|Photos: Nissan Motors Corporation, USA|
Unbidden, one of the quartet says, "Y'know, I've just never warmed up to the GT-R."
Three heads nod knowingly. This is not a controversial opinion. It is common, understood, innately correct.
It is also slightly frustrating and difficult to justify. Somehow you'd think that car deserves better, but it doesn't really make the right connections.
No one can dispute the fact that the GT-R is disturbingly fast and capable. This isn't even something to be qualified by its relatively low price tag; it's an absolute. This thing accelerates hard enough to perform noninvasive surgery on your internal organs and the driveline manipulates torque outputs with a delicacy and accuracy to invoke a snit fit in a prima ballerina. In many many ways it's a magnificent machine.
And it never seems to deliver the goods in a way that allows it to sit in the pantheon of greats where the numbers would say it belongs.
What's wrong here? If I could draft a letter to GT-R project manager Kazutoshi Mizuno, how would I explain why I respect this creation but have no real desire to own one? And how should these concerns be heard by the greater automotive design and manufacturing community?
I'm admittedly living on the described impressions of others here - I've never driven a GT-R. I would love to try one for a few days (word to Nissan press relations: let's talk, seriously), but for now I have to accept the word of many respected and trusted authorities, who have been consistently unanimous in both their praise and criticisms.
So what should I theoretically say to Mizuno-san?
Well, first and simplest, it's far from the most exciting shape on the road. It's not unappealing - it's no Juke - but it really doesn't provoke a major emotional response. It's a solid, somewhat bulky, pretty generic modern GT car. The Infiniti G37 coupe has far more art to its lines. Even given the platform's significant size, there's no reason why the body can't be much more appealing. (Nissan's styling in general is kind of uninspired right now, but there's no excuse to not make an extra effort for the flagship.)
The interior is nothing to make anyone fall in love, either. It's well-equipped, rational, and utterly inelegant in its presentation and ambiance. If you love buttons you're at home here, but otherwise it lacks - and in a different and less likable way than the old traditional German no-nonsense approach. Maybe it's those buttons.
Once you get into the specs, a few things stand out: Aside from the family-sedan dimensions, this is one heavy machine. Manufacturer's stated curb weight is 3829 pounds. Yes, it manages that weight extremely well, and pure mass is not a reason to dislike a car, but a well-balanced heavy sword is still a heavy sword - lots of impact but not the easiest to wield, especially in certain situations, and subjectively at a disadvantage to something more innately manageable.
Why the weight? Probably the massive complexity of every mechanical system in the car. If you love sports and racing cars, you usually have a healthy respect for tech in many applications - but you also prize simplicity and directness. The GT-R features neither of those traits.
Instead, you get the most complex driveline this side of a Bugatti Veyron, and even then it's close. (Six driveshafts?) The purist concerns about the paddle-shifter transmission are rapidly fading, but the rest - all those computer-monitored clutches, all those torque measurements, all that manipulation and assistance and interference - stands in contrast to accepted enthusiast canon through the ages, where it's been all about the ability of someone's right foot to fully command the situation without excessive second-guessing.
And that is only one system. Add in the DampTronic suspension (awful name, by the way) and yet another loathsome three-way "mode" selector and VDC and the rest and it approaches voice-recognition-system levels of disconnection and alienation.
It's like driving via Turing test. In getting to its fantastic numbers the GT-R replaces so much of the pure involvement and enjoyment of good fast driving with processing and interpretation and management to the point where a lot of us are just turned off by the whole thing.
This isn't about some stereotypical take on Japanese products being soulless, which is as outdated and inaccurate a prejudice as exists in the automotive world - and which happily seems to be fading into oblivion as we fully accept CRXs and Miatas and NSXs and Z32 300ZXs and first-generation RX-7s and S30 240Zs, among others, as indisputable classics.
I want the GT-R to be more like an NSX - simpler, lighter, more direct, less couched in binary processing and willful complexity. More elegant in its violence. Forcefully fast, yes, of course, but with a bit of an edginess and clarity that the current one lacks. Give it some style, drop some (well, lots of) weight, find a way to live with half of the buttons. Think 560-horsepower AWD FR-S and you're most of the way there.
Maybe the GT-R as it is needs to be reconsidered and repackaged. Maybe instead of a raw performance car all those systems should be used to create some sort of indomitable Grand Touring machine, with impeccable furnishings and exquisite lines and four comfortable seats. That would be close to the ultimate cross-country runner, something to make the Germans truly feel inadequate.
Instead, right now, it's a 911 Turbo competitor without any spirit or charm, which is a lot of what makes the 911 so lovable. The heads respect the GT-R, but most don't want it. And that's a shame - but it computes.