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Nissan Juke R

An enraged Christmas beetle… The matt-black Nissan Juke R looks decidedly insect-like as it crouches in pitlane at the Dubai Autodrome. A menacing assortment of bulges, scoops and aero addenda, it’s hard to believe this is an offering conjured up by a mainstream Japanese carmaker, rather than a prop knocked together for a sci-fi flick.

There’s been much debate on frothing internet forums about whether or not the Juke R is engineering marvel or pointless exercise. All Nissan is saying for now is that the hand-built Rs (one left-hand drive and one right-hooker) were built to test the waters for a sporty variant of the Juke. That said, it’s reasonable to speculate whatever eventually appears on the showroom floor won’t be anything like the outlandish creation jointly by Nissan and UK motorsport specialist RML — it’s simply too complex, compromised and expensive.

A quick recap: the Juke R project called for the two vehicles to be taken from conception to completion in 22 weeks, during which the entire drivetrain from the all-paw, twin-turbo GT-R had to be shoehorned into the much shorter and narrower Juke.

The exercise called for extensive surgery to the floorpan of the Juke, and myriad other engineering fiddles to make it all fit and function to the required standard for what’s billed as the “world’s fastest crossover”.

The project started with RML stripping out a GT-R and Juke, and cutting the floor out of the latter to accommodate the twin-turbo V6 engine, six-speed dual-clutch gearbox, differentials and electronics from the MY2010 ‘Godzilla’.

A large transmission tunnel had to be fabricated for the two propshafts — one relaying power from the engine to the rear-transaxle gearbox, and the other sending drive back from the gearbox to the front wheels. The propshafts also had to be truncated by 250mm owing to the Juke’s shorter wheelbase, and the engine also had to be housed well back (it extends aft of where the firewall used to be) as the mini-SUV has virtually nothing in the way of front overhang.

In addition, the Juke’s front and rear tracks had to be pushed out to accommodate the chunky 20-inch RAYS forged alloys — 9.5-inch wide at the front, and 10.5-inches at the rear — with the whole lot cloaked within pumped guards.

Bonnet and windscreen levels are unchanged vis-à-vis the donor vehicle, but the dashboard had to be moved back by 100mm, and the steering column angle has been adjusted up due to the Juke’s much higher seating position compared with the GT-R.

You also sit much further back than you would in a normal Juke — almost in line with the B-pillar. The centre console has the same customisable LCD display (presenting a variety of data ranging from g-force loadings to lap times) you’d find in a GT-R, but the housing for it was crafted by RML.

All up, the Juke R weighs about 76kg more than the GT-R, and that’s partly due to the FIA-compliant rollcage that provides the chassis with the rigidity it needs to cope with 362kW of grunt and 588Nm of twist, which in turn serve up a 3.7sec 0-100km/h split (on par with a Ferrari 458 Italia) and top whack of almost 260km/h… All figures that seem completely at odds with the almost comical profile of the Juke’s tallboy bodyshell.

What we liked:

  • Menacing looks
  • Ferocious acceleration
  • Flat handling and eager turn-in

Not so much:

  • Hint of understeer
  • Uneasy braking
  • A-pillar blindspot

Watch It In Action

TRACK TIME

Right, time to limbo through the rollcage, plop into the well-bolstered OMP race seat and strap into the five-point harness. Apart from the GT-R gearlever, steering wheel and LCD display, the cabin isn’t hugely different from the standard Juke — that is, if you overlook the absence of the rear seat.

Fire up the twin-turbo V6 via the start button, trundle down pitlane, feed onto the straight and give it half throttle down into the first turn — a double apex right-hander.

Having just stepped out of a 370Z for a couple of sighting laps, I automatically make allowances for the inevitable body roll and understeer in the loftier, heavier Juke R, but, surprisingly, there’s less of both than in the Zed. The thing basically just grips and turns — a corollary of its much lower, broader stance than the standard Juke, plus its stiffer springs, dampers and swaybars. Okay, it understeers a little, as you can see from the video of my laps (see below), but it’s still much flatter and more eager to turn-in than the 370Z.

