Exclusive First Test: Nissan Juke R
Jukenstein: We Strap Test Gear to Nissan's Insane Crossover Creation
When we first heard Nissan was building a Juke with a GT-R powertrain, we thought it was the biggest April Fool's joke ever. But the FrankenJuke was no joke, and after months of teasing, the Nissan Juke R made its official debut at the Dunlop 24 Hours of Dubai. Not only did we watch it rip around the track, but we also got to drive and test Nissan's fantasy crossover creation.
The first thing you notice when entering the Juke R is how much further back you sit compared to the standard Juke. Even though you're in a fully bolstered racing seat with five belts to cinch you in tightly, it's incredibly comfortable. Once I was strapped in, I pushed the same starter button found in the GT-R to bring Juke R to life, and off I went for some laps around the Dubai Autodrome.
The acceleration and sound are identical to the last-generation GT-R, but when I first turn the wheel, there is a nimbleness not found in the GT-R. The Juke R feels much livelier. I feel the weight shift when I get on the brakes. Initial turn-in is incredibly crisp and immediate. The body rolls over just a touch, the car rotates, the AWD system works its magic, and I slowly start to ease back on the throttle as the tires struggle for grip but manage to claw incredibly hard through and out of corners. It's a uniquely amazing driving experience. This is one of those cars that, given enough seat time, you soon would be doing four-wheel drifts out of any corner you wanted.
There were a couple of long straights on the track where I saw over 130 mph when entering the braking zone. Under hard braking, the Juke R had a tendency to get light in the back and wiggle its rear end. It doesn't have the flat, planted feel of the GT-R. This, of course, comes from the higher center of gravity and shortened wheelbase of the Juke R. Nothing spooky, but it does get your attention the first time around. After that, it actually adds to the driving experience.
As mentioned, not only did I drive the Juke R, but we tested it as well. So what did Jukenstein run? How about 3.6 seconds to 60 mph and 11.9 seconds at 117.5 mph in the quarter--and that was without launch control. Why no launch control? While Nissan was kind enough to let us test its newest baby, there are only two in the world, so we wanted to keep wear and tear to a minimum. This is also why we only made two runs. With launch control, we could see a 0-60 mph time under 3.5 seconds.
Nissan Technical Center Europe gave life to the Juke R project, but RML Motorsports was the outfit largely responsible for creating this two-off creature. According to Michael Mallock, RML business development manager (an ex-race-car driver who is also RML's chief test driver), "The most difficult bit was packaging. The GT-R has a big driveline, so we always knew that was going to be a challenge getting that into the Juke body -- that and reducing the wheelbase by 9.8 inches." This means the overall length of the Juke R doesn't change compared to a standard Juke, but overall width increases by more than 5 inches. The increased width meant adding modified wheel arches, giving the Juke R a very menacing look -- especially with the flat black paint, 20-inch wheels, and split rear wing.
The Juke R is not just a GT-R with a Juke body, though a monstrous amount of work was done to accommodate the GT-R underpinnings. When it came to the Juke's new engine, fitting a twin-turbo V-6 where a four-cylinder used to be was no small task. An all-new fabricated floor and bulkhead (much more rigid than stock) were created to accommodate the engine that now lives deep in the Juke's cabin.
Instead of keeping the base Juke's five-seat layout, it's a two-seater with a highly modified and fully functional interior. It's a perfect melding of Juke and GT-R, with design elements of each clearly evident. The dash is 4 inches closer to the driver, and has the GT-R gauge cluster. The center stack is a little over an inch closer to the driver, so when strapped into the new custom racing seat with the five-point harness hooked up, the driver can still operate the touch screen and drive train switches. A full rollcage has been added not only for safety but to maintain the structural rigidity needed to support the Juke R's new drivetrain.
One of the key factors in developing the Juke R's interior was making sure larger people could fit into it. Mallock said that any time RML builds a car, "a Mallock has to always fit," and they start at 6'3". Since the footwell area was reduced to accommodate the engine, a significant amount of time was spent getting the position of the seats and the angle of the pedals just right. Pieces had to be relocated so everything would fit under the skin -- for example, the HVAC unit for the A/C and heater now resides in the trunk.
Mallock did the majority of the developmental tuning as the build progressed, logging thousands of miles in the process. Working with Nissan Tech Center Europe throughout the process, RML had plenty of information on the Juke and GT-R, giving the staff the ability to figure out theoretical spring, anti-roll bar, sway bar, and damping rates. The suspension is the same as the GT-R, but firmness was increased significantly to help minimize body roll, as everything on the Juke R had to be stiffer and firmer than RML initially thought. Once satisfied with the car, RML had experts from Nissan drive the vehicle to confirm its findings. The two companies worked together on the final sign-off procedure to get the two vehicles certified for dynamics and safety.
The fact that Nissan allocated the time and money to let its mad scientists and RML Motorsports actually build the Juke R says a lot about the company. First the GT-R blew the automotive world away with its performance and price tag. It's a car that still has other manufacturers scratching their heads in amazement at its capabilities. Then, after unveiling the Leaf -- the world's first series-production all-electric car - Nissan built the Leaf Nismo RC, a full-blown electric race car. And now there's the Juke R, the most exhilarating vehicle currently wearing a Nissan badge. We will definitely see a Nismo or R/S version of the Juke in the near future, but although Nissan said it was only making two Juke Rs, we have a feeling we will see some sort of limited production run. It will be hard for Nissan to ignore the tremendous reception the Juke R has already received throughout out the world. It would be a shame if all that development work weren't put toward a limited run road-going version, but, at the very least, the Juke R was an experiment well worth cooking up in the mad scientists' lab.
|Nissan Juke R|
|Vehicle Layout||Front-engine, AWD, 2-pass, 4-door Crossover|
|Engine||3.8L/480-hp/434-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|Transmission||6-speed twin-clutch auto|
|0-60 mph||3.6 sec|
|Quarter Mile||11.9 sec @ 117.5 mph|
|Curb weight||3981 lbs (mfr est)|
|Length X Width X Height||162.8 x 75.2 x 62.0 in|
|On sale in U.S.||No|