWD

credit: Lesley Wimbush

2016 Nissan Juke Nismo RS AWD

An enterprising group of U.S. artisans has come up with a way to turn an ocean by-product into a bizarre line of illuminated sculptures. The carcasses of deceased jellyfish (apparently plentiful thanks to their three-month lifespan) are encased within a spherical chunk of epoxy which, thanks to the creature’s natural bioluminescence, emit an unearthly light after dark.

Your first thought may be “why?” But your second will probably be, “I think I want one.”

Simultaneously unusual but rather ludicrous, visually unsettling yet irresistibly compelling, the Jules Verne-style lava lamps are a lot like the Juke Nismo RS. Perhaps there’s some black-light psychedelia in the Nissan design studio as well, since this is the same group who recently unleashed an apocalypse-ready Rogue riding on enormous tank treads. Silly yes, but secretly we’re delighted when manufacturers cut loose with such whimsical foolishness. It’s a brief respite from the relentlessly depressing growth of semi-autonomous, efficient practicality.

As if the original Juke wasn’t ridiculous enough, Nissan’s skunkworks division dialed it up a few notches with a spicier Nismo-trimmed version.

It had the same power output as the regular Juke, but boasted aggressive fascias in contrasting fuchsia trim, stiffer sport suspension, a limited-slip differential and Recaro seats. If you didn’t appreciate the base Juke’s funky charm, chances are the Nismo’s rather over-the-top styling cues wouldn’t interest you at all.

But Juke fans loved its outrageous styling, taut handling and frolicking capability. It wasn’t exactly fast, but the Juke Nismo had a lively character that resonated with the type of driver who loves hot hatches but needs just a bit more room. Those are the buyers who smiled even more when the hotter Juke Nismo RS rolled out; the rest are still scratching their heads.

The Nismo RS is available in two trims: a front-wheel-drive version with 215 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque with a six-speed manual transmission, and the AWD model, such as our tester.

The Nismo RS version builds on the already polarizing, amphibious looks of the base Juke, with aggressive front and diffuser-style rear fascias, 18-inch alloys, rear spoiler, contrasting red trim and exclusive badging. It’s the sort of car that an adult feels conspicuously silly getting into, but it eventually subsides into amusement.

There’s nothing subtle about this Juke’s cabin; the instrumentation boasts all the refinement of a pinball game. Outrageously bolstered racing-style Recaro sport seats are swathed in grippy faux suede, embroidered with contrasting “Nismo RS” logos and finished with bright red trim. They are delightful for spirited driving, but they’re not heated and anyone but the very limber will find it difficult to clamber in and out of them. The same suede covers the headliner and the fat, grippy steering wheel, which also boasts the red centre-finding ring of a genuine sports car.

The centre console interface, or Integrated Control System, is a bit gimmicky, but is in keeping with the Juke’s overall cartoonishness. Select the climate button, and the display relays all the temperature info, with button controls down the side. Hit D-mode and the display switches to dynamic vehicle information, and the buttons transform into three drive modes — Normal, Sport or Eco — down one side, and Eco Levels, Torque and G-Forces down the other. Cute.

That truncated rump reduces useful space; the Juke has the least cargo capacity in its segment. The tiny rear window hinders rearward visibility, which is alleviated somewhat by an even tinier rear camera.

Unlike the front-driven model, the AWD Juke is only available with a continuously variable transmission. Unfortunately, this drivetrain has a lower torque-load handling capability than the six-speed and comes with a power sacrifice. Horsepower is reduced to 211, but more importantly, the torque drops to 184 lb.-ft.

While the Nismo RS thus configured boasts additional sure-footedness over challenging road conditions, it comes at the expense of performance. It felt no faster than the six-speed Nismo, largely because of the drop in torque and the heavier AWD drivetrain. That’s an acceptable sacrifice for the truly excellent torque-vectoring AWD system, but the CVT is a tougher pill to swallow. Even in Sport mode, the moaning, groaning and slow responsiveness really sap a lot of the joy from the driving experience.

While hot-hatch fans are unlikely to embrace this particular Juke, its impressive all-wheel-drive system and unique looks just might interest the buyer looking for something a little more unusual.

— Postmedia Network Inc. 2016

photos by Lesley Wimbush / postmedia network inc.

photos by Lesley Wimbush / postmedia network inc.

credit: Lesley Wimbush2016 Nissan Juke Nismo RS AWD

credit: Lesley Wimbush

2016 Nissan Juke Nismo RS AWD

2016 Nissan Juke Nismo RS AWD credit: Lesley Wimbush

2016 Nissan Juke Nismo RS AWD credit: Lesley Wimbush