CHALK AND CHEESE. APPLES AND ORANGES. Night and day. Six things with more in common than the Nissan GT-R and Lotus Evora Sport 410. And yet, this odd couple make a compelling pair. For although their differences in approach are clear and numerous, key similarities are there if you care to look. While the respective outputs of their forced-induction V6s are wildly different, physics applies its own parity via the power-to-weight ratios. Each has a supercar-challenging top speed of 300km/h or more. Crucially, both cars offer an alternative take on established and more conventional rivals, with you – the driver – at the centre of their world.
No question, these are individual machines. Cars with characters as distinct and disparate as the cultures from which they were born. They’ve both been round the block, too, the R35 GT-R being launched in 2007, the Evora in 2009. In that time each has evolved through numerous iterations to get to this point; a point where the Nissan has been made more civilised and the Lotus more hardcore. Before we get into the driving, it’s worth looking at how these latest 2017 MY models have changed. The GT-R’s tweaks are less extensive, but promise to have a significant effect on the car. Aero and styling mods have improved cooling and given the basic GT-R a look that borrows from its extreme Nismo brethren.
There’s a bit more power (20hp to be precise, giving 570hp) thanks to an increase in boost pressure higher up the rev range, though the big Nissan has never been short on poke. It’s the suspension that has come in for the most significant changes, with a move towards much increased pliancy in all three damper settings. It’ll be fascinating to discover how these changes affect the notoriously iron-fisted GT-R on bumpy British roads. Lotus has taken the opposite tack with the Evora Sport 410, by subjecting the car to a ruthless weight reduction programme.
A carbonfibre splitter, front inspection panel, roof and tailgate, diffuser and rear quarter panels drop weight and the centre of gravity, while minimalist carbonfibre sports seats save 9kg. Junking the rear seats saves further vital kilos and gains a useful luggage area There’s also a lithium-ion battery and ten-spoke forged alloy wheels, bringing the total down to 1325kg – or 427kg lighter than the GT-R. An optional titanium exhaust (as fitted here) can trim another 10kg from that. The Toyota-sourced supercharged V6 gets a tickle, too, gaining 10hp from a new water-to-air charge cooler, bringing the total up to 415hp.
A more effective aerodynamic package lowers the drag coefficient, but doubles high-speed down force. The dampers have been re-valved for increased compression and rebound. The springs remain unchanged, but the effective spring rate increases courtesy of the reduced weight of the car, and the ride height is down by 5mm. A Torsen limited-slip diff and a set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres round things off. Our intention is to compare both cars on road and track, but sadly the weather has other ideas; one of the mildest autumns in recent memory comes to an abrupt end the morning we head to the Bedford Autodrome to get some timed laps.
Not only is it wet, it’s cold. Like 4°C cold, which is too chilly for warmth-loving Cup 2 compounds. Exploratory laps in both cars provide graphic evidence that there’s no chance of generating representative or meaningful times, but it does offer the chance to explore – and exceed – the limits of grip and traction in safety. The GT-R has always been a car of contradictions, one with a reputation forged through motorsport success, but one that (to me) has never felt especially at home on track. Much of this is rooted in its apparently huge reserves of on road performance.
With speed limits to obey and other road users to respect, the GT-R fosters a sense of bound less grip and an unquenchable thirst for the horizon. Of course, you rarely get the chance to uncork it for more than a few seconds at a time, so taking a GT-R on track should be the perfect opportunity to gorge yourself on the forbidden fruits of all that power, torque and traction. What you don’t bargain on, yet always arrives to spoil the party, are those pesky laws of physics the GT-R appears to sidestep so convincingly on the road.
At 1752kg the GT-R is carrying some timber. Not that you’d know it when your foot’s pressed firmly on the throttle. But hit the brakes and work the steering wheel in an environment where you can really probe the car’s limits and you become very aware of the forces at work. Wet conditions remove the brutality from the way the GT-R attacks a lap, but you still feel it fighting itself and the track if you attempt to bully it. It’s one of the great ironies that all-wheel-drive cars can be the most challenging to drive to their limits in tricky conditions. Part of that is because you’re arriving at the corners carrying more speed, but it’s also because they tend to do more things from turn-in to corner exit.
The GT-R is no exception. Depending on how you prepare it for the corner it can exhibit turn-in oversteer or understeet find its balance as you start to squeeze the throttle, fade to power understeer, build to a big, all-wheel drift or spike into full-on oversteer. Sometimes it feels like you get all of that in one corner. Whatever it does, you need time and space for things to play out, whether that means letting the momentum bleed away or keeping it lit and letting the front and rear axles fight it out between themselves. It’s a challenge with only occasional rewards. Mostly the GT-R feels cumbersome, a bit hit-and-miss.
Swap to the Evora and it immediately feels flighty and ultra-agile. Far from needing to cajole it, you quickly learn to ease it into and through the corners. This process of stripping back your inputs requires discipline and sensitivity, especially in these ultra-slippy conditions, but once you’ve gauged the Sport 410’s front-end bite you can commit it to corners with precision and consistency.
The trick is to lean on the grippy, super-responsive front end just enough to initiate a hint of a slide from the rear, then gently pick things up on the throttle and balance the slide with some corrective lock and your right foot It’ll take a few goes for you to get a feel for the diff, but once you understand it favours early, progressive throttle play, you really can get the Evora dancing along a tightrope where slip just favours grip.