It was an impromptu experiment but, though I say it myself, one that worked well. I’ve just spent the weekend swapping between a pair of sports cars with results I’d not easily have predicted.
These, it should be said, are not the most natural of bedfellows. One was a new, base specification Porsche Boxster, the other a Nissan GT-R with optional Track Pack. In fact all I could find to link the two was the fact that, because Nissan removes the GT-R’s rear chairs as part of the Track Pack package, both are two seaters.
Otherwise, the Nissan has its engine in the front, driving all four wheels, the Porsche’s is placed behind the driver powering the rear axle alone. The Nissan is turbocharged, the Porsche is not, the Nissan has a double clutch, paddle-operated gearbox, the Porsche six normal speeds. The Nissan has 542bhp, a little more than double the Porsche’s 261bhp. The Nissan is closed, the Porsche a convertible and at £36,572, the Porsche is very nearly £50,000 cheaper. Quite clearly they have absolutely nothing in common.
Except this: both are designed for drivers. Both should be able to communicate directly with that part of your being that was born to drive – to understand, respond to and indulge those desires.
The Nissan is as mad a car as I’ve aimed down the length of a public road in a very long time. First, there’s the ferocious speed of the thing – even without the track options, Nissan quotes a 0-62mph of 2.8sec, faster than any Ferrari, Lamborghini or Porsche ever made, and firmly in Bugatti Veyron territory. But that’s not all: this punch is delivered with an aggression to make Joe Frazier look shy. There’s no bedside manner, no gentle introduction into what’s to come, just a frenzied explosion of power every time you touch the accelerator. Even with four wheel drive and track day tyres, there are always lights flashing on the dash to tell you of your latest traction contravention, or if you turn off the electronics, a limitless variety of opportunities to see how quickly you can wind on some opposite lock.
I drove it 120 miles through Wales and enjoyed every manic second of it. It is a massively exciting car and a technological triumph too.
What would Porsche’s cheapest car be able to offer after that? It takes over twice as long to reach 62mph and comes with none of the pyrotechnic abilities of the GT-R. What it offers is a simple and, in this context, rather slow, entirely analogue experience.
Yet now 24 hours have passed, it’s the Porsche and not the Nissan to which my thoughts return. For all its power and frighteningly funny approach to the open road, I enjoyed the Nissan only on a superficial level; by contrast the Porsche grabbed hold of my heart and even now, the car itself afely back with its keepers in Reading, it shows no sign of wanting to let go. Here’s why.
In any sporting car I drive, that is any car that’s more than a mere conveyance, I want to be as involved in the action as possible. The Nissan plays out its extraordinary scenes in front of you but without letting you take the stage. You are, at best, a not very good director, trying to take charge of the situation but too often finding yourself reacting to unforeseen occurrences. Sometimes you feel little more than part of the audience. It’s fun for sure, but you’re observing more than you’re experiencing. The Porsche is the reverse: you are integral to the action, feeling every surface and camber change through your fingers, never releasing a single horsepower more than intended with your foot, timing each crisp gearchange to keep its howling little flat six in its optimum rev band.
What’s more, because the Boxster is so enjoyable even at normal speeds, every time the road clears there’s fun to be had. The Nissan needs huge, open and desolate places or, preferably, a race track, before it can be responsibly deployed.
Am I really saying this £36,000, 261bhp Porsche is more fun to drive than that £84,000, 542bhp Nissan? It depends on your definition of fun and I am aware that, as the name implies, the Nissan’s chosen habitat is not the public road on which this informal test was conducted but a race circuit. But road cars, even those as extreme as this, cannot live by track alone and faced with the same journey again and with the choice of these two before me, it is to the Porsche that I would turn to every time.