Nissan's fearsome GT-R and Chevy's big-block Camaro ZL1 might not seem like everyone's ideal candidates for a head-to-head showdown.
After all, one is supposedly the scalpel-sharp progeny of all that Japan has learned about racing cars (and the very heart of the gaming phenomenon Gran Turismo), while the other is, well, a big, old American pony car, very well-muscled but just a little too generous in the waist area.
It's a bit like Brock Lesnr taking on a samurai. The UFC star may, indeed, be big and bad, but he is -- to paraphrase the oldest dictum of warfare -- bringing wrestling to a sword fight.
Most would see the Camaro fighting the recently revitalized Shelby Cobra for the North American muscle-car crown, while the supposedly sharper GT-R would mix it up with Ferrari, Porsche and the like. Closer inspection, however, reveals that, on paper at least, Nissan's GT-R and Chevrolet's ZL are quite comparable.
The big-block Camaro, for instance, boasts 580 horsepower, while the GT-R claims 545 (though most observers think Nissan is severely underrating the twice-turbocharged V-6). Even the r.p.m. at which their engines make maximum power is similar, the Nissan's peak torques kicking in at 3,200 r.p.m. and the Camaro's at 3,800, while their maximum horsepower occurs at almost the same r.p.m.
Maximum torque sees the Chevy's 556 pound-feet lord it over the Nissan's 463 (again, most suspect Nissan of underrating the GT-R's specs), but factor in their curb weights -- 1,872 kilograms for the admittedly porky Camaro and a still-plenty-hefty 1,737 kg for the Nissan -- and the numbers start evening out.
Indeed, a few strokes of my new iPhone5 (the calculator works fine even if the Maps app does not) reveals almost identical 3.2-kg-per-hp power-to-weight ratios. So much for the seemingly nonsensical comparison.
Quite how they go about putting all that power to the road, however, is hugely different. Succinctly put, despite giving up an advantage in every official specification but weight, the GT-R simply feels faster. Indeed, for sheer instantaneous roll-on punch and go, it's hard to think of any production car more brutally quick than the Nissan. The urge that relatively miniscule 3.8-litre V-6 can deliver in its formidable mid-range is quite unbelievable.
Think about this for a moment: The Camaro boasts 6.2 litres of displacement and a supercharger, yet it feels the lesser to a V-6 barely bigger than a Dodge Caravan's. Nissan is clearly fibbing with those 545-hp and 463-pound-feet-of-torque numbers.
By way of comparison, the ZL1 can, thanks to the miracle of a new launch-control system and all that horsepower, accelerate to 96 kilometres an hour in 3.9 seconds; the GT-R, thanks to launch control, all that hidden horsepower and all-wheel drive, can do the same in about 2.7 seconds (roughly 2.8 to 100 km/h).
Both cars are thus wickedly fast; matt the throttle and drivers of both will offer up thanks to the great lord of horsepower and burnt rubber. The difference, however, is that while the Camaro elicits a heartfelt "Oh My God!" full-gonzo boogie in the GT-R results in a truly terrorized "Holy Mother Of God!!!" Driving the GT-R is to understand the power of that simple maternal reference.
Their performance once the road curves is equally different, though less dramatic. Of course, it's the Nissan that feels most overtly sporty. Certainly, its ride is firmer. While the high-tech coupe (the cabin is literally swamped in gauges) does pretend to offer some damping adjustability, the difference in compliance is like the distinction between getting hit over the head with sandstone and igneous lava.
Yes, a geologist can testify to the difference in hardness between the two on the Mohs scale, but to the neurosurgeon trying to patch you back together, their effect is the same. In other words, the GT-R offers its passengers the choice between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
The ZL1, by comparison, is positively limousine-like. Indeed, in its "Tour" mode, the power-packed Chevy does a fair impression of a comfortable GT car, its trick damping fluid (which thickens or stiffens the suspension in response to electrical current) offering a fairly compliant suspension. Flip the toggle into "Sport" and it's dramatically stiffer, though there's still more roll than in the GT-R.
Even beyond such normally important factors as suspension compliance, however, there are dramatic differences in the way these two cars handle.
The Nissan, for instance, tames all its power by delivering torque to all four wheels, the high-tech AWD system attempting to always deliver torque to each tire appropriate to the traction at the time.
Throw in immediate though linear steering response, brakes that could stop a Mack truck and the aforementioned stiff suspension and you have a recipe for slot-car handling and limpet-like grip.
And, in most cases, that's what the GT-R delivers. Drive hard into a corner, mash on the brakes and then flick the steering wheel and the big Nissan reacts as if the connection between human and machine is neural. You hammer on the gas hard and all that Herculean horsepower shoots you out of the apex like God's own slingshot.
If the corners are short, the GT-R does have one failing. In long -- very long -- high-speed sweepers that require constant-throttle grip, the big Nissan pushes its front end like a summer-tired Camry on ice. Indeed, I think the very definition of racetrack frustration is that, after hustling a nimble GT-R through a series of shorter ess corners only to arrive at a big 180-degree bowl, you wonder how your race car has suddenly disappeared from underneath you.
The Camaro is almost the polar opposite. The ZL1 doesn't tame its power via torque vectoring AWD but with a super-sophisticated electronic stability-control system. Indeed, the Camaro's "Competition" mode may be the best traction nanny in the sports-car business, allowing just the right amount of rear-end tail drifting while still preventing the overly enthusiastic from spinning the monster-like yo-yo every time we get a little injudicious with the throttle.
It works a treat, and unlike other American muscle (save perhaps the Boss 302 version of the Mustang), the ZL1 is a treat to drive on the track. Its weakness, however, is low-speed hairpins where no amount of digitized control can stop the lardy beast from pushing the front end.
For racetrack aficionados looking for a metaphor, the GT-R would be a handful through Mosport's diabolical Turn Two, while the ZL1 would be a mess through tricky Corner Five.
Any advantage the GT-R has on the track, however, is quickly negated as soon as you take both on the open road. The ZL1 is, in a word, a pussycat compared with the GT-R. Besides the aforementioned advantage in suspension compliance, it's the Chevy that feels more sophisticated than the Nissan, its six-speed "rock-crusher" manual transmission notwithstanding.
U-turn the GT-R in a parking lot and its various AWD differentials -- especially in the front -- make garrunching noises that would do a 20-year-old tractor justice. Everything -- throttle, brakes, suspension -- is abrupt, while the Camaro is a big softie. It's quieter, easier to get in and out of and the controls make more sense.
The GT-R's one comfort advantage is that the standard seats are far better than the Camaro's; GM seemingly chose seats from the Malibu for its second-fastest sports car (and its fastest, the Corvette ZR1, has crappy seats as well).
In the end, I suspect fans of each car will quickly differentiate themselves, GT-R fans not even considering the ZL1 and vice-versa. The logic-based choice between the two is quite simple:
If you have enough moolah for multiple cars, then the $103,980 GT-R will make a mighty entertaining addition to the fleet -- it's simply the supercar made (relatively) affordable.
But if you need one sports car to do it all -- road and track, as the magazine says -- then the $58,000 Chevy is the far better choice.
-- Postmedia News