by Angus MacKenzie
I hate flying in this country. I hate the whole experience. I hate being herded like cattle through airport security and shoehorned into shabby old planes at the mercy of underpaid pilots who sometimes forget to land. I hate how they sting me 15 bucks for checking a bag (if it’s about offsetting fuel costs, surely it would be fairer to charge passengers weight). I hate how they charge me six bucks for a cardboard box of processed pap they have the gall to describe as a meal. Flying used to be fun, glamorous, exciting. Now it’s just tedious in the extreme.
I live 10 minutes from LAX, and 300 miles from Las Vegas. So when it came to heading across the Mojave to the SEMA Show, I did the obvious thing: I drove.
My ride was our long term Nissan GT-R. I’ve done a bit of commuting around L.A. in the 2009 COTY winner over the past few months, but this was to be the first long road trip, and to be honest I wasn’t sure whether I’d made the right call. Don’t get me wrong. I like fast, exhilarating, extreme cars as much as anyone, but I know from experience that something capable of getting the adrenalin pumping hard on a 20-mile blast along a canyon road can quickly lose its sparkle droning along the interstate. And no matter which way you go, there’s plenty of interstate between L.A. and Vegas.
I needn’t have worried. The GT-R’s a surprisingly civilized freeway cruiser. Sure, the ride’s on the firm side, and there’s some tire noise on poor surfaces, but it’s no worse than a Porsche 911. Just leave the dual clutch tranny in auto mode, dial up 75-80 mph on the cruise control, crank up your favorite satellite radio station, and go with the flow.
And for something that’s fast enough to frighten a Ferrari, it’s remarkably fuel efficient. According to the trip computer the GT-R averaged 20.9 mpg for the 128 miles from LA to Barstow, and 22.3 mpg for the 67 miles from Barstow to Baker. I forgot about the fuel consumption after Baker, because that’s where I turned off the freeway and onto the two lane Route 127 that heads north towards Death Valley, bound for the township of Shoshone, and the junction with Route 178 which would bring me into Pahrump, then into Vegas from the west on Route 160.
The cruise and control and the radio were switched off, the shifter flicked into manual mode, and the GT-R and I got down to business as the road swept across the desert, past Dumont Dunes and into the mountains. I reveled in the relentless, urgent, seamless surge of power from the twin-turbo V-6 as I fanned the paddle shifter, and delighted at the marvelously planted feel of the chassis as we chased the horizon. The massive Brembos shrugged off the speed with easy assurance whenever the road suddenly jinked left or right, and only a gentle squirming of the steering wheel betrayed the furious calculations constantly routing and rerouting the torque to all four wheels as we punched past their apexes.
It was a satisfyingly rapid run to Shoshone, and accomplished with neither of us breaking a sweat. In fact, it was almost too easy.
The Nissan GT-R is a supremely competent supercar. But is it too competent? Is the GT-R – whisper it – a sanitized supercar for a video-game generation; a digitized speed experience that lacks grit and soul and character?
I’ll take competence over character every time when it comes to driving truly fast machinery. Character does not excuse the psychotic Ferrari 348 that once tried to kill me; that cold knot in the pit of my stomach every time I hustled a pre-993 Porsche 911 hard on a wet road; having to take fast corners in old big-banger Lamborghinis like I was riding alongside a Mafia hitman with a bad temper and a hair trigger. Character is cool when you’re noodling down to the local car show in your DeTomaso Mangusta, not when you chasing tenths of a second on the Nurburgring Nordschleife.
The coolly calculated Nissan GT-R may not have the rosso romance of a Ferrari Daytona, the charming idiosyncrasy of a Porsche 911, or the aw-shucks muscle of a Corvette ZR1. But in form and function it is a supercar that deftly defines both its era and its origin. All gigabytes and manga, GT-R is a supercar like no other; a supercar that only Japan could have created. I’d call that character.