The Nissan Juke-R is the company's tiny little Juke crossover stuffed with the powerful guts of the Nissan GT-R — one of the fastest cars on the planet. Here's the story of how a bunch of lunatic Nissan engineers quietly and secretly built the most audacious production car in a generation without anyone finding out.
This week, I was attending a pretty comprehensive Nissan press event, and one of the highlights of the whole thing was a chance to drive the Juke R. The event was also great because it included lots of opportunities to interact with Nissan engineers, like the man in charge of motorsports, Jerry Hardcastle.
Aside from having a great name and a stereotypically British love of tepid beer, Hardcastle was also the man behind the Juke R. The Juke R is, essentially, a Juke with GT-R running gear, which is an absolutely insane concept. Wonderful, absolutely, but also completely, clinically nuts.
As you could imagine, getting a huge, respected, and established company like Nissan to agree to the Juke R is a colossal challenge on its own, and, true to his race-bred engineering background, Hardcastle found a novel solution to this problem: he didn't really get permission.
Now, before I go on with the story, I should make one quick disclaimer: I really liked Jerry Hardcastle, and I don't want to get him in trouble. He told me that most of this story is okay to tell, but he'd prefer some details not be known. The problem is, I can't exactly recall which details he meant. And the story's just too damn good to not tell.
So, Jerry, before I go on, please know that I have a ton of respect for you, and if I reveal anything you aren't that crazy about, sorry, but I think in the end everyone will just like the Juke-R that much more. Honest.
Okay, so here's the deal. The European-based Juke team knew they wanted something striking and exciting to promote the car, and Nissan's had a history of some crazy experiments. They wanted a crazy Juke, and it wasn't long before the idea of a Juke and GT-R unholy offspring came around.
So, the first thought was to just stretch a Juke body to make it fit a full normal GT-R platform. But that got nixed because the Juke team said it had to be a normal Juke body as much as possible. So, lots more experimenting was needed.
To build the first prototype, the team looked around in the press car fleet for a couple of "forgotten" cars. Incredibly, they were able to find a Juke and a GT-R in the fleets that no one would really miss. They had to go this route to keep the rest of the company from knowing what they were doing, since anyone rational would have likely put a stop to it immediately. It was, after all, a true skunkworks project.
Surprisingly, the Juke and GT-Rs measurements weren't as far off as you'd guess. The Juke's track was close enough to the GT-R's that a set of fender flares could cover the difference, but the wheelbase was a good bit shorter. In order to make it work, the GT-R's platform was shortened by a good amount, and that meant the driveshaft had to be shortened, too. Neither of which had ever been tried before.
Again thanks to the skunkworks/super-secret nature of the project, the Juke-R team couldn't just contact the GT-R team in Japan and ask for all the specs and details and code for the traction control system to evaluate and rework for the Juke's dimensions — they just had to try it out.
So, they used an outside shop for the conversions and build, to keep people from noticing the very strange stuff happening, and pretty soon they had a Juke riding on some very relocated GT-R bits — suspension, drivetrain, everything, even dash panels. To the car's computer brain, it's still a GT-R.
Once it was all together, the big question was will it actually work? No one really knew how the GT-R's very advanced traction control and stability management systems would react to something that didn't weigh what a normal GT-R weighed, wasn't the same length, had a different center of gravity, all that.
They did the only thing they could do: they asked a test driver if he'd like to do something fun.
The end result was that, remarkably, the GT-R's computers adapted without any trouble. Sure, they were getting some inputs that differed a good bit from the norm, but the algorithms adapted and did s0me math and managed, making one absurdly fast Juke.
When I got my chance to drive the Juke R, it really does feel like a GT-R in outdoor gear. Sure, you're sitting a bit higher, and the view out the windshield is quite different, but all the familiar GT-R switches and dials and knobs are there on the dash, just moved around a bit.
And it goes like a GT-R, too. Which is in the manner of stink. Acceleration is absurd, and on the short drive I got in it, I had a blast. Sure, I got it squirrely a number of times, but that's just the kind of car this thing is.
So, amazing work, Mr.Hardcastle. I hope I didn't get you in too much trouble.