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Nissan gives Juke the performance treatment

At the Chicago Auto Show, Nissan unveiled the Juke Nismo, a performance version of its little SUV.

Nissan Juke NISMO
CHICAGO (Feb. 7, 2013) - The new JUKE NISMO, with its track-derived design, enhanced performance and engaging handling, gives JUKE buyers a distinct choice among the affordable S, well-equipped SV and premium SL grades of the popular crossover. Two configurations - front-wheel drive with a 6-speed manual transmission and all-wheel drive with sport-tuned Xtronic CVT® - are available.

Oft-criticized for its appearance, something about the Nissan Juke appealed to gearheads, enough so that the company created the Juke-R, a high-performance, and costly, version of the compact SUV using the GT-R's engine. For those of us lacking the funds for one of those custom-built rocket sleds, Nissan comes out with the Juke Nismo.

The Juke Nismo was first shown as a concept at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show.

Nismo is Nissan's sport brand, which in the retail market covers performance parts and a version of the 370Z. The introduction of the Juke Nismo should be the first sortie in Nissan's efforts to expand its performance brand.

Nissan Juke NISMO
Red accents abound in the Juke Nismo. Nissan

As applied to the Juke, Nismo means revised aerodynamic features, a stiffer and lower suspension, 18-inch wheels, tightened steering tuning, and higher output from the engine.

Nissan changed the front fascia of the car to admit more air to the engine, and replaced the round foglights with LED accent strips. A larger rear spoiler and other aerodynamic changes give the Juke Nixmo 37 percent more downforce, according to Nissan.

The Juke comes standard with a turbocharged direct injection 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, which does not change with the Nismo version. However, that engine gets a horsepower boost, from 188 to 197, while torque goes up to 184 pound-feet.

Nissan applies the Nismo treatment to both the front-wheel-drive Juke with manual transmission, and the all-wheel-drive version, which only comes with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Nissan says it applied Nismo sport programming to the CVT.

Nissan says it also upgraded the all-wheel-drive system available on the Juke to a Nismo-tuned system that incorporates torque vectoring. That all-wheel-drive system will come standard on every Juke with all-wheel drive, not just the Nismo version.

The Juke Nismo will retain the D-Mode controls, which let the driver change steering and accelerator response between sport, standard, and eco settings at the turn of a dial.

Cosmetic changes include red accents around the car. It gets red side mirror caps, which look odd on the white car pictured above. However, odd has been a signature feature of the Juke's styling. Silver and black will be the only other two body colors available, and those will come with the red mirror caps as well. A red mark on the steering wheel sits at the top when the wheels are straight, a useful note when driving hard. And the tachometer gets a red face.

The Nissan Juke Nismo will be on display at the Chicago Auto Show from February 9 to 18. Nissan has not announced pricing or availability yet.