What happens when you cross a compact crossover with a GT-R supercar? We find out in the bonkers Nissan Juke R.
The Nissan Juke is one of those cars that’s impossible to sit on the fence with. There’s no middle ground whatsoever – you either love it or loathe it. Personally, while I find it to be fun on the inside, I couldn’t bring myself to own a car with that front end. I mean, fancy opening your front door and seeing that guppy face staring back at you.
But it would seem that I’m in the minority because, in certain parts of the world, this diminutive crossover has rapidly become a massive seller. Perhaps I’m too much of a dinosaur; perhaps I’m totally out of touch with that most difficult market to engage: the youth.
Whatever it is, there’s no denying that the Nissan Juke is totally unique and, as a package, it’s quite unbeatable. It’s a remarkably intelligent use of space and I totally understand why a young family might be tempted to buy one.
But there’s a close relative that has just stormed the party – one that eschews intelligence in favour of monstrous performance; one that takes the fun personality of the Juke and transforms it, a la Jekyll and Hyde, into maniacal brutality.
It’s the literal black sheep, and I’ve been asked if I’d like to take it for a thrash around a racetrack.
This Juke is the mutant. It’s the X-Man. It's called the Juke-R and there are only two in existence and they're both here at the Autodrome in Dubai, resting after being pressed into service as the official pace cars at the Dunlop 24 Hours of Dubai endurance race a few weeks ago, when they caused something of a commotion.
I’d seen the photos on the internet, looked at them in disbelief and wondered just what it would be like to drive. I never, not for a minute, imagined I would get the opportunity, but here I am.
It looks absolutely menacing in matt black, with a crazy-looking body kit that seems to have been designed by a teenager who’s looked at too many DC Comics. If Batman chose this as his next company car, I would totally understand.
This, one of two priceless Juke-Rs, sits sneering in the pit lane as Nissan's small team of engineers and software experts tend to it. When the car is ready to rock, I'm given the nod and squeeze my rotund cheeks into a race helmet.
I look even stranger than normal but nothing compared with the car I'm about to experience. If the standard Juke is a visual challenge, this is nothing short of an assault on the eyeballs. but still I can't decide whether it's cool or just plain ugly.
As with so many crazy ideas in the history of the car, the Juke-R is the brainchild of enthusiasts rather than some faceless marketing team.
And it shows – even from the outside. The small band of engineers who decided to morph the humble Juke with Godzilla himself – the Nissan GT-R – was given only five months to cut-and-shut two factory-fresh Jukes and install the powertrains from Nissan's highly complex supercar to produce two driveable monsters.
It was a mission so impossible that Ethan Hunt would undoubtedly have turned it down, because to refer to a car like Nissan’s GT-R as complex is a huge understatement.
Each and every component has been finely honed and tweaked to do its individual job without fail, and even slightly changing the physical proportions of the car they're installed in can be enough to ruin everything.
So squeezing not only the GT-R's 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 engine into a Juke shell, but also its DSG transmission, its four-wheel drive underpinnings and all the computer systems as well (in just five months, remember), must have caused palpitations among the crew.
It’s so much more than a mere styling exercise – it’s a fully functioning supercar that has been put through an extremely thorough, albeit extremely brief, testing process.
I open the driver's door to get in and I'm greeted by the sight of some hefty scaffolding in the form of a competition-spec roll cage that needs to be negotiated before I squeeze into the narrow bucket seat and fasten the racing harness.
The V6 engine's deep baritone is prevalent and I stifle a laugh – this thing is totally insane and I haven't even driven it yet.
There are no rear seats, just some carpeting and more roll cage, but most of the Juke's dashboard has been left intact except for the display screen, which has been replaced with that from the GT-R, which has also provided the steering wheel, and there are strips of black tape here and there belying its concept car status.
There’s a member of the Juke-R’s development team in the passenger seat and, greetings over, I head down the pit lane and onto the Autodrome's Club Circuit.
Even in these initial few seconds, the car feels tight and complete, much more so than I was expecting. And once I'm on a long enough straight I tug on the left hand paddle shifter, drop a cog and floor it. As expected, this black monster devours it in a flash.
Into a tight left-hand bend and the R tears it up, keeping flat and true, with just a hint of understeer as the front tyres scream in displeasure before the rears try to muscle in on the action.
It could all go so very wrong in no time at all, but all that electronic wizardry helps the Juke-R regain its composure without making it seem like it’s taking control away from the driver. Despite the relatively high centre of gravity inherent in the Juke's architecture, this thing handles extremely well.
The Juke-R also inherits the formidable brakes from the GT-R and they take quite a stamp to get them working but, when they do, the stopping power is as eye-popping as those exterior looks.
And the sound from that powerhouse of an engine (my window is open because the air conditioning is absent) when I get back on it is furious. It’s bonkers, utterly addictive stuff.
As I pile on lap after lap, my confidence grows and the Juke-R takes everything I can throw at it with almost contemptuous ease.
It is so well built that I feel like shaking my passenger's hand and congratulating him because everything about it makes it seem like a production-ready model. Nissan, however, is remaining tight-lipped about that prospect and the official line is that the two cars here in Dubai are, and always will be, the only ones ever produced.
I don’t quite believe that. There’s no way Nissan would take these cars on a world tour without there being some possibility of at least a limited production run.
And if it turns out that Nissan is actually telling the truth then it would be a real shame because what the Juke-R does is take the fun element of the normal car and inject it with crazy levels of testosterone. Surely it wouldn't fail to sell if it was given the go-ahead, because it's an attention grabber the likes of which I’ve not seen before and, on these first impressions, it delivers the goods in spades.
Like the standard production Juke, I'm still way too conservative for this thing but I can appreciate it for what it is. According to my passenger, the car could have been more extreme than this, but I think what they’ve done is enough. Not for production, eh? Watch this space.