Crazy little thing called love for Nissan's fantasy mini

Wed, Oct 24, 2012, 01:00

Who would pay nearly €500,000 for a Nissan? This mad mix of supermini and racer is so bonkers you have to admire its makers’ chutzpah, writes IAN BEATTY

SO BY SOME bizarre twist of fate – or a lottery win – you have €450,000 to spend on a supercar. Bentley? Lamborghini? Maybe a Ferrari? What about a Nissan supermini?

Before your head melts with the lunacy of it all, consider that this is a little racer that will get from standstill to 100km/h in less than four seconds, is powered by a 3.8-litre V6 putting out nearly 500bhp, and takes corners like it’s attached to the road with superglue.

Yes, the Juke-R is as bonkers as you imagine: a car as in tune with the times as a crate of Cristal champagne at a factory closure. And yet, somewhere in the depths of our motoring fanaticism, we admire the chutzpah of the engineers who came up with this gloriously inappropriate car in the midst of a global recession.

The Juke crossover isn’t a vehicle you would necessarily associate with speed and agility; however, Nissan recently decided to set about creating a Juke like no other, aptly named the Juke-R. The Juke-R is a sports car crossover concept, mixing the mechanical running gear of Nissan’s range-topping GT-R with the body of a Juke. It’s a rather off-the-wall project, but one that Nissan has executed with aplomb.

The Juke-R has been developed with the motorsports company RML, with advice from Nissan Technical Centre Europe. Nissan and RML have built two Juke-Rs, one right-hand drive and one left-hand drive.

Although the Juke-R has the same height, length and wheelbase as the regular Juke, its width has been increased by 145mm. Its looks are imposing, too: it is finished in matt black with flared wheel arches (covering immense 20in forged alloy wheels) and a split rear wing. The regular interior has been discarded to make room for a full FIA-approved safety roll cage, complete with two race seats and five-point harnesses. The dashboard has been modified to accommodate the 7in information screen from the GT-R, and all the gauges and instrument dials have also come directly from the GT-R. The entire car’s vital data, such as oil temperature, oil pressure and transmission oil temperature, are displayed on the large colour screen, which takes centre stage within the dashboard. Roll cage and racing seats aside, the interior of the Juke-R is uncannily similar to that of a GT-R.

The engine and transmission exemplify the heart of the Juke-R, adopting the “R” tag from Nissan’s supercar GT-R model. Major modifications to the Juke’s chassis were undertaken in order to accommodate the GT-R’s engine and transmission. Sitting snugly under the Juke-R’s bonnet is the same twin-turbo petrol engine that powers the GT-R; it’s mated to a six-speed twin-clutch transmission. The prop shaft has been modified to allow for the shorter wheelbase of the Juke in comparison to that of the GT-R. The result of this unlikely marriage of engine and body is a Juke that’s capable of accelerating to 100km/h in just 3.7 seconds.

The Juke-R produces a remarkable 485hp and 588Nm of torque. Its top speed is slightly slower than that of its GT-R relative, due to the improved aerodynamic shape of the GT-R; nonetheless, it’s easily the world’s fastest crossover.

Despite it being road legal, in order to truly assess the Juke-R and put it through its paces, you need to experience it on a track.

I tested it for several laps around Mondello Park’s 3.5km International Circuit. In short, the Juke-R is blisteringly fast, with fierce acceleration felt through all six gears.

A quick pull of the right-hand paddle behind the steering wheel provides a near-instant gear change. The Juke’s naturally high roofline and high centre of gravity are slightly unnerving at first, but once you’ve settled in, you can confidently push the car to its limits. You’re seated low and far back, alongside the B-pillar.

The Juke-R’s suspension and brake systems are identical to the GT-R’s, therefore offering supercar-like handling combined with immense stopping power.

Close to the limit, the Juke-R’s rear end feels less stable than the GTR’s, with some movement felt from the driving seat, its shorter chassis often fighting for grip. The steering is notably lighter too, yet proficient, offering pinpoint accuracy through the corners.

In order for the hefty 3.8-litre GT-R engine to fit into the Juke’s engine bay, it sits far back towards the cabin; the heat emitted from behind the dashboard is like having a furnace in place of a stereo – it’s sauna-like after a few swift laps.

Of course, the Juke-R is beyond the reach of the vast majority of petrolheads, and even then who would pay €450,000 for a Nissan, no matter how powerful? But the Japanese brand is planning a more accessible, sporty variant of the Juke.

The Juke Nismo will be the first model to be launched in Europe within a new range of Nismo-badged cars. It’s due to arrive in early 2013, and has been designed and developed by Nismo – Nissan Motorsport – in Japan. It will be clearly distinguished from its standard Juke siblings by the addition of bespoke exterior and interior styling. Power will be delivered from a 1.6-litre direct-injection turbocharged petrol engine, offering a respectable 200hp, with a choice of a two-wheel-drive manual transmission or a four-wheel-drive CVT automatic transmission.

If you’ve got a spare €450,000 or thereabouts, Nissan will build you a production version of the Juke-R; the first customer vehicle has just recently been completed. The arguably more sensible option for power-hungry motorists is to save themselves €300,000 and buy a Nissan GT-R, a far more refined, useable supercar. It’s still crazy money in the middle of a recession, but there are some rich petrolheads out there who continue to have an interest in such cars.

The Juke-R is a fantasy in these grim economic times but admirable for what it symbolises: that motoring dreams can be pursued even in the toughest times. Yet in anything but a fantasy world, this car would be dismissed as pointless, perhaps a symbol of a car firm with too much time on its hands.

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