SHOOTOUT: Nissan GT-R vs Jag XKR-S

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The 2012-spec Nissan GT-R and Jaguar XKR-S are both grand tourers with similar outputs, but that is where the similarity ends. Image: Steve Lawrence

Although a handful have already reached the eager paws of local customers, what you’re reading here is the first official test in South Africa of Nissan’s 2012 spec GT-R.

But to spice things up we thought we’d square the new Japanese warrior up against Jaguar’s most potent car – the XKR-S, which has been available locally since last year. Both are grand tourers. Both spit similar outputs. But that’s where the similarities stop. Here’s what happened.

The XKR-S, as the badge implies, is a hotted-up version of the XKR which itself is a hotted-up version of an everyday V8-powered XK coupé. With 404kW and 680Nm from its supercharged 5-litre V8, and a top speed of 300km/h, Jag says this is the fastest series production car it has ever built. The jury’s still out on whether the 404kW/645Nm and 342km/h XJ220 from the early ‘90s was considered a “series” production car, but no matter. The XKR-S makes more torque, so it is, in fact, the most powerful.

In comparison, the new twin-turbocharged 3.8 V6 GT-R makes less power at 397kW and 628Nm. Coincidentally, Japanese specification GT-Rs (as our South African models are) also quote 404kW, but crappy fuel standards here have forced a slight down-tune in order to cope with African conditions. Either way, this year’s update, which includes modified intake and exhaust systems, gives the GT-R an extra 7kW and 16Nm when compared to 2011 models.

IT’S NOT ABOUT OUTPUT

So we know the Nissan is less powerful than the Jag on paper, but as you know output’s not always the be all and end all of overall performance. According to our Vbox, the GT-R clobbers the XKR-S on both 0-100km/h and quarter-mile fronts. Best times recorded were 3.50 seconds and 11.57 seconds respectively for the Nissan, and 4.73 and 12.88 for the Jaguar.

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The Jaguar XKR-S has a more supple suspension system that makes it easier to live with on a daily basis.

Steve Lawrence

Kerb weights are almost identical for both cars at just over 1.7-tons each, so evidence points to the GT-R’s four driven wheels giving it the standing-start advantage. Also, where the GT-R gets a neck-spraining and frankly quite violent launch control system that has it out of the blocks like a startled whippet, the Jag is forced to dig deep from low rpm at pull-off and then fight to not become a rear-wheel-drive smoke machine as revs climb.

Even so, the Jag’s figures are very respectable, and except for the missing initial jolt it feels like all the claimed power’s there.

Mention must also be made that the less-powerful 2011 spec GT-R was slightly quicker at 3.44 seconds to 100km/h and two one-hundredths of a second over the quarter mile. We can only blame the weather for that, as it was the colder winter month of July when we tested the previous car.

Out on the road, the Jag and GT-R are worlds apart. You might expect the big British brute to be the more comfortable of the two and it is by a longshot. There’s a shock-stiffening Dynamic mode activated by a press of a chequered flag button in the console, but even then the XKR-S is in a different league when it comes to compliance with bumpy road surfaces. The GT-R gets adjustable firmness settings of its own which range from coccyx crushing to vertebrae compacting.

BUILT FOR THE TRACK

Obviously Nissan’s suspension techs in Japan have never seen roads like the R511 near Diepsloot in Joburg. Probably because they were too busy calculating that right-hand drive GT-Rs are weighted heavily to the right side of the car (the propshaft and drivetrain bits also run on the driver’s side), and countering the bias with a stiffer right-front spring. Clever boys. It’s detail like this which make this Nissan one of the best handling cars in the world... on smooth race tracks that is.

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The Nissan GT-R is the faster of the two cars, but the downside is a ride that is rather harsh.

Steve Lawrence

Simply put, the GT-R has racing on the brain, all the time. Its six-speed dual-clutch gearbox is one of the quickest shifters in existence, but it is extremely noisy for use in a road car. Internal gearsets clunk and clatter with excessive freeplay at parking lot speeds and whine loudly under hard acceleration. Nissan’s fitted a Bose sound system as standard equipment, for what I don’t know, because the volume doesn’t go high enough to compete with what’s coming from underneath the car.

SOUND-OFF

Its engine is also loud but in a technologically advanced, stereotypical Japanese way. It sounds as though all the camshafts, timing sprockets and valve clearances work together in a harmonic unison more common to Casio keyboards than internal combustion. However, under full boost, any sound emitted from the front of the car is erased by the whirlwind of compressed gases whooshing to break free from the tailpipes at the back.

The Jaguar sings a different song and at eight octaves lower. There’s no mistaking this unit for anything but a big capacity V8, and here a supercharger amplifies sound rather than mutes it as a turbo would.

The XKR-S is also fitted with an active exhaust flap which opens under certain conditions to let explosions happening metres away inside the engine’s cylinders find their way more freely to your ears. This is truly one of the best sounding sports cars ever.

The XKR-S’s transmission is of old-school torque-converter type, but shift points are natural, smooth and most importantly, silent. From the cabin, the only audible intrusion is from the exhaust; but if you drive calmly you can keep it down to a soft burble and drown it out with a soundtrack from the fabulous 525 watt Bowers & Wilken sound system.

You can see by the pictures that the GT-R stands taller and generally looks bigger than the Jag, and in most tangible dimensions it is.

The boot is deeper and able to realistically store groceries in, and the back seats, while almost laughable, can actually carry a person in a pinch. The XKR-S however, gets a long and shallow boot seemingly tailor-made for golf clubs, and the tiny back seats are, well, a joke.

VERDICT

I’ll spare you a lengthy conclusion to our shootout and round this up simply. The Nissan GT-R is faster. It will run rings around the XKR-S all day long. It will run rings around most performance cars sold in our market.

But the Jag is a much more livable car that offers a certain duality. Its lap times will be slower but I’d happily sacrifice a second or two for a spinal cord. Granted, the Nissan costs a lot less at R1.35-million compared to the Jaguar at R1.7-million. -Star Motoring


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