By on October 8, 2019

What’s going on with the NISMO division these days? Though still a reputable supplier of Nissan performance parts, the in-house tuning division’s consumer vehicles leave a lot to be desired. While NISMO managed to elevate the Juke, especially in RS form, as well as the GT-R, most offerings have focused on providing models with a more sporting appearance — potentially with an upgraded suspension and some grabbier tires.

The Sentra is a prime example. In NISMO trim, it rides a bit lower, is more rigid, and comes with its own tires and wheels, but that’s the full extent of the performance upgrades on offer from Nissan. Everything else is cosmetic — a shame considering it could really use more than 188 hp. The NISMO 350Z did better by incorporating shockingly aggressive aerodynamic upgrades and a hardcore suspension but, once again, added no power.

This emphasis on style and handling has forced the performance arm to partially retreat from the U.S. market, leaving the focus on parts supply. But new consumer models still crop up in other areas of the world, with the Nissan Versa Note Nismo S Black Edition being the latest. 

Exclusive to Japan, the automobile is based directly off the Note e-Power NISMO the company debuted roughly one year ago. That means three powertrains are available: the base 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine, a hybrid e-Power version of the same displacement, or an e-Power four-banger using the same 1.6-liter we have here in North America.

While Nissan has promised e-Power vehicles for the U.S., the outgoing Note only make 109 hp. In other parts of the world, hybridization brings that up to 134 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque in the NISMO S. That makes Black Editions more or less the same, just with a few unique touches.

Power is still sent to the front wheels via five-speed manual transmission and the car receives a gently reworked suspension, upgraded brakes, and sports exhaust system in traditional NISMO fashion.

Uh, so then… what’s new? Well, Black Editions have had engineers take another pass at their suspension setups but most changes are predictably cosmetic. Obviously, a large number of exterior elements have been be made black. But Nissan has also fitted fresh Recaro seats and a few unique interior touches to help identify the car as extra special.

Though we’ll leave it up to the Japanese domestic market to decide whether or not that’s true. From our Western vantage, there doesn’t appear to be much on offer here. While improvements to the model are welcome, Nissan has only managed to make the vehicle less slow than a stock Note but no quicker than the non-black NISMO variants.

This makes us wonder what the automaker’s ultimate goal is. For sure, Nissan faces extremely difficult times right now, but NISMO is being wasted on trying to convince customers to buy into performance packages with few practical benefits. While this has become an increasingly common trend, especially among Japanese manufacturers, it’s not one we’re fond of.

Sentra sales remain pretty healthy; we can’t imagine they’d be negatively impacted by Nissan offering a NISMO version more in line with the now-vintage SE-R Spec V. Yet the brand doesn’t appear interested in offering truly comprehensive performance upgrades to convert ho-hum commuters into mischievous scamps hellbent on fun. Instead, we look to be stuck with NISMO appearance packages that occasionally do something with the suspension and tires. It’s kind of a drag, but at least it’s a drag worldwide.

Nissan plans on debuting the Versa Note NISMO Black Edition at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show later this month. We doubt it’ll create much of a stir.

[Images: Nissan]

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