Gas it up as the corner straightens out and the torque-vectoring tech ensures most of the 588Nm torque is converted into forward motion. Bloody hell! The straight-line urge is an even bigger eye-opener than the Juke R’s cornering prowess.

It seems plain wrong to be sitting in something with such mundane origins that accelerates with as much ferocity as a Porsche 911 Turbo.

Interestingly, test and development driver Michael Mallock says not much real-world finessing was required to arrive at the final suspension calibration, as their simulations had put them fairly close to where they needed to be — an hour of track time was all that was needed, he says. But that’s not altogether surprising considering RML derives its bread and butter from building racecars for various top-flight championships.

Cleverer still is the fact that the GT-R’s electronic drivetrain control wizardry automatically compensates for the Juke’s 250mm shorter wheelbase.

Stand on the brakes for turn two — a 90-degree left-hander — and the GT-R’s 380mm vented, cross-drilled stoppers wipe off velocity at a prodigious rate. It’s not as rock-steady under heavy braking as a GT-R — largely due to its shorter wheelbase and higher stance — but stable enough to goad you into pushing ever deeper into the braking zones with a little familiarity.

The steeply undulating ‘flip-flop’ combo that forms part of the Autodrome’s Club Circuit is also comfortably dealt with as the Juke R rides the rumble strips (the quickest way through) without any loss of composure.

In fact, what stands out about the car is how easy it is to pedal at pace. Mallock says his team set the Juke R up “so that even your grandmother can drive it”, and that’s no exaggeration. It really is a doddle.

READY FOR THE ROAD?

The only aspect that’s causing me some annoyance is the blind-spot rendered by the driver’s side A-pillar, which makes it slightly difficult to accurately place the car going into left-handers. If I had more time, I’d duck into pitlane, re-adjust my seating position and come back out for another crack, but unfortunately I don’t have that luxury today. Five laps — the last one for cooling off — is all I’m getting, but even that’s a privilege in something as rare as this.

We’re lapping the Autodrome with the windows down as the air-con refuses to come to the party, but Mallock insists it was working before the cars were loaded on a plane in the UK. Even the stereo works (allegedly), so it’s not just a case of the Juke R being a stripped-down racer. Both examples are road registered, and Mallock says this is where the pair will spend “98 per cent of the time”.

One thing’s for sure, other road users will no doubt be perplexed by the sight of the sinister crossover and its outrageous accoutrements. The carbon-fibre body kit isn’t just for visual effect though, as the perforated front bumper channels air to the radiator and intercooler, while the twin roof-mounted ‘fins’ and rear diffuser all do their bit to minimise high-speed lift.

How fast does the Juke R feel out on the track? Probably about two-thirds of the way between a 370Z and a GT-R, which is a pretty impressive feat when you consider the capabilities (or lack of) of the donor vehicle.

Add to this the fact that the Juke R requires no more in the way of maintenance than a GT-R (although getting to some of the components is decidedly tricky), and it seemingly stacks up as quite an appealing package — at least for those who aren’t prompted to reach for a bucket at the sight of it.

That said the Juke R is simply too expensive to build and too impractical to ever be more than a one-off (or two-off) novelty. Would you really want to clamber through a rollcage on a day-to-day basis?

So what’s the point of the whole exercise? You only need to think about how much publicity the project has generated over the past four months (the video series documenting the build process attracted well over a million hits), and there’s your answer.

Would you really be reading this story if it was about an ordinary Juke… Or even one with an extra 50kW? Probably not, I’d suggest.

The Juke R’s appeal lies in the sheer craziness of the whole idea. Love it or hate it, you have to doff your cap to Nissan and the RML team for having the cojones to even contemplate it, let alone execute it… And, as our five-lap thrash reveals, it’s no mug on the track.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say I want one, but I quite fancy the idea of borrowing one for a weekend. Now that would be a hoot…

The Facts

Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6

Power: 362kW at 6400rpm

Torque: 588Nm from 3200-5200rpm

Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch sequential

Length: 4135mm

Width: 1910mm

Height: 1575mm

Wheelbase: 2530mm

Kerb weight: 1806kg

0-100km/h: 3.7sec

Top speed: 257km/h

Wheels: 20-inch RAYS forged alloys