Regular readers will remember our Management Fleet Nissan Juke. We spent a few weeks plodding around in it and it wasn’t bad at all, with quirky styling and a decent amount of grunt.
But it wasn’t this. This is a Juke of unparalleled power and brutality, a project devised by some delightfully lunatic people at Nissan Europe, who thought it would be a fantastic idea to fit the running gear from the supercar-slaying GT-R into the wacky curves of the Juke crossover. The result is the Juke-R. Just two of them have been created, and both visited the Middle East in January. One acted as a pace car for the Dubai 24 Hour race, and it’s this left-hand drive example that I had a chance to drive.
Today is a day I’ve been looking forward to, ever since Nissan Europe released a video of the car being put together in the UK by RML Motorsport. The firm has something of a record of creating mental Nissans, having put both a touring car engine and a V6 from the 370Z into the frame of a humble little Micra hatchback.
This is something altogether more bonkers though. Under the frog-like face and cartoonish proportions of the Juke lurks the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 of the GT-R, sending close to 500bhp to all four wheels. The work – completed by a 10-man team in just 22 weeks – is topped off by a suitably ludicrous bodykit that actually suits the Juke’s outrageous standard looks.
My experience will be a fairly limited one – five laps of the Dubai Autodrome’s Club Circuit in a standard 2012 GT-R, followed by five more in the Juke-R. The GT-R experience is interesting, not just because it’s my first time in the latest, more powerful version, but also because I’m intrigued to see how shortening the wheelbase and raising the centre of gravity will affect the GT-R platform’s quite remarkable handling.
As expected, the standard car is something special – scintillatingly fast with a pin-sharp throttle and an unnerving ability to grip onto the tarmac. The balance is nigh-on perfect, with a slight hint of understeer ensuring that the GT-R is very easy to drive at speed, rocking into, through and out of corners with incredible accuracy and speed.
So that’s all well and good then, but how will that set up work in a compact crossover? First things first, I have to get in. Although the door opens as normal, the positioning of a bucket seat means that a roll-cage and sliding rail blocks the lower part of the aperture, meaning getting in is more racecar-like than hopping a standard Juke. I’m strapped into the four-point harness and try and find a comfortable seating position. It’s tricky. The seat has a fixed back and the pedals are high and close, so in order to get a good grip on the wheel, my knees feel like they’re approaching my ears. But no matter. My time in the car is short, so I’ll deal with it. Left foot braking is out of the question though.
As my co-driver (and the man in charge of the whole project at RML) Michael Mallock welcomes me and gives a short briefing, I take in my surroundings. I expected a fully-stripped out race experience, but in front of me is a blend of features already familiar to me. The steering wheel, touch screen full of digital dials and gearstick are lifted straight from the GT-R, but the instrument binnacle, dashboard and motorcycle-inspired transmission tunnel look exactly the same as in the Juke. The car’s already running when I get in, so I simply engage D, flick the lever to manual and head off down the Autodrome’s pit lane.
I have absolutely no idea how this thing is going to handle, so I take it easy for the first few corners. Arriving at the downhill double-apex right hander that forms turn one, I cautiously turn in and hear a chirp from the front tyres. Inwardly, I groan; after all this build up, it’s going to be a big wobbly, understeering mess of a bodge job. But the chirp fails to develop into a squeal, and the suggestion of understeer melts away. There’s slightly more roll than in the GT-R thanks to the higher centre of gravity, but then the dampers and complex torque vectoring system do their thing, and this big high pseudo SUV turns in exquisitely. The wheelbase of the car is much shorter than the GT-R, but fears of the back end snapping around are soon dismissed; the Juke-R is playing in the same league of confidence and assured handling as the car that donated its innards for its creation.