Sunday, March 31, 2013

Cybernetics

Photos: Nissan Motors Corporation, USA
Four committed car guys standing around at a party at a the Classic Car Club in downtown Manhattan, relaxed, pleased to be among their own kind, idly chatting. Off to one side sits a gunmetal-gray-metallic Nissan GT-R.

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.

15 comments:

  1. For the mother of god yes, Maxizilla!

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  2. Patrick, I have several major issues with the GTR. Firstly, it's automatic only. Secondly it's not very attractive, it looks like any other Nissan to most people. It's too Japanese for my taste, no soul. Also, before the upgrade, it wasn't as fast as Nissan claimed. Alain Prost tested one for a French mag and when he was told of how fast it supposedly went around the ring, he said no freaking way. There were all sorts of stories about tuned ringers going to the mags for testing.

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  3. Alain Prost tested one for a French mag and when he was told of how fast it supposedly went around the ring, he said no freaking way.

    Only galactic sized uber spazz dorkoids take ANY of the numbers that come from a run on the 'ring even remotely seriously.

    Having the fastest time on the 'ring is the King of Nothing.

    NO ONE CARES.

    NO ONE.

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  4. Maybe people don't like it because on paper it competes with exotics, but in reality its competition is M3's and v8 AMG's Its a heavy luxury sports car. Its looks are plain but in reality it doesn't matter what a the car looks like. People like the strangest looking cars for such different reasons. In my eyes, its good enough looking but certainly not poster worthy.

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  5. You admit to never driving it, then inject what you think the GT-R should be? The GT-R has been all wheel drive, and twin turbo since 1989, when it really came into the modern age.

    People complained in 1989 that there were too many computers, and that the car was heavy. For 1989 it did have a lot of computers, and it was heavy (3200 lbs). However, it was also very quick around a track, and honestly if you drove one today, you would wonder what someone was on about the computer control.

    The people that think the R35 GT-R is uninvolving, just aren't driving it hard enough.A GT-R is an easy car to drive fast, but to truly extract everything out of it, you have to be a pretty good driver. It is not a car for everyone, but it can run the numbers. To run the numbers at the $$$ it makes some compromises.

    Have a look at the One Lap of America results the last couple of years, and see what people that can chose any car, chose as a weapon.

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  6. Having never driven one...you lack total and real credibility. Ok fine you've seen one...so you can comment on the GTR Looks. Sure I think everyone would agree...The GTR could use a bit of help...But I think the GTR is still better looking than the new vette and viper. It lacks that head snapping looks, but it makes up in performance. The body actually has one of the lowest drag coefficients on the market...

    I have driven the 2008...It's a great car...because it's totally practical. Even more so than porsche 911. You can use it everyday...take it for a weekend trip and fit more than one suitcase in it. It has good sight lines...you don't feel a big-rig can squash you. It was calm under normal conditions.

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  7. Wow, an opinion on the internet based solely on the opinions of others, how original!

    Seriously though, your perception that the R35 GT-R is a soulless, non engaging, computer controlled experience is erroneous at best, and I suggest you actually drive an R35 GT-R before forming these opinions rather than being a sheep and following the herd.

    I have owned two R35s in the past 4 four years, an MY09 and I recently picked up an MY13. I conceded that at normal legal road speeds the car can feel like any other road car and not feel special in any way, but this is because the R35 has such a wide envelope of performance, that even on moderately high speeds on the road it feels controlled, stable, and is quiet and efficient as it goes about it's business.

    I've had the pleasure of driving an R35 on a race track (Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit) a couple of times too (MY10 and MY11, thanks Nissan Australia) on a Nissan drive day and let me tell you that at 8-9/10ths it is gobsmackingly brutal, purposeful, and is intimately involving for a driver when driven that hard.

    The interior, although filled with screen of real time data and buttons galore, is comfortable and business like, suitable for day to day use, not like the "Sunday drive only" uncomfortable leather/alcantara interiors of a Lambo or Fezza. Seriously the real time data screens and buttons aren't necessary to drive an R35, you could cover them and still drive the car effectively.

    The looks - well again they are about purpose, not aesthetics (I actually don't mind the looks at all), and the weight actually helps the car generate the prodigious grip that it does when driven hard.

    In all seriousness this car is about being a comfortable and fast day to day car, but a capable track car too. It's real competition are cars like 911 Turbo, M3, RS4, RS5, C63AMG not Lamborghinis and Ferraris.

    Rather than bemoaning the fact the R35 isn't the car you want or of your dreams why don't you talk about cars that have all the feature you are missing the R35 (light weight, driver involvement, less computer assistance, nice looks) like the MY13 Lotus Exige S, MY13 Porsche 911 GT3, MY13 Ferrari 458 Italia etc.

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    Replies
    1. Fucking great talk bro

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  8. People really shouldn't write articles about these cars until they take it out on a road course. Even then most "car guys" are clueless about driving around a track or in the canyons.

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  9. from what i understand the gtr design is function -over-from, every shape and every line on that car is there for a reason : speed.

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  10. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-atyT9_t7bKE/TncBkReyY_I/AAAAAAABMpw/yv1dr5zcRDE/s1600/2013_VW-Polo-R-WRC_18.jpg something like this in place of paddles.

    more rear wheel bias

    sacrifice some low or mid power for more top end

    a longer first gear so you can really basque in the sensation of acceleration

    a more agressive exhaust tone.

    ~an increase of ~1000 rpm.

    give the car more road feel and try to exaggerate its personality.

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  11. Okulski, you are a giant butthole. You don't own one nor have ever driven one. I OWN one and have driven one. So you sir, should shut your mouth when you know NOTHING from your "Know-nothing" sources.
    If you had gone to the source (Mizuno) you might have answers to your stupid questions and remarks including the weight issue, but you went to a bunch of Nazi-biased jerks.

    Get a job reviewing kids' toys.

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    Replies
    1. Okulski didn't write this, whack-job.

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  12. paddleshifting a porsche or gtr, either way, driving a robot

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  13. I agree that unless you drive one you can't comment on how it is to drive. I'd also guess that some of the electronics you see are an externalization of "helpers" found on many cars. Here you can adjust them or just watch the nice displays.

    Mainly I'd like to comment on the styling. In person it is a lowering hulking beast. It has great presence - a kind of steampunk aesthetic. It's not graceful, it's not svelte but like a big estwing - it's a hammer you could be proud to own.

    In a world of 911s looking like inflated cockroaches, boring BMWs, oh hell just boring euro stuff - this is a refreshing alternative and a pretty brave one at that.

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