PetrolBlog drives the Nissan Juke-R

Major Waffle New cars Nissan
With the shock news that the Nissan Juke-R is going into production, MajorGav recalls the day he got a chance to drive a monster.

Last week, Nissan announced the unthinkable. It's going to put the Juke-R into production. They probably would have made less of a stir if they'd announced that they were going to develop a 480bhp rear-wheel drive Nissan Note GT-R. When I had the chance to get up close and personal with the Juke-R last year, the team was adamant that it was purely a concept. The chances of a production Juke-R coming from Nissan were a million to one, they said. But still, they come. Or words to that effect. Apologies to Jeff Wayne.

It gets better, as the production Juke-R will be based on the running gear of the 2012 GT-R and not the 2010 cars used during the development of the concept models. The standout headline is the 545 horses that will come galloping out of its 3.8 litre twin-turbo V6 engine. Blimey.

Nissan Juke-R at Rising Sunderland eventApparently, Nissan has already received three firm orders for the Juke-R which will be built on a strict 'build-to-order' basis. If your name's not down, you're not getting a Juke-R. The exclusivity factor will put it firmly on PetrolBlog's radar, only for it to be wiped out by the price which, according to autoevolution, is rumoured to be around £350,000. Don't be expecting a depreciation-led bargain in ten years time on this one.

You have to admire Nissan's PR effort. The way they handled the tease and official announcement of the Juke-R was exceptional. Crucially, they've managed to maintain momentum well into 2012 to a point where they have the confidence to officially launch it as a product. It will do the Nissan brand no harm at all and may even indirectly help sales of the GT-R. Perhaps a Note GT-R isn't such a bad idea after all? Then again...

Nissan Juke-R to go into production in 2012The renewed interest in the Juke-R has reminded me of my trip to Nissan's Sunderland factory in April. I'll be writing about the factory tour in due course, but there were one or two surprises laid on during the day. Not least the chance to drive the Juke-R for myself.

Feeling slightly dazed by an incredibly early drive to Southampton Airport in the Fiat 500 TwinAir, I arrived at an empty Newcastle Airport and was greeted by a nice chap in a Nissan Qashqai. After a brief drive down the A1, I arrived at Nissan's huge Sunderland plant. I'll save the details of the factory for a future blog, but let me say here that it's a massive place. It's more like a small town, where everybody drives Nissans. It's a surreal sight.

Nissan Performance Track at SunderlandIt was built in 1985 and has obviously grown in the subsequent 27 years that have followed, but for many years it was hiding a secret. In a dusty corner of the plant stood a small oval test track that was being severely under utilised.

As Terry Steeden of Nissan said to me on the day, it would seem rude for Nissan not to use the track for PR purposes, not least with the likes of the GT-R and Juke-R at its disposal.

Upon arrival at the track, I was immediately given a helmet and told to jump into a GT-R. With a race instructor by my side, I was treated to two laps of the oval track before trying out the car's impressive launch control and brakes. It would be fair to say that the GT-R isn't a traditional PetrolBlog car, but this was the third time I've had the chance to experience the car in less than a year. At the rate I'm coming into contact with the car, I'm going need to look into finance packages. And I know I'll probably be shot down in flames for this, but the GT-R puts me in mind of the Honda NSX. In spirit at least, it's a genuinely useable supercar that is far more interesting than the usual suspects.

Nissan GT-R at Rising Sunderland event 2012

But the GT-R experience was a mere warm up for the main event. Jumping out of the GT-R, I was introduced to Jann Mardenborough. If the name's not familiar, it soon will be as this guy is a class act. Forget the Britain's Got Talent nonsense, this guy is the real deal. Jann is the chap who beat 90,000 gamers to win Nissan's PlayStation GT Academy in 2011. In doing so, Jann won a place on the 2012 European Blancpain Endurance Series where he will race in a Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3. At the time of writing, Jann and his team have already recorded a credible 12th place at Monza and are heading to Silverstone for race two in June.

Jann Mardenborough and the Nissan Juke-RYou're unlikely to meet a nicer and more down-to-earth chap than Jann Mardenborough. Despite his obvious talents behind the wheel, he remains humble and somewhat taken aback by the opportunity presented to him following hours and hours of playing Gran Turismo on the PS3. Anyone who questions the validity of a good race simulator only needs to spend five minutes in a car with Jann. As someone considerably younger than me might say, this guy has got the skillz.

Before experiencing Jann's driving at first hand, I was given the chance to drive the Juke-R myself. Writing PetrolBlog waffle is tough, but someone's got to do it, right?

The interweb is awash with crazy Juke-R comparisons, but I'm sure there's room for a couple more. From a styling perspective, if Batman and Max Rockatansky got together to build a Group B rally car, it might look something like the Juke-R. The performance is less easy to describe. Words like brutal and explosive would go someway to explaining it. It's not just the acceleration that impresses, but also the way it comes to a stop. You can power into corners at tremendous speeds, leaving your braking to the absolute last minute. You soon forget that you're behind the wheel of a crossover. Forget the GT-R, given the choice, I'd have the Juke-R. No really, I would.

It has a better soundtrack and somehow feels more like an untamed animal against the undoubted technical masterpiece that is the GT-R. That's not to say that the Juke-R feels like it was built in a shed. Far from it. It just feels like the characterful rough edges have been left in, rather than smoothed over. With the Juke-R you sense that the engineers and not the marketeers got their way, which is ironic given the subsequent successful PR and social media campaign. It's a beast of a car and my two laps simply weren't enough.

Jann Mardenborough at the wheel of the Nissan Juke-RBut then Jann took the wheel and if you'll forgive a brief moment of profanity, bloody hell. This guy really knows how to drive and has clearly mastered of the art of squeezing every last drop of talent from the Juke-R. We were hurtling into corners at unmentionable speeds and leaving the small matter of braking until the absolute last minute. Then the four-wheel drive system allowed Jann to carry speeds through the corner that I'd be happy doing on one of the straights. For a couple of crazy minutes, I was living the Juke-R dream and it was a chaotic and manic moment. I loved it.

I asked Jann if the reality of what he'd achieved had begun to sunk in. His response was that he had to pinch himself everyday and that he considered himself to be a very lucky lad. I'd say that luck only plays a small part, you need the talent to go with it.

Jann was similarly full of praise for the Juke-R, stating quite rightly that you need to have total trust in a car to get the maximum from it. You don't head into a corner at 140mph if you don't think the car is going to get you safely round to the next straight.

Rear of the Nissan Juke-R at Rising SunderlandMy time in the Juke-R was all too short, but I'm grateful for the opportunity to drive it and to Jann Mardenborough for showing me what it can do with a proper driver at the wheel. As I've said before, we need to be grateful that the likes of the Juke-R exist and that there are people out there with the skills to deliver what some people may consider to be fanciful dreaming. We also need to salute Nissan for having the balls to build the car for real and for having the confidence to build it in Britain.

All we need now is for Volvo to make the C30 Polestar concept a reality. Get on the phone to your local dealer now...