A technical masterpiece, no doubt, the GT-R has always flummoxed me a little. I understand it’s cult status as the first Nissan supercar to make it to Canadian Nissan dealers, but it’s still just a little too quirky, in my eyes, to be compared to an Audi R8 or Porsche 911, even if it beats them all hands down on both the value and performance fronts.
That is, however, until I drove one. And not just any one; another reason for the car’s cult-status is how easily it can be tuned to push out upwards of 500 horsepower, which the one pictured here does.
And it really is a techie’s paradise , too. Inside, you’ve got a nice, big digital readout designed by the folks responsible for the Gran Turismo series of video games. That’s right; video game developers helped to design the car. This might seem weird at first, but if you knew the multiple versions of the car (over 100) that have appeared throughout the various iterations of the franchise (not to mention the popularity for the model created by the game, especially on our shores), you’d understand why.
The display is there to show you your air/fuel mixture, how much boost you’re running, how many G’s you’re pulling, when your laundry’s done, when you have to walk the dog, how your kids are doing in school…OK, those last three aren’t true (we don’t think; there are so many features here that we’re fairly certain we didn’t get to explore them all), but the rest is and it all serves to suggest that you may as well drive the GT-R right on to the race track, which many do, I’m sure.
As far as how the technology affects the driving dynamics, the paddle shifters poking out from behind the wheels are a good starting point. They’re also very video game-like in their operation in that gears are swapped in the blink of an eye.
What no video game can mimic no matter how hard the developers try is the all-out attack on you senses that occurs when you plant your right foot. That power figure is huge, and thanks to the ATTESA all-wheel drive system, it flies down the road with almost no inertia whatsoever. Of course, you need a proper drag strip to get the full effect but even on short third-gear boots of thrust, you know that you’re at the wheel of a beast of a car.
Still, though. I felt strangely unfulfilled once I stepped out. Of course, that’s going to happen when you only spend 45 minutes in the driver’s seat, but the same went for all the cars during our experience and I just didn’t get the fizz from the Nissan. Maybe it’s because of all that tech in between you and the road, or because I didn’t really get to see the speeds the car was capable of. Either way, the Nissan was the only car I stepped out of that didn’t leave me feeling that I needed more.
Aston Martin V8 Vantage
If the Nissan is the technical master of all these cars, then I’d have to say that the Aston could very well be the most old-school of the bunch. The Porsche was close, but even it has a turbocharger wheras the Aston gets straight, unadulterated power from a nice, big, 4.3-litre naturally-aspirated V8 motor.
And I loved it.
I loved it because as soon as you sit in it, you are greeted with supple leather on the dash, doors and transmission tunnel. Then you proceed to grip the wheel which gets perforated leather at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions for better grip and control and you begin to understand that this is a car that’s as performance-focused as any here.
I could have used a little more headroom (I was actually more comfortable in the Gallardo from Part 1, if you can believe it) but that is a minor foible and one the serves to show you how compact and chuckable the Aston is. This is also helped by the fact that the Aston uses an aluminum structure and while it isn’t the lightest car we tried (the Ferrari holds that distinction), it’s no slouch in the bends.
No slouch in the straights either; that 4.3 eight-banger puts out 380 horsepower and just over 300 pound-feet of torque, meaning a 0-100 kilometers-per-hour time of just over five seconds, thanks in no small part to a close-ratio six-speed manual ‘box. It’s another testament to the purity of the Aston, and a demonstration on how this car was the first one in a while—from any manufacturer—that actually made Porsche look over its shoulder more than a little bit in the race for sports car supremacy when it was released in 2005.
If you look at the photos in our gallery below, you can see how far back the engine sits in the engine bay. That’s because the V8 Vantage is actually a front mid-engined car, meaning the motor actually sits behind the front axle and helps provide a more centralized weight distribution (the official numbers are 49/51 per cent front/rear). That means a nice neutral stance and a willingness to switch directions quickly. It can really be felt, to, making the car seem a lot smaller than it is.
It stands in stark contrast to the original V8 Vantage, which Aston released in 1977 and which was a big, loud, two-ton banger of a car that looked to have been developed just to keep the likes of James Bond safe (his targets? Not so much), which it did in 1987’s The Living Daylights. That was as American muscle car-like as any Brit at the time was, while the current Vantage maintains sports cars from Germany firmly in its sights.
Cars like the:
Porsche 911 Turbo (996)
This is the previous version of the 911 Turbo, which is somewhat of a flagship of the brand depending on how you define the term. Yes, there are more expensive and powerful or track-focused versions of the 911 available, such as the 911 GT3 or GT2, but I’d say this is the flagship in that it rally is the car that defines what modern Porsches are all about.
You have your turbo engine slug out over the rear axle, your four-wheel drive and close-ratio six-speed transmission. The manual transmission is especially worth mentioning here because even though the manufacturer is selling more and more cars equipped with the Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK) twin-clutch gearbox, they have also developed a proper manual, with a driver-operated clutch and seven speeds. So while Ferrari and Lamborghini have cut manual transmissions out of their current models, Porsche is standing steadfastly by the traditional set-up.
Also present in this car is the feeling that everything about it just seems so…right. At first, the feeling that you’re sitting more on-top of the car than it (as opposed to how you feel in the low-slung Lamborghinis, Ferrari or even the Aston) takes some getting used to; it’s there because the Porsche has a much more upright windshield, back window, dash and center console and as a result, more headroom than the others. Of course, this has always been Porsche’s claim to fame; how you can be piloting a top-flite sports car without having the feeling that you’re staring out of a pillbox.
The feeling of rightness translates into the driving position; everything is placed just so, from the shifter, to the steering wheel angle to the pedal box (no wheel arch intrusion here) and you’re comfortable in the Porsche; if I was to pick any of these cars as a daily driver, this one would be it.
Of course, if I wanted to treat it like more of a track-day toy then that would be fine, too. The 3.6-litre flat-6 motor makes 480 horsepower, which is more than the Aston and not far-off the figure made by the Gallardo. It takes a little longer to arrive in full thanks to turbo lag (the latest Porsche Turbo model nullifies this somewhat thanks to its new variable-vane turbo geometry), but when it does at around 6,000 r.p.m., you’d better be ready. While the 911 may seem a little softer on the surface than a Gallardo, it packs a big wallop and with both axles providing motive force, it will get shoot you towards the horizon at a brisk rate. And all the while, you have that unmistakable thrash of a sound that’s the flat-6 on full-chat, a sound that Porsches will be remembered for decades from now.
Of all the cars here, the Porsche has to be the quintessential opposite of the GT-R, which is probably why that of all the cars here—except, perhaps, the Murciélago—the Porsche was the car that I felt I really needed more time in. More precisely, it’s the car that I felt I really needed some track time in, and that’s not because this particular model has a set of aftermarket racing shock absorbers and springs. 911s are like that; because of their unique chassis alignment, it takes a little longer to learn the nuances of having that weight aft of the rear axles.
That being said, once you do, you’ll find a supremely well-balanced chassis that has pressed on through the generations and won races worldwide, even after they were told that it would never work.