First (And Probably Only Drive) Drive: Nissan Juke-R
We drive the Frankencar that Nissan Can’t Build
By Imthishan Giado
480bhp in a car that weighs about as much as a sports bra. 3.7sec to blitz to 100kph in a machine designed to do it in 7.3. It could only be the mental, no-one-saw-this-coming Juke-R and we’re the first to tell you how it feels on the track. Short answer? Like a really, really small GT-R. Click through for the full review.
Quick catch-up for those who haven’t been following: what you’re seeing is the result of a secret ‘unauthorised’ project by Nissan Europe, stuffing the complete drivetrain from the GT-R into the unsuspecting Juke to create the amusingly-monickered ‘Juke-R’. The result is a 480bhp, twin-turbo, 3.8-litre four-wheel drive crossover that can hit 100kph in a scarcely believable 3.7 seconds – that’s faster than a Lamborghini Performante – and on to a final top speed of 257kph.
Those are scary-impressive numbers, but let’s take a moment to put those numbers in context versus the car that gave the Juke-R its monstrous beating heart.
The drivetrain you see here is the ‘old’ engine; the current 530bhp 2012 GT-R does the 0-100kph sprint in an even quicker 2.9 seconds and onto a top speed of 317 kph, as near as makes no difference to nearly 200mph. So there’s certainly headroom to go faster.
I’m driving the Juke-R at the Dubai Autodrome; the car’s fresh off its duties as the pace car for the recently-concluded Dubai 24 hours race. Frankly, it’s a privileged opportunity; only two of these cars exist in the whole wide world and I really don’t want to be the one to stuff one into the armco this evening. In pictures, the Juke-R is dramatic with its matte black paint, chunky slammed stance and fat arch-filling GT-R wheels. In person? Perhaps not so much. I can remember walking past it several times during the Dubai 24H and not even giving it a second glance; such is the cross one bears when you look like a humble Juke, the car’s that rapidly starting to breed on the streets of Dubai.
There’s no mistake once you open the door, however. The interior is some strange Frankenhybrid mix of Juke dashboard and cobbled-together GT-R bits; there’s the famous GranTurismo style console and HVAC system, while the steering wheel, stubby shifter and instruments are all lifted directly from Mizuno-san’s masterpiece. But that’s it really. There’s no back seat, a huge rollcage that you have to clamber over in a embarassing fashion before you can plonk your posterior in the bucket race seats. Comfortable daily driver, this is not.
Fire it up with a press of that lipstick-red starter button, and…nothing, really. Those expecting a thunderous roar from the tail pipes will be disappointed, because like its parent GT-R, there’s no drama, just a chattery direct-injection idle. Click the magnesium-and-leather paddle into first, and I’m away.
We’re driving today on a shortened version of the full GT-R circuit, the first few laps are getting to grips with this very strange car, feeling out its foibles. Full confession: I haven’t had the chance to drive the regular Juke, but somehow I think that lack of experience won’t be applicable today.
Fortunately, I have spent a lot of time in the regular GT-R, a tremendous machine built purely for sticking two fingers up in the direction of the laws of physics. And the Juke-R, built on a shoestring budget with none of the huge resources of the Japanese team or the Nurburgring testing…ends up handling just like a regular GT-R.
It’s kind of uncanny really. Nissan was being somewhat of a killjoy on this limited run and didn’t allow the traction aids to be turned off (hardly surprising with a priceless prototype) so there wasn’t too much in the way of lurid action (although my video might suggest otherwise). You can expect the same demonic turn-in, only slightly sharper thanks to the lower weight over the front. Turn in hard, boot the throttle and the computers will slingshot you the other end like a fiery cannonball. The brakes are equally up to the task of scrubbing off speed, but the travel’s quite long and inital bite not as reassuring as you might want. The general handling feel is a very, very polished car, an all-wheel drive machine that devours corners and probably could be even quicker with the right pair of hands than a GT-R.
But what about the power? That’s what you really want to know about, isn’t it? Well, that’s the tricky bit, because the Juke-R doesn’t feel that fast, even though I know that it is. I suspect that it’s something to do with the higher seating position; much like an SUV, the sensation of speed is dimmed, till you get to a corner and realise you’re going waaaay too quickly. But then, no need to panic; the magic of the GT-R drivetrain is that you can simply drop the anchors, turn and pour on the power to get you out of trouble. There is no corner on earth that its electronic brain doesn’t have a solution for.
The Juke-R’s a hard nut to crack. Is it just a novelty? Well, truth be told – yes. What no one tells you about is the absolute army of people that follow this car everywhere and monitor its vital signs. Every time it came to a stop, a team of men leapt out to check every inch for signs of potential trouble. Lots of serious-looking men on laptops are constantly poring at reams of complicated data. Think about the intensive care unit of a hospital, and you get some idea of what I’m talking about.
Is it a Juke, or a GT-R? The worst bits of the former welded to the best bits of the latter. This may look like a Juke on the outside, but honestly no one’s fooled; it’s a Juke body sitting atop the GT-R drivetrain. There’s literally no practicality left, accommodating the race seats means this is strictly a two seater and the boot? Forget about it. When you drive it, you kind of want to be sitting lower all the time – I ended up slouching a lot.
Is the Juke-R faster than the GT-R? Not a chance. I had a huge amount of fun driving it; the best approximation I can provide is a very big, very fast Mini Cooper on more steroids than a WWF wrestler. Strip away the facade however, and that’s a tribute to the incredible flexibility of that magic turbo drivetrain which even stripped of its slippery body still manages to pummel this car up through the air. But I am comprehensively faster in the GT-R- and you know what, you, yes you are as well. That’s because the GT-R makes anyone, even the most hamhanded buffoon a master of the black arts of speed.
That’s the real takeaway from this flight of fancy; that the boys at Nissan are capable of making absolutely anything go faster than you could possibly imagine. Next up, Patrol GT-R anyone?