Posts Tagged Nissan GT-R

Drive your heroes

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT HellcatThe phrase “don’t meet your heroes” can apply as much to cars as to people. Just as individuals often don’t live up to their admirers’ heroic ideals, cars that people like me obsess over don’t always live up to the hype.

Whether it’s a sleek looking supercar that turns out to be an utter nightmare to drive, or an overhyped newcomer that looks great on paper, but fells numb and unfulfilling in real life, there are many ways a car can fall short of expectations. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

One of the privileges of being a card-carrying member of the International Motor Press Association (IMPA) is being able to attend the group’s Test Days event. Held every fall at Monticello Motor Club about 60 miles north of New York City, it’s an opportunity for journalists to test out a wide variety of cars on public roads, on the track, and off road. At this year’s event, I got to meet a few of my automotive heroes.

I’ve been obsessed with some of these cars for decades, others are fairly recent fixations. I’ve even driven some of them before, but never the way they were intended to be driven. They were all different, but they all lived up to expectations.

2016 Subaru WRXThe Subaru WRX was one of my first automotive loves. I still remember my jaw dropping upon seeing one in a dealership back in 2002, when I was in eighth grade and this rally car for the road was just being introduced.

Over a decade later, I got my hands on a 2016 WRX. This is a much more high tech version than the original, and arguably less charmingly simple. It’s bigger, and the one I drove was saddled with a CVT automatic transmission, not the ideal choice for serious driving. Still, the WRX put a smile on my face. Puttering along the back roads around Monticello, it made even relatively slow-speed driving feel exciting. It also fit like a glove: after a short time behind the wheel, it felt comfortably familiar.

That familiarity continued on the track, where the WRX’s turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive grip made a trouble-free lap easy. By the end of my short time with the car, I’d grown so attached that when I parked it, I reflexively reached into my pocket for a key fob, to lock the doors.

2015 Nissan GT-RAnother Japanese performance legend is the Nissan GT-R. It’s a supercar disguised as a comfortable two-door coupe, that can hang with a Porsche 911 Turbo for a fraction of the price. Years before it was made available in the U.S., the GT-R became a legend as one of the top cars in the Gran Turismo racing-game series. That’s how I first found out about it. That R34-generation model was as alluring mysterious as an alien world, and I eagerly followed the trajectory of the current R35 generation from conception to its arrival in U.S. showrooms.

I’ve driven the GT-R before, but always on relatively low-speed public roads, with ever-vigilant cops and plenty of other cars. So when I finally got a chance to see what the 545-horsepower beast known as “Godzilla” could really do, I couldn’t get across the parking lot fast enough. While the GT-R has garnered plenty of praise for its unbelievable performance, I’d also heard plenty of criticism. It’s too heavy, and relies too much on sensation-dulling technology, some have said.

The GT-R certainly is big by sports car standards, but like its namesake, the Nissan is also ferocious. To indulge a cliche, it attacked the corners, but also showed amazing precision. Its clever all-wheel drive system and electronic aids intervened in the only way you want them to, helping to smooth things out, without wresting control away from the driver.

2015 Mercedes-Benz G500It’s not all about speed, though. Off road, it requires as much precision to maintain forward momentum at 2 mph as it does to thread a car through corners at track speeds. One of the legends of this realm is the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, a converted military vehicle that’s been in production since the 1970s. Known as the “G-Wagen,” it’s been masquerading as a luxury SUV in the U.S. for about a decade now.

I love military vehicles, so this boxy Mercedes immediately stole my heart. I never thought I’d get to drive one, but then I found myself crawling down a steep hill in the woods behind the track, with an instructor making pronouncements about left-foot braking and “trusting” the vehicle, like some sort of off-road guru. Despite seeming almost as wide as the course, the G-Wagen proved an able partner in navigating the terrain.

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT HellcatI was at least somewhat familiar with all of these cars, either from years of past admiration or previous drives, but the Dodge Challenger and Charger Hellcat twins were completely new to me. They hit the automotive world like a bomb last year, both brandishing a 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8 with 707 horsepower. They may be humble Dodges, but the Challenger and Charger Hellcats can both top 200 mph. The Charger Hellcat is actually the fastest four-door car currently in production.

After hearing a colleague’s tale of sliding sideways up a hill in one of these, I was a little intimidated by the Challenger Hellcat. But with some gentle throttle application and the electronic aids turned on, it turned out to be just as easy to pilot as many other performance cars, but much more dramatic.

Hit the throttle, and you’d better be awake. The Hellcat engine pummels you with acceleration and, yes, the 707 hp makes a big difference over less-powerful Challenger variants. The Hellcat felt like it just wanted to keep accelerating until the very horizon was splattered across its windscreen like a bug, the supercharger cackling maniacally the whole way. In short, it lived up to its billing as a hellacious muscle car.

2015 Dodge Charger SRT HellcatBut muscle cars aren’t supposed to be able to handle. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I took the Charger Hellcat out on the track, other than it might be… difficult. Yet while not exactly nimble, the big four door acquitted itself pretty well, and I was very impressed by what it could do in the hands of the Chrysler driving instructor I rode shotgun with after my lap. Where I felt the need to slow down to maintain control, he just barreled through like the Charger was a tiny Miata.

