What we felt when we drove the all-new Z and GT-R
I'm glad I won't be wearing a racing suit today.
Those were the thoughts I had in my mind as I entered the Clark International Speedway on a scorching hot day. The track surface is so hot, you can feel the heat inside your sneakers. Heck, it's even possible for an egg to be cooked if you decide to drop one on the tarmac.
Being at CIS for a track day is not a new thing for me, as I've frequented this track to race, teach friends about track driving, and drive new cars. But this time it's a bit more special. I'm not racing, nor am I trying something that's completely new. After seven long years, I find myself driving Nissan's performance cars on a track again.
The last time I drove the Z and GT-R on track, it was on a cold October where you won't break a sweat even while wearing a black multi-layer fireproof suit. I was at the GT Academy. Yes. That same thing that was shown in the Gran Turismo movie.
Of course, obviously, my story ended differently, and the Le Mans ending is left in the “what might have been” section. Many years have passed since then, and a lot of things have changed for me. So did Nissan's performance models.
Though Clark is nowhere as big (or as cold) as Silverstone, the setup Nissan Philippines had made at the paddock reminds me of 2016. Nissan brought in examples of the GT-R and Z's predecessors like the G-nosed 240Z and the R32. And to top it off, they even had simulators upstairs. We're driving Clark both in virtual and reality.
But of course, the one I was most looking forward to was out in the pitlane. Two different beasts in their own right. And it was there waiting for us, the 370Z and the GT-R that I drove at the GT Academy, along with the new ones; the all-new Z and the updated GT-R. If anything, it felt as if I was Maverick hopping back to the F-14, or Memphis Raines with Eleanor. It's a reunion.
As we all know, the all-new Z is (almost) completely different from the previous 370Z. While underneath they still share the same platform, the previous one looked more like an evolution of the 350Z that came before it. The all-new Z's look goes back to the original. The OG if you will, the Datsun 240Z with its retro-modern styling.
The most significant change lies in what's underneath the hood. The 370Z had a naturally-aspirated V6, but now the all-new Z is packing a 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V6, along with a new transmission.
On the other hand, the changes were a lot more subtle with the GT-R. Visually, a normal person would only notice they changed the front end. But the thing is what Nissan did to Godzilla was to further refine its driving aspects with improved underbody aerodynamics and revised electronics.
Now those things are the ones you see on paper. But really, Nissan wanted us to physically see and feel the changes that their engineers made to both cars, which is why all four cars were made available for us to drive and compare.
First on my list was the old 370Z. Personally, it's a car that I've always liked with the way it handles, and I believe it really suits my driving style. The sharp steering response and its willingness to turn were perfect for the twisty sectors of Clark, as it changed direction quickly without ever unsettling its balance.
It's very old school, and very organic in terms of the feel. It would have been great if it had the 6-speed manual with SynchroRevMatch, as the automatic transmission was showing its age in terms of responsiveness. Either way, it still has that classic nimble handling for a front-midship, rear-wheel drive car. That set me up for a lot of things to expect with the all-new Z and fortunately, it was next on my list.
Once I sat in the cockpit, I noticed the step up in terms of cabin features with the all-new Z. No longer do you have analog dials and those round binnacles; what you get are digital screens for both the instrument cluster and the infotainment screen. Even the gear selector looks very different; it's more like the Kicks e-Power's soapbox-style shifter. As a driving enthusiast, I thought the all-new Z had also gone digital in terms of feel. But all those thoughts disappeared once I exited the pits.
Nissan retained the organic feel of the 370Z for the new one, and a lot of that may be coming from the fact that the platform is still the same. The chassis communicates just as well, if not better than the old one. The steering itself also gives a lot of positive feedback on what the front wheels are doing, despite being an EPS type.
The biggest difference really is when you go flat on the throttle. That's where the all-new Z transforms into a baby Godzilla. It's got that big lump of torque that would bury you in your seat. If anything, the Z's engine doesn't feel like it only has 383 PS and 475 Nm of torque. But then again, it might be because the Z is a much lighter car compared to the GT-R.
In terms of the transmission, the Z no longer has that bit of shift shock on the lower gears when doing downshifting, and responds a lot better going up and down the cogs.
On the other hand, the GT-R is still a different animal. While the Z excites from the amount of feedback it gives you, the GT-R on track is the reassuring one. Nissan has refined the all-wheel-drive system, the suspension, and all its electronics for you to drive comfortably at such high speeds. Even with the chicane placed on the last turn, it's hard to notice you're already doing north of 230 km/h before braking into turn 1. It's in the GT-R where Clark's almost kilometer-long main straight suddenly feels short.
As I slowly drove the GT-R back to the pits, I couldn't help but recall the memories and the fun I had with these cars back at the GT Academy. And perhaps that could be the reason why Nissan carries on with the platform of the Z and GT-R; both cars still deliver exceptional driving thrills in their own unique ways. The Z excites with how the car communicates with the driver, while the GT-R will leave a smile on your face by being such an effective track bullet.
Most of the time we get the answers from the executives themselves when we ask questions about their cars. But on that scorching day at Clark, my questions weren't answered by the people from Nissan; it was the cars that spoke for themselves.