Nissan Gone Wild: A Small SUV With A Great Engine

SMALL CAR, BIG ENGINE. It’s a time-honoured tradition in the car industry and a sure-fire way to capture the attention of car enthusiasts. Hot hatches are perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of the engineering technique, but it’s also been employed in sports cars and sports sedans – it’s how AMG came about, along with such automotive legends as the BMW M5. However, the poster-child for crazy engines swaps has got to be the GT-R-engined Nissan Juke. More than a mere heart transplant, though, the compact SUV benefited from the R35’s dual-clutch transaxle, all-wheel-drive system and full suite of electronics when it morphed into the Juke-R and Juke-R 2.0. And that 2.0 had nothing to do with engine capacity as it packed the full-fat twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre Godzilla V6.

When it broke cover back in 2010, Juke-R was, in Nissan’s words, the “fastest, most exciting and daring compact crossover in the world”. With the regular Juke’s marketplace so tame, such a boast wasn’t too hard to achieve. But with 358kW and all of the GT-R’s electronic trickery on board, this pumped up version should have hang onto such bragging rights for quite some time. But then, four years after Nissan put the Juke-R into very limited production (at a staggering cost of over $700,000), Version 2.0 came along with an even more outrageous output of nearly 450kW. That’s actually a fistful of kilowatts more than today’s King of the Hill Nissan GT-R Nismo.

Shoehorning the guts of Godzilla into a Juke was no easy task with the mini-SUV’s body requiring much fettling to make its new mechanicals fit. Its wider track front and rear and its new 20-inch RAYS Engineering forged alloys required some pumped-up wheel arches, for instance, while the propshaft was considerably shortened due to the Juke’s shorter wheelbase. Impressively, this was done without confusing the GT-R’s complex computer system.

Nissan and Nismo farmed out the majority of the development and eventual production to UK-based race engineering firm RML. The RML team were responsible for the rather excellent, 350Z-engined Nissan Micra R a few years ago. The interior also required an overhaul, the driving position forced back by the bigger engine while space on the dashboard has been cleared for the GT-R’s 7-inch LCD display screen. The Juke’s trademark motorcycle-inspired centre console remained, though, despite the addition of an FIA-spec roll cage and a pair of racing seats and harnesses up front. Based on the updated Nissan Juke that launched in 2014, the Juke-R 2.0 was injected with further levels of GT-R testosterone to reach 447kW. Still sporting the iconic ‘R’ matt black, the Juke-R 2.0 was an even more muscular, bolder and powerful version of its predecessor.

So what was it like to drive? Here’s what we said at the time: Clamber over the roll cage, sink into the Alcantara trimmed bucket seats, buckle up the four-point harness and you’re ready to go. There’s limited adjustability in the driving position, so you sit long-legged and arms outstretched, with the GT-R cabin architecture but stubby bonnet and high roofline adding to the alien environment. The engine fires to a metallic and fizzy idle, pressing the brake and the moving the GT-R gear selector down and across to ‘Drive’ sees us roll down the pit lane at Silverstone’s Stowe circuit and out onto the track.

Straight line speed is so fast that it’s almost comical, with Nissan claiming 0-100km/h in an estimated 2.9 seconds – that’s almost a one second improvement over the first Juke-R. The acceleration is relentless and the gearchanges ferocious as you tear through the rev range, pulling the right paddle as the rev counter closes in on 7000rpm. Stamp on the brakes and the Juke squirms and wiggles before you turn. Carry too much speed and you’ll be greeted by speed-sapping understeer, but a lift of throttle will see it neutralise as the wide rubber bites into the tarmac and the Juke spits you out at the other end for another bout of ruthless acceleration. It really is properly, crazily fast.

Loosen the reins on the stability control by flicking it into R mode and you can feel the Juke moving around beneath you, not so much that it becomes intimidating but enough to let you know where the limit lies. The added width to the front and rear tracks provide astonishing levels of grip and high speed stability, but the shorter wheelbase gives the Juke-R 2.0 a far greater level of agility than its stocky proportions would leave you to believe. It really does feel like an overpowered hot hatch on stilts, but with the grip and traction to make it all work. And the Juke-R 2.0 isn’t only confined to the racetrack, in fact it’s completely road legal. Better still, if a 450kW Juke sounds like something that might interest you, Nissan may even sell you one. Two versions of the original Juke-R were sold for upwards of $700,000 to the same buyer in the Middle East and Nissan has no objections to making a few more.

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