The handler strapped into the carbon fiber race bucket next to me is the only other person outside of yours truly who looks like he thinks this is a bad idea. I've just finished situating myself in the cabin of the very first Nissan Juke-R ever constructed. There are literally thousands of man hours in this single prototype and only four examples of the car total in the entire world. Each one carries a price tag of around $656,400 at current conversion rates, making this both the rarest and most expensive piece of machinery anyone has ever let me get close enough to sniff, let alone drive.
And that's exactly what I mean to do.
I'm not puttering around some parking lot, either. Nissan has seen fit to let me hammer this thing around a road course set up on the infield of the now defunct Nashville Superspeedway for as long as my passenger will let me, and I'm keen to oblige. I send out the familiar and threadbare "Please don't let me crash this car" one last time, and with the engine already running, I click the shifter into gear and let the Juke-R grumble its way to the pit exit.
Getting into this car is a lot like finding yourself in one of those dreams where you walk through the door to your garage only to find an expansive, well-organized work space instead of the cluttered, dimly lit hovel you now know. Yes, your tools are all there, but so is that '69 Mustang fastback project you've always wanted, and somehow, that feels normal. From the outside, the Juke-R looks like little more than a widebody SEMA creation. Yes, there are custom carbon-fiber valances front and rear, and yes, those fenders are flared to oblivion, but it's only when you lock eyes on the massive brakes lifted from a 2012 Nissan GT-R that you realize this is something far more than some front-wheel-drive slam van.
This is something far more than some front-wheel-drive slam van.
The cabin is a mix of Juke and GT-R hardware, and there isn't a single bit of kit that seems out of place. Yep, that's the steering wheel and paddle shifters from the company's supercar situated alongside the gauges, LCD screen and shift lever from the same, but the Juke's motorcycle gas tank center console and dash all stay in place. And like that dreamland garage, it all seems normal. There's a cage for added rigidity, complete with five-point harnesses and those sexy race buckets, but otherwise, you're sitting in a Juke.
The brave young man in the passenger seat next to me shoveled hours of his life into stitching this car together alongside his coworkers at a shop in Wellingborough, a small village just north of London, so when he recommends we take a few laps to get cozy with how the Juke-R drives, I'm happy to do so. At first punch of the accelerator out of the pits, the machine reveals itself to be Godzilla spawn in the truest sense. Thrust comes on in that same boundless swell that makes the GT-R such a mind-boggling creation, and the fact that I'm looking out over a set of alligator turning indicators instead of a long supercar hood forces a slight mental disconnect.
The machine reveals itself to be Godzilla spawn in the truest sense.
The first long left-hand sweeper has me braking early, terrified that 545 horsepower wed to a 99.6-inch wheelbase will see me pirouette right up that banked turn and straight into the tire wall backwards. As much as I'd hate to see all this carbon fiber go skittering across the Middle Tennessee landscape, I'd hate even more to see my teeth do the same after the build team got finished using my head for a rugby ball.
"You can carry a bit more speed through there," my handler says. "Just make sure all your accelerating and braking happens in a straight line."
Telling a ham-fisted yokel like myself to "carry a bit more speed" is not unlike looking Charlie Sheen square in the eye and saying, "You can do a bit more cocaine." This can only end badly for everyone involved.
I begin to forget just how expensive and rare this thing is and start actually driving.
After another lap, I begin to forget just how expensive and rare this thing is and start actually driving. Before long, I'm having more fun than should be legal. Keeping your eyes to the next apex is a little challenging thanks to the bulky cage-bolstered A-pillars, but plant your right foot and the car will do the old point-and-shoot just like its big brother. What's different is that unlike the big GT-R, the Juke-R feels more neutral and communicative while retaining those awesome, globe-halting brakes. Misstep, forget that whole "only in a straight line" rule, and the car rotates around the bottom of your seat. It isn't snap happy or uncertain at all, but it will do a bit of pitching if you get out of hand.
That's partly thanks to the fact that it still has the same track as a GT-R, though having the engine situated well behind the front suspension points certainly doesn't hurt either. The team behind the Juke-R moved the firewall back nearly six inches to accommodate the forced-induction V6 under the hood, and while both the GT-R and the Juke-R share a curb weight, the latter simply feels more playful. It also doesn't feel like it will pull your rear from the fire should you get overzealous or pop that dual clutch gearbox at the wrong time. And for that, I love it.
The Juke-R, meanwhile, is the rolling embodiment of nonsense.
If the GT-R has any fault, it's that the machine is almost too perfect. It's too easy. It is the good brother. The Juke-R, meanwhile, is the rolling embodiment of nonsense. It's too expensive, too hand-built and just too damn weird, but its also unabashedly awesome. It's all whiskey and rock and roll to the GT-R's red wine and NPR. Nissan will only build up to 23 examples of the Juke-R, and so far, just two have been sold to a private customer outside of the company's two prototypes. For what it's worth, the same guy bought both: one for himself and one for a friend. If anyone else is looking for a driving buddy, you know how to get ahold of me.