Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Nihon No Karuma Ga Suki Desu

Auto-folks in the audience may have noticed that a crop of Japanese supercars, designed to compete with those from the US and, especially, Europe has sprung up recently.

Nissan GT-R

The car getting most of the press at the moment is the Nissan GT-R, the latest evolution of the long-running Skyline GT-R model. The GT-R was designed to out-perform the Porsche 911 Turbo, but is sticker-priced about 65,000 dollars less. The super-Nissan is stuffed to the gills with all manner of advanced automotive technology: twin turbochargers, computer-controlled all-wheel drive, launch control, and more. Jalopnik has taken to calling this car Godzilla, because of its world-conquering performance and immense dimensions. And its Japanese origins, of course.

Interestingly, a bit of a sparing match has sprung up between Nissan and GM over the times Gojira and Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 can post around the famed Nürburgring Nordschleife. This is the kind of automotive oneupmanship I can get behind, since a car's time around the 'Ring tells you a lot more about its performance than its 0-to-60 time, quarter-mile time, or power output would. The Japanese car seems to have the lead at the moment, but the posted times are far from final, since the ZR1 put up its time on wet pavement.

I hasten to point out that the Nissan is about 30 grand cheaper than the uber-Vette, so it would be more fair to compare the normal to the Corvette Z06 and to pit the the Zr1 against the upcoming GT-R V-Spec.

At this point I'd like to comment on the contentious and polarizing styling of the GT-R. Nissan has stated that they styled this car to differentiate it as much as possible from supercars from elsewhere in the world. They wanted a distinctly Japanese aesthetic and thus took as inspiration the artwork found in manga and anime. I think they've clearly achieved a very distinctive and not unattractive style. Thus, although I don't think this vehicle is as beautiful as a Corvette ZR1 or a Ferrari F430, I endorse its appearance.

Lexus LF-A

Toyota has been working on its own halo car, the Lexas LF-A for several years, but the production version of the car still hasn't hit the dealerships. Much less is known about this vehicle than about the GT-R, but it is expected to be available in V10 or hybrid-V8 configurations. Oh, and it, too, has been spotted lapping the 'Ring.

Mazda Furai Derivative?

To my knowledge, there are no official plans to produce a production vehicle based on Mazda's Furai concept/testbed. However, as a newborn fan of Mazda and an engineer fascinated by the Wankel rotary engine, I think Mazda should build its own supercar to cast a halo over the rest of the model line. Plus, this car, clothed in the latest evolution of Mazda's Nagare (Flow) design language and built on a couple-year-old racing chassis, is gorgeous, with the possible exception of the tendrils on the front. I mean look at it. Seriously. Note how air can flow between the body of the car and the rear wheels. I even dig the flat gray paint job.

However, the coolest aspect of the car isn't the styling; it's the 3-rotor Wankel engine, known internally as the 20B. That mill puts out 450 horsepower from just under 2 liters of displacement. The sound this car makes is amazing, and it seems to move along pretty well, too. I'd love to see Mazda market a car based on this concept, using 3 rotors from---and thus 3/2 of---the new 1.6-liter 16X engine, which would give a displacement of 2.4 liters. The resulting vehicle would certainly have a strong point of distinction from all those reciprocating-engined supercars.


  1. Those cars are all very well and good, but have you seen Darth Vader's personal supercar? (

    It has a Pitot tube speedometer!

  2. Nick, I'd seen that car go by on Jalopnik, but didn't catch the pitot-tube speedometer. I agree that knowing ones airspeed is crucial when driving. That's one feature the GT-R doesn't have.