Maybe it’s just that today’s cars are more refined than their predecessors, or that consumers increasingly demand cars that can do everything well, rather than sacrifice practicality and comfort to performance or style. Either way, the upside seems to be that today, if a car looks good, it probably is.

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Driving the Nissan GT-R

Nissan GT-RNormally the words “Nissan” and “supercar” don’t belong in the same sentence, but the automotive world is full of surprises.

The Nissan GT-R is widely regarded as one of the world’s most capable performance cars, and one that can routinely embarrass products of more prestigious manufacturers like Porsche.

I recently got the chance to see what all of the fuss is about during a short drive in New York’s Bear Mountain State Park.

When the GT-R arrived in the United States as a 2009 model, it was an anomaly. It was hard to picture a fairly-heavy four-seat coupe that could lap Germany’s infamous Nurburgring faster than a contemporary Porsche 911 Turbo, and earn the nickname “Godzilla.”

That is, unless you were privy to the generations of GT-R that preceded it. Even before it hit U.S. showrooms, the GT-R had a ready-made fan base of people who had “driven” its predecessors in video games like Gran Turismo.

The current R35 generation stepped things up, too. Previous versions were actually hot-rodded Skyline coupes, and went by the proper name Skyline GT-R. However, the R35 is a bespoke design.

IMG_2141Under the hood is a 3.8-liter, twin turbocharged V6, connected to a six-speed, dual-clutch transaxle and all-wheel drive.

Nissan has consistently improved this powertrain since the GT-R’s launch. Where 2009 models produced 480 horsepower and 463 pound-feet of torque, the 2015 GT-R I drove boasts 545 hp and 463 lb-ft.

That’s enough to get the 2015 GT-R from 0 to 60 mph in 2.7 seconds. If that’s not good enough, there’s an even more extreme GT-R NISMO model available.

I didn’t get the chance to test that performance during my short drive, which was on a slow road littered with cops. That didn’t mean I wasn’t humbled by the GT-R’s awesome reputation.

Godzilla was remarkably civil in this situation. Aside from the wonderfully-loud exhaust, its supercar nature is ratcheted down in everyday driving. The controls respond with immediacy but aren’t twitchy and, with the adjustable suspension in a less-aggressive setting, the ride is smooth.

In fact, the only real downside is that it seems like a waste to not drive the GT-R fast.

I leaned into the throttle briefly and was rewarded with a ferocious burst of acceleration. Given how docile the car had been up to that point, it was a revelation akin to seeing the machine elves in the walls of reality.

So while the GT-R is perfectly enjoyable to drive at normal speeds, its specialness doesn’t really become apparent until you prod it.

All things considered, that’s not much of a flaw. Helmets aren’t that expensive.

Nissan GT-R

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Sunday Royals Garage Car Show recap

Aston Martin Vanquish Audi R8 Chevy ApacheLast weekend was Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer and car show season. I spent Sunday at the Sunday Royals Garage Car Show at Lime Rock Park, and saw nearly every type of car imaginable lined up on the same main straight that usually hosts Le Mans prototypes an Trans Am racers.

The show was a little small because of the weather, but there was still an outstanding variety of cars. Here are my top five favorites:

Plymouth SuperbirdPlymouth Superbird

You may have seen Vin Diesel driving this car’s twin, the Dodge Charger Daytona, in the latest Fast & Furious movie. It’s a Plymouth Road Runner with the best aerodynamics the 1970s had to offer, making it the perfect weapon for a NASCAR oval. Today, the Superbird is one of the rarest muscle cars around, so I was excited to see this Hemi Orange example at Lime Rock.

1929 Stutz Blackhawk1929 Stutz Blackhawk

You rarely see a car this old out and about, unless it’s a ubiquitous, mass-produced Ford. In addition to having one of the coolest names ever, the Blackhawk represents a time when most cars of a certain price really were one-of-a-kind, thanks to their custom bodywork. Stutz was also one of the first great American marques, known for the Bearcat sports car and its heated rivalry with Mercer.

Bob Sharp Datsun 240ZDatsun 240Z racecar

It’s hard to argue with a wide-body 240Z in red, white, and blue, but this car had special resonance for me. Bob Sharp was one of the first American Datsun/Nissan dealers, and did a lot to promote the brand through racing cars like this one.

My parents bought our first new car after moving to Connecticut at what used to be Bob Sharp Nissan, so the local connection made this slick 240Z that much more special.

Nissan GT-RNissan GT-R(s)

There were actually three copies of Nissan’s all-conquering sports car at Lime Rock, but that doesn’t exactly make it common. The GT-R is an all-wheel drive, four-seat coupe that can dice with a Porsche 911 Turbo at the Nurburgring, all for a (relatively) affordable price. Unlike that Porsche, or certain Italian cars that will go unnamed, the GT-R really is a performance car that you can imagine living with every day.

1980 Toyota Tercel1980 Toyota Tercel

I heard the show’s MC talking about a 1980 Tercel over the loudspeakers and thought he was joking. I hadn’t seen the car.

Bringing a Japanese economy car to show that also featured an Audi R8, Aston Martin Vanquish, and three Nissan GT-Rs takes a lot of chutzpah, which this little car and its owner had in spades.

The car looks perfect slammed onto those chunky wheels, and under the hood is a souped up engine that was basically made from scratch. They don’t sell many performance parts for Toyota Tercels.

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