First drive: 2014 Nissan Juke NISMO RS

The Juke NISMO RS brings a sporty attitude to Nissan’s funky mini crossover. Even those who question the unusual styling will find the driving dynamics hard to fault.

These days, Nissan performance tends to be defined by four letters: G, T, R, and Z. Yet for buyers whose bank accounts can’t quite snag a sports car, Nissan has slowly been turning its Juke mini-crossover into a totally different type of performance car.

The 2014 Juke NISMO RS is an intriguing car. A glance at the exterior says “crossover, by Dali”, but a glance at the spec sheet says “hot hatchback”. So what we have here is either a solid melding of style and substance, or a car with no purpose whatsoever.

Polarizing exterior

The base Juke’s styling is – to use Nissan’s own words – “polarizing”. That front-end treatment isn’t for everyone, and this little automobile is pretty hard to classify. Is it a shrunken crossover, or a city car in platform shoes? Who knows?

The base Juke’s styling is – to use Nissan’s own words – “polarizing”.

While it doesn’t meet any classic standards of beauty, Nissan deserves credit for trying something new. The Juke is a category-busting car, so why should it look everything else on the road. It’s outrageous and the NISMO aesthetic bits only add to that.

The revised front fascia includes air intakes trimmed with LED running lights, echoing the look of the 2015 370Z NISMO. The NISMO-signature red accent striping runs back along new rocker panels to a rear fascia that sports a (likely fake) diffuser, and a reflector meant to evoke a racecar’s centered brake light. A rear spoiler, red-capped mirrors, and 18-inch alloy wheels complete the look.

Interior straight out of a video game

The exterior’s wackiness carries through to the interior. The standard Juke style highlights are here – including a center console painted to match the bodywork – but they’re buried under a mountain of trinketry that makes the RS look less like a performance car and more like something you’d drive in Mario Kart.

From the shifter boot to the hood that covers the gauges, there’s red stitching galore. It’s paired with some chintzy, fake carbon-fiber trim, but there’s some substance as well.

Most of that substance comes in the form of excellent Recaro sport seats, which are both supportive and comfortable. They’ll keep you from sliding into the door during hard cornering but won’t break your back while you sit in traffic.

Our test car was equipped with the optional Navigation Package and its 5.8-inch touch screen. The real attraction, though, is the smaller screen below it, which can be configured to show a digital boost gauge.

This probably isn’t the kind of thing you should look at while driving … but it’s a pretty cool touch nonetheless.

Performance

Everything about the Juke NISMO RS screams performance, but does the experience from behind the wheel back that up?

Under the hood is a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which makes 211 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque when coupled to a CVT automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Or with the manual gearbox and a front-drive layout, the 1.6 produces 215 hp and 210 lb-ft.

The turbocharged engine is impressively immediate, with virtually no detectable lag.

Delightfully, I got to pilot the hotter, 215-hp version on some Nashville, Tennessee area back roads. As one would expect of a small car with the power of a 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI, it was pretty entertaining.

The turbocharged engine is impressively immediate, with virtually no detectable lag. It revs eagerly and pulls hard, giving the NISMO RS a rambunctious character befitting its crazy looks. A nice four-cylinder snarl emanates from the large single tailpipe, as the Juke gets its groove on.

Even on the damp roads experienced during this drive, traction wasn’t an issue. That’s likely thanks to the limited-slip differential fitted to all manual-transmission NISMO RS models. Its effectiveness could also be felt in the lack of torque steer – often a problem with powerful, front-wheel drive cars.

The Juke’s tall ride height doesn’t seem to be much of a penalty either. It corners fairly flat and feels planted, despite the relatively high center of gravity. Still, one wonders how much better it would be if it were lower to the ground, if the shifter had a more precise action, or if the admittedly precise electric power steering had more feel.

2014 Nissan Juke NISMO RS engine

Overall, the Juke NISMO RS is great to drive, but it lacks the extra level of refinement seen in many modern performance cars. It really feels like a hot rod that’s been developed over time, not something that was made from the start to do what it does.

Just like the styling, the driving dynamics are best suited to people that don’t take themselves too seriously.

A new kind of hot hatchback?

While it may seem hard to make sense of the 2014 Nissan Juke NISMO RS, it’s exactly what it looks like: a hot-hatchback powertrain in an unexpected package.

