First drive: Nissan Juke Nismo

First drive: Nissan Juke Nismo

In Japan, the Nismo moniker is so popular, fans hold an annual festival to celebrate it - but outside of the country, only hardened PlayStation gamers and diehard petrolheads have heard of it. But that's all set to change with the introduction of the first in a line of exciting, sporty models that aim to add some motorsport sparkle to Nissan showrooms.

What is it?

It's Nissan's pint-sized crossover Juke with some added fizz. Using Nissan's historic Nismo motorsport brand, the manufacturer is hoping to capitalise on nearly three decades of track experience by tempting buyers into a range of breathed-on models. The Juke is the first to get the treatment. Why so? Well, the firm wanted its first Nismo model to be a volume player and with 330,000 sales in Europe last year alone, the Juke can certainly offer that.> What's under the bonnet?

Nissan's acclaimed 1.6-litre DIG-T turbocharged power plant - a version of which propelled the Wacky Races-esque DeltaWing car at Le Mans last year. Output has been increased to 197bhp and it produces 250Nm of torque. That's enough to send it to 60mph in 7.8s - not lightening fast, but it's still quick enough to entertain. Engineers have worked on steering feel and suspension and they've done a great job. It's compliant and doesn't crash over bumps - all rather unusual for a hot performance model.

What's the spec like?

Staggeringly good. Standard equipment is impressive for its £19,995 price tag. Satnav, Bluetooth and reversing cameras are all included in the package as well as keyless go, climate control and a number of Nismo niceties. These include fantastically supportive Alcantara-coated seats, a sporty Alcantara steering wheel and unique 18-inch alloy wheels. Nismo branding is subtle and sensibly placed, apart from the red mirrors, which look a bit like teenage acne.

First drive: Nissan Juke Nismo

Any rivals?

That's a tough one. First you need to class the Juke Nismo - is it a hot hatch or a sporty SUV? A bit of both really. The direct competitor would be the Mini Cooper S Countryman, but by the time you've matched spec, the prices are likely to be anything but comparable. On the hot hatch front, a Focus ST is more powerful but again more expensive, while a Renault Clio RS is smaller and soon-to-be replaced. Nissan mentioned the Citroen DS3 Racing too, but does anybody actually buy those?

What's it like to drive?

Entertaining. It won't set your world alight, but it is sure to make a trip to the supermarket a little less of a chore. Those suspension tweaks balance a blend of grip and comfort well; the steering is sharp but can sometimes feel a little woolly on the limit. Really press on - as my far more talented driving partner did - and the Juke begins to spin an inside wheel mid-corner. But it's only really at the limit when the car starts to feel a little too soft. Our only real complaint would be the sound - there's too much engine whine and not enough throaty exhaust note for our liking.

The AOL Cars verdict

The fact Nissan let journalists drive an even more powerful version of the Juke Nismo - coming soon with 218bhp, even sharper set-up and better sound - points to the fact this first attempt is really aimed at the mass market, not the performance enthusiast. The even sportier model, dubbed the RS, felt far more in-tune with what we were expecting from the standard Nismo. However, as a start, it's a good stab at a performance model and with a host of Nismo models in the pipeline, we're sure this won't be the last you'll be hearing from Nissan's answer to AMG and M Sport.

The Knowledge

Price: £19,995
Engine: 1.6-litre, turbo
Power: 197bhp, 250Nm
Max speed: 125mph
0-60mph: 7.8s
MPG: 40.9 (combined)
Emissions: 159g/km

Nissan Juke Nismo
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