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2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS review: Nismo makes second most powerful Nissan Juke

The Juke Nismo RS boasts 215 horsepower from its little 1.6-liter engine, making it the most powerful current production Juke. However, it falls behind the custom Juke-R.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
8 min read

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.


2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

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.

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.

Nissan Juke Nismo RS boasts big power for tiny SUV (pictures)

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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.

2014 Nissan Juke NISMO RS
The D-mode screen shows a g-force meter, not something you are going to monitor when hanging it out in the turns. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The Eco setting saves fuel by reducing power to the air conditioning and detuning the throttle. For most of my nonsport driving in the Juke Nismo RS, I chose the Eco setting, which was fine for the city and freeways. There isn't much action for the first half of gas pedal travel, but it's enough to get off the line and keep ahead of traffic. The climate control setting felt fine, but in areas with temperatures above 100 degrees you would probably want to use the car's Normal setting, which runs air conditioning at higher power.

For fuel economy, the Juke Nismo RS scores 25 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, the same as the standard front-wheel-drive Juke. The all-wheel-drive model sacrifices 1 mpg on the highway. In my driving course, where I used Eco, Normal and Sport settings and spent time slogging through city traffic, barreling down the freeway and winding up the revs on twisty roads, I came in at just over 25 mpg. I would expect most drivers would average in the high 20s for a normal week's worth of driving.

The Juke Nismo RS comes pretty well equipped at its base price, but like the other Juke models, Nissan makes the navigation package optional. The example I tested came with this navigation head unit, showing a small, 5.8-inch touchscreen with hard buttons on either side of the bezel. Along with navigation, stereo and hands-free phone system, this head unit also integrates Nissan Connect, which integrates with smartphones to provide some app content.

The navigation system runs off an SD card, and I found that, despite the small screen size, it worked well. I could enter destinations through voice command or the touchscreen, and the system was able to search for chain restaurants and other large-brand places by name. Guidance included lane recommendations and traffic avoidance. This system proactively called out traffic situations on the road ahead even without a destination programmed, a feature I really like.

2014 Nissan Juke NISMO RS
Nissan Connect not only allows online searching, but lets you send destinations from PC to car. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Nissan Connect gives this navigation system Google destination search, rapidly becoming a must-have feature in cars. Once I had the Nissan Connect app loaded on my phone and connected to the car, I could access the search feature under a My Apps menu. Entering in a search term, Nissan Connect takes a few seconds to receive the results, then lists them on the screen. I could also use voice to enter my search term. My main complaint with this feature is that the interface buries it deep under a series of menus, and actually getting a result and setting it as the destination takes far too many steps.

For audio, the system includes typical sources, such as a USB port for drives and iOS devices, Bluetooth streaming and satellite radio. Nissan retains a CD player, as well. The interface let me browse music libraries for sources connected to the USB port, but not so for Bluetooth streaming. Nissan Connect comes into play for audio, as well, integrating the iHeartRadio app. Once again, the app is buried under a few menus rather than shown next to the other audio sources.

While the $1,200 option price might seem a lot for a navigation head unit, the package includes a Rockford Fosgate sound system. With six speakers in the cabin and a subwoofer in the cargo area, I was pleased with the sound from this system. It exhibited the heavy bass typical of Rockford Fosgate systems, but also showed good fidelity in the higher frequencies. At high volume, the system tended to rattle the Juke Nismo RS' panels a bit, not too surprising considering the wealth of plastic around the cabin.

Power-to-value ratio

The point of the 2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS seems to be bragging rights for having the most powerful production Juke around. I think tuning this much power from the 1.6-liter is a neat trick, but ultimately I would favor the Juke Nismo, without the additional letters. The Nismo may not be as powerful, but it is also $3,000 less and lacks the uncomfortable Recaro seats. And while the Juke Nismo RS is loads of fun on a twisty road, I wouldn't consider it a serious autocross competitor. For a cone course I would use something a little lower to the ground.

All that said, I remain a fan of the Juke in all its forms. The car handles surprisingly well for a compact SUV and includes practical interior space. The engine, whether the base 188 horsepower or tuned up to 215, is among the most advanced in the Nissan lineup. Along with power, it wrings in decent fuel economy.

I like that Nissan upgraded the head unit over previous model years with its new Nissan Connect system, as it brings in a nice set of modern features. I would like to see the connected apps integrated better with other features in the system. The touchscreen is definitely on the small side, but the Juke's overall price range is not high.

One final thing to note, Nissan is updating the Juke for the 2015 model year. It will retain the current driveline options, but the styling gets a minor update. At this point, Nissan has not confirmed a Nismo or Nismo RS version of the 2015 model yet.

Tech specs
Model 2014 Nissan Juke
Powertrain Direct injection turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, six-speed manual transmission
EPA fuel economy 25 mpg city/31 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 25.6 mpg mpg
Navigation Optional, with live traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Internet-based streaming, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio
Audio system Rockford Fosgate seven-speaker system
Driver aids Rear view camera
Base price $26,120
Price as tested $28,345

2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

Score Breakdown

Performance 8Features 5Design 8Media 6