Take a top-of-the-range former Continental Irish Car of the Year, the Nissan Juke, and modify its suspension, engine, steering and overall handling and you get the Juke Nismo.

The exterior features big, 18-inch lightweight alloys, a lowered ride height, subtle aerodynamic tweaks and stunning paintwork that certainly turns heads. Three colours are available - metallic white, black and silver - and all feature red side mirrors. Inside, there is some Alcantara trim and, of course, hip-hugging front seats. Basically, Nissan says Nismos should feel extra special.

Nismo originally was formed way back in 1966, when a bunch of maverick Nissan engineers decided to have some fun, placing big engines into everyday Nissans and tuning them up. Later in 1984, Nismo was officially blessed and is now a famous name for not only the PlayStation generation, but also petrol heads the world over. European brands have M (BMW), RS (Ford/Audi) and AMG (Mercedes) to breathe fire onto their ranges, but up until now Japanese carmakers have been relatively quiet about their talents. 2013 sees Nissan officially launch Nismo in Europe.

Juke Nismo is available in front-wheel drive (€29,675) and four-wheel drive (€33,375) and it has the MINI Cooper S in its sights. The 1.6-litre, turbocharged petrol engine pushes out a healthy 200bhp. While the car doesn't feel blisteringly quick, Juke Nismo's handling means you can use a lot of the power a lot of the time. You can throw it into a corner with the same conviction you would a Cooper S and be confident it will get you out the far side without fuss.

As a crossover, it is compromised by its relatively high ride height. For out and out handling performance you need as low a centre of gravity as you can get. The Juke chassis, being a crossover, just doesn't oblige.

On twisty mountain roads outside Barcelona we took the little Nismo for a very entertaining spin. The ride is tight and firm, but in a beautifully tuned way. You can finesse the Juke Nismo's Alcantara-covered racing steering wheel to get the five-seat car to tackle any bend you put in front of it.

The only thing lacking in the Juke Nismo is a soundtrack! There is little or no induction roar and hardly an exhaust note to be heard. Sporty cars need to roar a bit and while Europe's noise regulations are partly to blame, the Juke Nismo needs to give the driver more aural feedback.

At the 'Nissan Live' test track in Northern Spain we got to take some higher performance Juke Nismos for a brief spin. These prototypes (pictured in black) had more power (220bhp+), a meaty exhaust note and more sporty suspension. They clearly signalled a more potent production Juke Nismo coming on stream in the near future. Later, we got a good preview peek at the next Nismo, the 370Z Nismo, and boy does it look the part.

Nissan Juke Nismo is a great little car that will put a big smile on your face.

Michael Sheridan