2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS review:

Nismo makes second most powerful Nissan Juke

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Starting at $19,170
  • Engine 4 Cylinder Engine, Turbocharged
  • Drivetrain Front Wheel Drive
  • MPG 29 MPG
  • Passenger Capacity 5
  • Body Type Wagons

Roadshow Editors' Rating

6.9 Overall
  • Performance 8
  • Features 5
  • Design 8
  • Media & Connectivity 6

The Good With an enhanced exhaust system and programming, the 2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS makes 215 horsepower from its 1.6-liter engine, while handling improves from a sport steering program and tuned suspension. Nissan Connect brings online search to the navigation system.

The Bad The head unit buries Nissan Connect apps under too many menus, and it takes far too many steps to search for a business and set it as the destination. The standard Recaro sport seats make cabin access difficult.

The Bottom Line The 2015 Nissan Juke Nismo RS confers bragging rights for its 215 horsepower engine, but the lesser trim Juke Nismo looks like a better value for those wanting a funky compact SUV with excellent handling.

The Nissan Juke's funky design made it a polarizing car, to say the least, at its introduction in 2010. However, since then the car received a Nismo version and a custom Juke-R version, suggesting that more than a few people find something very special about the Juke. In fact, the Juke is one of only three current Nissan models to get a factory Nismo treatment, the automakers' own stamp of tuner approval.

Affirming the car's unique appeal, we now have the 2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS. Those last two letters signify that the Nissan Motorsports division (NISMO) took another crack at improving the Juke's performance.

The 2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS comes out as the highest-priced trim level, not counting the custom-built Juke-R, with a base price of $26,120 in the US. In the UK, this unique hot hatch can be had for a base price of £23,750. At this time, Nissan is not selling the Nismo RS version of the Juke in Australia, although the top trim model down under, the Ti-S, goes for AU$35,911.

Retaining the design quirks of the base Juke, the Nismo RS version includes a variety of front lamps worthy of an electric light history museum. Halogen headlamps sit behind round lenses and incandescent turn signals live under lenses mounted on top of the fenders. At the same time, two lines of white LEDs work as daytime running lights at bumper level. Add fluorescents and carbon-arc lamps to run the gamut of 20th century lighting.

The Juke, designed as a four-door hatchback, is similar to many compact cars, yet its high-riding position and lifted body set it as a compact SUV. Rear door handles hide in the C-pillars and Nissan cites cargo capacity of 10.5 cubic feet, or 35.9 cubic feet with the rear seats down. Nissan also claims 20.3-degree angle of approach, 25-degree angle of departure, 21.3-degree breakover, and 7 inches of ground clearance for the Nismo RS in front-wheel-drive format.

Cognizant of some rabid Juke fandom, Nissan comes out with the powerful Nismo RS trim level. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

An easy choice

As with the other Juke versions, the Nismo RS is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. However, the front-wheel-drive version comes with the desirable six-speed manual transmission, while the all-wheel-drive version sticks you with Nissan's continuously variable transmission. That choice can be a difficult one with other trim levels of the Juke, especially as the all-wheel-drive system has some cool torque vectoring technology.

However, the choice with the Juke Nismo RS isn't all that difficult. For the front-wheel-drive version, the direct-injection, turbocharged 1.6-liter engine produces 215 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque, very impressive numbers for such a small engine. Meanwhile, the all-wheel-drive Juke Nismo RS only does 211 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. The big power bump is the whole point of the Juke Nismo RS, and you only get that with the front-wheel-drive version.

2014 Nissan Juke NISMO RS
Although only 1.6 liters, direct injection, a turbo, and a performance exhaust system help get this engine up to 215 horsepower. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

By contrast, the Juke Nismo's engine cranks out 197 horsepower and the base Juke does 188 horsepower. All these Jukes use the same engine, but Nissan gave the Nismo RS an enhanced exhaust system and reprogrammed engine management to get the big power bump.

I certainly felt that increased power when I revved the engine and dropped the clutch. It may not be the same kind of horsepower monster as the Dodge Challenger Hellcat , but the Juke Nismo RS feels like it has much more go than a car of this type should, especially right off the dealer lot. Putting it in Sport with the D-mode selector, sharpening the throttle and steering response, the Juke Nismo RS accelerated with authority and left black streaks of rubber on the road.

Turbo lag would be the common term for the extra rush of acceleration that happens right around 3,500 rpm, but the 1.6-liter engine pulls so well before the turbo kicks in that the word "lag" seems unfair. And yes, that means acceleration isn't particularly even, but this is a manual-transmission car -- smooth acceleration isn't generally on the menu.

Affirming its sport capabilities, I drove the Juke Nismo RS down every twisty road I could find and it gave me a tire-squealing good time. The responsive sport program on the steering led to quick turn-in while the manual transmission snicked neatly into each gear. The clutch pedal was light, making for quick gear changes, and the grip was good enough that I was quickly overrunning second gear on even tight turns. Part of the Juke Nismo RS formula is a limited slip differential on the front axle, which made a big difference as I shot out of the turns.

2014 Nissan Juke NISMO RS
Improved aerodynamics and tuned damper rates enhance the Juke Nismo RS' handling. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The rear suspension, a simple torsion bar system with sway bars, is not all that impressive. The all-wheel-drive version actually gets a multilink suspension, which would handle camber changes better. In fact, the Juke Nismo RS's specially tuned suspension could not entirely make up for the car's height. Where a Volkswagen Golf GTI or a Ford Focus ST exhibit mostly flat handling, I found the Juke Nismo RS a little gawky at the limits of handling.

Nissan tuned the damping to enhance handling, which results in a slightly stiffer ride. Generally, the car rode fine, but on one stretch of washboard bumps the seat back banged my head repeatedly. I found the bigger assault on general comfort to be the Recaro seats, included as standard in the Juke Nismo RS. Less padding than the standard Juke seats means less comfort for the long haul, while prominent bolsters on the seat bottoms and sides made getting in and out a continual challenge.

Unique D-mode

As in the base Juke, the Nismo RS comes with the D-mode selector, appearing on a panel at the bottom of the stack that magically changes from a climate control display at the push of a button. D-mode let me choose between the aforementioned Sport, Normal and Eco settings. What I like about the D-mode feature is that these settings not only adjust throttle response, as they do in most cars, but also change the air conditioning output and steering response.

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