It's a pug's life |
Story and Photos by Andrew Ling
I hate pugs. There, I said it out loud and in public. While I am generally a dog lover, I find their smushed up faces and bulging eyes repugnant (pun intended). However, many people find pugs so ugly to the point that they’re cute. And apparently more than 300 years after they were popularised, the pug has entered the nation’s top ten best-loved dogs. They’re even owned by celebrities such as Mickey Rourke and Kelly Osbourne.
Much of this could describe my feelings forwards the regular Juke as well. With its huge round headlamps, drawn back front turn signals, the look is arguably quite polarizing. But in NISMO RS trim, the go-fast looking bits on the interior and exterior have transformed my perception of the vehicle. Visually, the NISMO RS trim line adds a full body kit, tailgate spoiler, 18-inch gloss black alloy wheels, and LED daytime running lights. Red wing mirror caps and brake callipers compliment the lower body red pinstripe. They all combine to signal to others that this is no regular Juke.
With its in-between sizing and high greenhouse, the Juke is a bit of a perplexing vehicle to pigeonhole. In NISMO RS trim, this is even more confounding. The Nissan Z-car boomerang tail lamps, lowered suspension, and short overhangs seem to indicate a hot hatch. But the massive rally-style headlamps – similar to that of the Ford RS200 world rally championship car – and taller body dimensions seem to indicate otherwise.
Is it a hot hatch or a sporty crossover? Or is it all of the above? Perhaps it’s no surprise that the Juke is even in existent given that Nissan is owned by the French automaker Renault. The French, after all, do seem to have a penchant for breaking the moulds when it comes to design.
This curiously appealing bit of kit hasn’t stopped Nissan from boosting the standard Juke’s 1.6L turbo-charged 4-cylinder engine to a muscular 215 hp and 210 lb-fts of torque when in RS trim. But this is more than just courtesy of fettled ECU settings. More durable connecting rods were added to the mill, and a better breathing exhaust system has also been fitted. The six-speed manual, exclusive to the NISMO RS, has also been revised with lower gear ratios from first to third.
Since the manual transmission NISMO RS is only available in front wheel drive, NISMO’s engineers have also added a Helical Limited Slip differential to try to tame the increase in power and torque steer. However, I found that the car still required mindfulness when goosing the throttle pedal, especially while cornering or on rougher bits of tarmac.
All of this is worth the effort though, as the Juke NISMO RS is bloody fun to drive. The ride is firm but not too harsh, and body lean is controlled. Despite the compact SUV-like upright seating position and the tallish greenhouse, the lowered ride height and other suspension tuning changes increase handling to a level that is easy to get addicted to. The 215 horsepower engine is also paired with a delightful sounding NISMO exhaust, and a proportional swing upwards of the tachometer needle in front of its red face is also rewarded by an equally sonorous moan from the exhaust.
But let’s talk a bit more about the practicality; how the Juke NISMO RS is to live with. Despite having more power, this NISMO RS is optimistically rated at 8.2L/100 kms in the city, and 6.4L/100 kms on the highway. With turbocharged engines notorious for widely differing real world fuel consumption figures, whether or not you come close to those lab figures will be highly dependant on how much you dip into that 16 psi of turbo boost (the non-NISMO Juke only has 12 psi of boost). I averaged about 10.5L/100 kms in mostly city driving.
The NISMO-specific theme carries on inside with grippy alcantara/leather trimmed Recaro sports seats and steering wheel, metallized pedals, and a slightly fake-looking carbon-fibre dashboard trim. The Recaros are one of the highlight of the car for me. But with aggressive thigh and side bolsters, they’re only fit for those who have not been indulging in KFC’s Toonie Tuesdays.
My test vehicle had the upgraded Rockford Fosgate audio system, as well as the obligatory touch screen satellite navigation infotainment system. While it’s not the most fancy system out there with its basic graphics and lower screen resolution, it’s delightfully responsive, easy-to-use, and also displays the rearview camera’s video feed. Bluetooth connectivity, voice recognition, SiriusXM satellite radio, and a USB interface are also included.
I was a big fan of the Juke’s unique I-CON (Integrated Control) system, which serves as the central command centre for both the selectable drive modes and the Climate controls. In Climate mode, the display shows the interior temperature with soft buttons allowing for air flow preferences. In “D-Mode”, the very same buttons and knobs change functionality to serve up the three driving modes. The display now shows the engine and drive-related dials and information. Très Cool!
Despite the Juke’s compact exterior dimensions, the hatchback configuration offers a surprising amount of space for 4 adults. The fold-down 60/40 split bench seat and flat cargo room floor provide for decent passenger and cargo hauling flexibility but the sloped tailgate does limit cargo height. Total cargo volume is rated at 10.5 cu-ft with the rear seats up and 35.9 cu-ft with the seats folded down.
While the roads are full of hot hatches these days from the Volkswagen GTI to the Ford Fiesta ST, none are quite as eccentrically styled as the Juke. This is a vehicle that celebrates its weirdness, its quirkiness, and will find a home in the garage of someone that is looking to break from tradition without breaking the bank while still having fun. Whatever you think the Juke NISMO RS is, be it a hot hatch or maybe a hot crossover, it’s a peppy little rig that is sure to put a smile on the right owner’s face, just like a his or her pug will.