x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

For Juke R, fill the original with testosterone and try to hang on

Road Test Kevin Hackett is blown away by the wild concept version of Nissan's feisty mini-crossover.

The wild Juke R concept.
The wild Juke R concept.

And now, as John Cleese used to say, for something completely different. This is the mutant Juke, the X-Man, the absolute mentalist: the Juke R. There are only two in the entire world and they're both here at Dubai Autodrome after being pressed into service as the official pace cars at the recent Dunlop 24 Hours of Dubai endurance race, where they undoubtedly stole the show.

Menacing in matte black paint, with crazy-looking body kits that seem to have been designed by teenagers with a DC Comics fixation, the two priceless Juke Rs sit sneering in the pit lane as Nissan's crack team of engineers and software experts tend to them. When they're ready to rock, I'm given the nod and squeeze my hamster cheeks into a race helmet. I look weird but nothing compared with the car I'm about to experience. If the standard road car is visually challenging, this is an assault on the eyeballs and I can't make up my mind whether it's cool or just plain hideous.

Like so many mad ideas in the history of the automobile, 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 tasked with morphing the Juke with Godzilla himself - the Nissan GT-R - had just five months to cut-and-shut two brand new Jukes and install the drivetrains from Nissan's highly complex supercar to produce two driveable monsters. It was an unbelievably tough call but they did it. Boy, did they do it.

To refer to a car like the Nissan GT-R as complex is a massive understatement. Every component has been finely honed and tuned to do its job without fail, and even slightly changing the physical proportions of the car they're installed in is enough to ruin everything. So shoehorning, not only the GT-R's 3.8L twin-turbo V6 engine into a Juke shell, but dual- clutch transmission, the four-wheel-drive underpinnings and all the computer gubbins as well, must have seemed impossible at the time.

As I open the driver's door I'm greeted by the sight of a hefty roll cage that needs to be climbed over before I squeeze my backside into the narrow bucket seat and fasten the racing harness. The engine's deep rumble is prevalent and I laugh out loud - this thing is off the charts and I haven't even driven it yet. There are no rear seats 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. There are strips of black gaffer tape here and there belying its concept car status.

With a member of the development team beside me, I head down the pit lane and onto the Autodrome's Club Circuit. Even in the first few seconds, the Juke R feels tight and complete, much more so than I was expecting. And once I'm on a long enough straight I gun it and the black monster devours it in a flash. Into a tight left-hander and the car rips it up, remaining flat and true, with a hint of understeer as the tyres squeal in displeasure. Despite the relatively high centre of gravity inherent in the Juke's architecture, this thing handles extremely well.

The Juke R also carries with it the brakes from the GT-R and they take quite a stamp to get them working properly but, when they do, the retardation is as eye-popping as the exterior looks. And the sound from that V6 (my window is open as the air conditioning is absent) when I get back on the gas is furious, utterly addictive stuff.

Lap after lap, my confidence gains and the Juke R takes everything I can throw at it with aplomb. It is so well constructed that I feel like shaking this guy's hand and congratulating him - everything about it makes it seem like a production-ready model. But Nissan is remaining tight-lipped about that prospect and the official line is that these two cars are, and will be, the only ones ever produced.

That's a shame. Because what the Juke R does is take the fun element of the normal car and fill it with crazy levels of testosterone. Surely it wouldn't fail to sell if it was given the go-ahead, because it's a huge attention grabber and, on these first impressions, delivers the goods in spades. Like the road-going Juke, I'm still too conservative for the R, but it's been an absolute privilege to try it for size.


The Specs

Base price N/A

Engine 3.8L, twin-turbocharged V6

Gearbox Six-speed DSG

Power 485hp @ 6,400rpm

Torque 588Nm @ 3,200rpm

Fuel economy, combined N/A