In fact, that powertrain is so good that it’s too bad the current Sentra is so terminally boring, otherwise Nissan could drop it in, and revive the cult-classic SE-R model.

That would be fairly predictable, though, and unpredictably may be the Juke’s greatest asset. There are plenty of competent compact performance cars on the market right now, but none of them looks like this.

This isn’t the ideal platform for a performance vehicle, but it doesn’t ruin the fun of driving this car … or looking at it. It’s the perfect ride for a speed freak with a sense of humor.

Highs

  • Funky styling
  • Great Powertrain
  • Sure-footed chassis
  • Meaningful interior upgrades

Lows

  • Not everyone will like the styling
  • Could be more refined
  • Practicality is secondary to style
Product Review

The all-new 3 Series proves BMW can still build a compelling sport sedan

Seat time in the entry-level BMW 330i ($41,425) and M340i xDrive ($54,995) will test the German automaker’s commitment to driving dynamics, powertrain refinement, and cutting edge technology.
Product Review

Inside Maserati's Levante SUV beats the heart of a Ferrari

Maserati’s luxury SUV gets a shot in the arm by way of Ferrari-derived V8 power, but is it enough to go toe-to-toe with the established players in the high performance sport-utility segment? Let’s find out.
Cars

2020 Toyota Supra caught hiding in a trailer without a shred of camouflage

Toyota's plan to once again lure enthusiasts into showrooms involves bringing back the Supra, one of its most emblematic nameplates. Here's what we know so far about the upcoming coupe, which Toyota is developing jointly with BMW.
Product Review

The 2019 Porsche Macan S is a luxurious and quick SUV, but it's no road tripper

The roster of models challenging the Porsche Macan grows annually. The German firm updated its smallest, most affordable SUV with a new engine, more tech features, and subtle design tweaks to keep it looking fresh.
Cars

NYC mandates minimum wage for Uber, Lyft, other app-based rideshare drivers

New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission approved a rule that drivers for companies such as Uber and Lyft must be paid at least minimum wage, even though they are independent contractors. The new pay rate includes operating costs.
Cars

LM Industries’ autonomous shuttles head to Phoenix, Sacramento campuses

LM Industries will deploy Olli low-speed autonomous shuttles at school campuses in Arizona and California as part of its ongoing "fleet challenge," which asks local groups to propose uses for autonomous vehicles.
Cars

Driving a prototype 2020 Passat at Volkswagen’s Arizona Proving Ground

Volkswagen’s Arizona Proving Ground is where new cars are tested to the breaking point, including the 2020 Passat midsize sedan. Ride along as the new Passat completes testing ahead of its 2019 launch.
Cars

Bosch’s CES-bound shuttle concept takes us on a trip to a not-too-distant future

Bosch envisions a future in which driverless shuttles occupy their own market segment. The German firm won't build the shuttles, but it wants to provide everything else, ranging from the drive system to the apps used to hail them.
Emerging Tech

A lidar-equipped truck knows exactly how much de-icer to apply on roads

Lidar is best known as the laser-based technology that helps self-driving cars sense their surroundings. But the city of Knoxville has another, more seasonal use for it: De-icing roads.
Product Review

Boring takes a back seat as 2019 Corolla Hatchback mixes fun with practicality

We drive the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback, the latest hatchback to bear the Corolla name. As the best-selling nameplate in automotive history, Toyota has high expectations to meet. This model mostly lives up to the legacy.
Cars

Hertz speeds up car rentals with biometric scan technology

Biometric security technology that uses face, fingerprint, and voice recognition is gaining traction, with Hertz emerging as the latest company to incorporate it into its daily operations.
Mobile

McLaren puts the pedal to the metal in special-edition OnePlus 6T

The OnePlus 6T is yet another flagship killer smartphone, bringing powerful specifications to a much lower price than the competition. Now, OnePlus has teamed up with McLaren for the OnePlus 6T McLaren Edition.
Cars

Aston Martin’s 1,000-hp Valkyrie will boast the Mona Lisa of the engine world

Aston Martin has released new details about its F1-inspired Valkyrie hypercar. Co-developed with Red Bull Racing, the Valkyrie will be one of the most aerodynamic production cars ever made.
Cars

The redesigned 2020 Passat shows Volkswagen still believes in sedans

The sedan segment in America is shrinking, but Volkswagen still believes in it. The German firm has released a teaser sketch to preview the redesigned 2020 Passat it will introduce during the 2019 Detroit Auto Show.