Up­grades off-track

The Weekend Australian - Life - - MOTORING -

In my most re­cent re­view of the Nis­san GT-R I said it was pretty much per­fect in ev­ery way and de­clared at the end that it’s not a five-star car. It’s the five-star car. I stand by that. If you want to go fast, in any weather, on any road, there is sim­ply noth­ing else that even gets close.

You know the space shut­tle. The pic­tures would sug­gest that it lum­bered off the launch pad as though it were get­ting out of bed af­ter a heavy night, but noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. When the re­strain­ing bolts were re­leased and those 37 mil­lion horse­power en­gines could do their thing, it ex­ploded up­wards so vig­or­ously that it was do­ing 190km/h be­fore its tail had cleared the gantry.

Any­one fa­mil­iar with the Nis­san GT-R would call that “a bit pedes­trian”. Maybe on a sweep­ing rib­bon of tar­mac in the Scot­tish High­lands on a dry, hot, sticky day the McLaren P1 could just about keep up. But it’s doubt­ful. And what makes this so ex­tra­or­di­nary is that the Nis­san has four seats and a big boot and to the ca­sual ob­server ap­pears to be “just a car”.

I have no idea why Nis­san makes it. It costs a lit­tle over £78,000 ($160,00), so the mar­gins must be small. So is the vol­ume. Which means the com­pany prob­a­bly makes more money each year from its fac­tory-floor vend­ing ma­chines. And it’s not as though the GT-R creates any form of mean­ing­ful halo for Nis­san’s other cars. No­body in the world has ever said: “Ooh, I ad­mire the GT-R’s abil­ity to get round the Nur­bur­gring in four sec­onds so I shall buy a Juke im­me­di­ately.”

I sus­pect Nis­san makes the GT-R pri­mar­ily to keep its en­gi­neers awake and loyal. Most com­pa­nies put pho­to­graphs of their employees of the month on a wall in re­cep­tion. But at Nis­san if you do good work on the rear light clus­ter of the dreary Kumquat SUV you are al­lowed to de­velop a dif­fer­en­tial for the GT-R.

That’s great, but how do you re­ward your bright­est and best when there will be no new GT-R for at least five years? Sim­ple. You let them make the ex­ist­ing car even bet­ter.

This re­cently re­sulted in the Nismo version. I have not driven it but I gather from speak­ing to the hol­lowed-out, mum­bling wrecks who have that it’s al­most stupid in its abil­ity to bend, break and then eat the laws of physics.

I’m also told that while it works ex­tremely well on a track, it’s far too raw to work on a road. Think of it, then, as a scuba suit. You need it if you want to look at a tur­tle, but it doesn’t really work on the Tube or in meet­ings with clients.

So now Nis­san has come up with the Track Edi­tion, which is sup­posed to be a half­way house. You get the stan­dard car’s V6 twin-turbo en­gine and the stan­dard car’s in­te­rior fix­tures and fit­tings. But you get the Nismo’s han­dling tweaks, which in­clude glue to sup­ple­ment the spot-welds and make the body even stiffer.

This is the sort of thing that makes an en­thu­si­ast of the brand need to re­pair to the lava­tory for a lit­tle “me time”. To the peo­ple who pop­u­late GT-R in­ter­net fo­rums a car that uses glue as well as spot-welds for added stiff­ness is way be­yond An­gelina Jolie and Scar­lett Jo­hans­son in a bath of warm milk.

There’s a prob­lem, though. Be­cause the body is now so stiff and the sus­pen­sion is so un­for­giv­ing, the car is com­pletely un­drive­able on the road. It’s so bad that af­ter one run from Lon­don to Ox­ford and back I parked it in my garage and have not even looked at it since.

There is no give. At all. Drive over a man­hole cover and you get some idea of what it might be like to be in­volved in a plane crash. You ac­tu­ally feel the top of your spine bounc­ing off the in­side of your skull. Jimmy Carr was in the pas­sen­ger seat and af­ter less than half a mile he asked if the sat-nav was pro­grammed only to take the oc­cu­pants to the near­est chi­ro­prac­tor.

But I wasn’t really lis­ten­ing be­cause the Track Edi­tion was serv­ing up an­other un­wanted party piece: any mi­nor cam­ber change in the road sur­face causes it to veer vi­o­lently left or right.

Nat­u­rally you’d ex­pect that on a track there would be some up­side to th­ese is­sues — but I can’t an­swer that be­cause driv­ing this car to a rac­ing cir­cuit to find out would be too un­com­fort­able and too fraught with dan­ger.

One Amer­i­can mag­a­zine found that the stan­dard car can gen­er­ate 0.97g in a cor­ner and the Track Edi­tion 1.02g. That’s not much of an im­prove­ment.

It’s no faster in a straight line ei­ther be­cause it has the same en­gine. In fact it may even be slower over a quar­ter of a mile be­cause it will spend most of its time veer­ing left and right. The nor­mal GT-R can and will go from A to B on a drag strip in the short­est pos­si­ble dis­tance. Which is a straight line.

Still, you might imag­ine that be­cause the Track Edi­tion is com­pro­mised so badly, it will be cheaper. Not so, I’m afraid. It is in fact about £10,500 more ex­pen­sive.

So we are left here with a rather tragic con­clu­sion. The stan­dard GT-R is a fives­tar car. It is one of the very, very best cars in the world. And yet this track-day abom­i­na­tion gets no stars at all. Be­cause it’s pretty much use­less.

I’ll sign off, then, with a sim­ple mes­sage to Nis­san. If you feel the need to tin­ker with your mas­ter­piece again, stick to the styling. Be­cause that’s the one area where a lit­tle bit of TLC wouldn’t go amiss. Ev­ery­thing else: leave it alone. Jeremy Clark­son’s com­ments are ex­pressed in the con­text of the Bri­tish ve­hi­cle mar­ket

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