With the real World Cup far behind us, we thought we would host our own world challenge, minus the annoying horns. Okay, yes, the cars do have horns in them, but none of them could be worse than those vuvuzelas.
We took four cars from four different countries in a serious attempt to see which country produced the best performance machine, and to give some self esteem back to the countries that were knocked out of the football tournament. We gave it our all to get four vehicles that were similar in mostly every way. Performance, power, styling, driving dynamics, and build quality inside and out were all examined with a fine tooth comb.
So, it was off to the car dealers to grab our wheels for the test. From the good old United States we have the new Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 , America’s most powerful and most ostentatious sports car. From the fatherland, we have the classic Porsche 911 , but this one has a turbo up its backside. From the land of the rising sun, we have the technical wonder, the Nissan GTR . Finally, from our home land, the United Kingdom, we have James Bond’s preferred choice, the Aston Martin DBS .
Let the games begin.
This test won’t be an easy one and we’re not going to be tackling that track either. Like taking a defensive back and having him play as the main striker, we will be taking these cars out of their element and putting them on the real roads, full of more dips and bumps than a teenager’s face. Believe us, it won’t be as fun as power sliding around a corner, but in the name of science, we are willing to make that sacrifice.
Living its life solely in Japan for the first few years of its life, the GTR has always been the perfect mix of technology and speed. It was loved by import tuners in America and all over the world. It stared in the Fast and the Furious and many other automotive related movies that were, for the most part, pretty poor. After the Skyline GTR’s death, Nissan was left without a high performance sports car. Welcome in the new GTR.
When they first decided to make a new performance machine, Nissan optimized science and technology rather than massive displacement and supercar passion. It’s like driving a Playstation around, as there are so many gizmos and buttons that are dying to be pressed. This car is as Japanese as a piece of raw tuna over a carefully rolled ball of white rice.
The first production example of the new quintessentially Japanese sports car was shown off at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show, and it wasn’t long after that when the car was launched throughout the world to more praise than a gospel choir. TopGear named it the best supercar of 2007, Automobile gave it their automobile of the year award in 2009, and so on and so forth from many different media outlets. With that many awards garnering its trophy cabinet, you would imagine that the GTR drives like a small chunk of heaven.
Well, first off, it’s by far the heaviest car here. It’s like a sumo wrestler as it rumbles down the city streets at a pathetically slow 25 miles per hour. At these speeds, one would have no idea that there is a monster under the hood, a living heart that was custom made for this exact car. Stomp on the throttle and the fury of the twin-turbocharged V6 is unleashed. The power of the GTR is sensational and a bit shocking at first, but it’s not the area that is the most startling. At nearly 3939 pounds, we would imagine that the car would understeer into a ditch, but as the tires howl away with cornering pain, the all-wheel drive system worthy of a race car keeps the Nissan in line. In the GTR, you are well aware that a network of computers are keeping you from sweet death.
All that technological wizardry means that driving the GTR requires a unique approach. Getting the most out of the car means that you have to trust the electronics to do their jobs. This is brilliant if it works, but at times it can feel a little digital, as if the car doesn’t need you. It’s an odd feeling, and not one we really like. It’s like a blender in a way; it needs you to turn it on and hold the lid down, but as far as doing its job, it’s all down to the machine. There’s no mechanical feel.
After an electronic-blender-like drive in the GTR we move over to that chrome-covered, burger-loving American brute, the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. The ZR1 is the ultimate version of America’s favorite sports car. Forget the break-your-back Z06, this car is far better than anything that has ever come out of Kentucky.
Even since the Corvette’s birth, it has been America’s best European and Japanese sports car fighter. Did it do this with sophistication? No, the Corvette is about as sophisticated as the people who made it, but in that typical American fashion, it fought off the competition by offering more of everything. The ZR1 offers more power, more noise, and more straight line performance. Its supercharged V8 puts out the most power out of the four in the group by a decent sized chunk. It also sounds angrier and much nastier than the competition. Being America’s best offering, it has a lot to live up to.
So, does the ZR1 live up to its top rating, or is it a pile of dung? Well, the answer is more complicated than you might think. The ZR1 is more fun than a roller coaster and easily more fun than the GTR, but it’s the Corvette’s crudeness that makes it the way it is. Chevrolet chose to leave technology in the dumpster and opted for raw power. So, if the back end starts to slip around a corner, it’s up to you to work some magic with the throttle as no computer is going to save you. In a way, we love that. When you spin, it’s hard not to be feel like a complete moron, but get it right and you’re covered in a warm feeling of accomplishment.
Corners aren’t really where this car belongs though, as with most American cars. If you really want to make the ZR1 happy, it’s straight line racing or nothing at all. The supercharged V8 - the same motor that’s in the CTS-V - is brilliantly strong and easily delivers mind bending acceleration. If you’re after the drag racing king, the Corvette is an easy choice.
That being said though, we aren’t big on everything else. The styling is a bit ostentatious and the interior is the sort of thing you would expect to find on the Aveo. The build quality is a little disappointing as well, but these are the normal complaints when it comes to the Corvette family. We had just hoped that with the ZR1’s high price tag would come improved quality, but it looks as if our hopes were a tad too difficult for General Motors.
A rubbish interior and in-your-face styling aren’t the Corvette’s biggest issues though; there is one more that is a true killer. If you’re a great racing driver and you have a track to play on, the ZR1 is ten tons of fun, but if your a normal guy it’s a different story. While the car might be faster than the GTR in the hands of a racing driver, the average bloke will never be able to muster the same kind of performance out of the ZR1. It’s just too aggressive and too crude to be easy to drive, where as the GTR, and even the 911, can be driven hard by even the worst of drivers.
Which brings us on to the German offering, the Porsche 911 Turbo. The Germans are suppose to be emotionless, which must be a lie because they seem to love the 911. It’s been around for ages and, no matter how many times they redesign it, the car retains the overall style of the previous generations. There aren’t many car models in the world that are as easily recognizable as the 911, and this model, the Turbo, is one of the best that they make.
That old classic styling sometimes gives off the impression that the Porsche designers are some of the laziest people in the world, but it’s not like the 911 is a bad looking car. The newest model - which is nearly identical to the old model - is a fine looking machine. It’s not as flashy as the Corvette and it’s more natural than the GTR. It might not be a work of art by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not an ugly brute.
Under the hood - or trunk in this case - is the typical flat-six motor with a turbocharged strapped to it that can pump out 500 horsepower. That power output isn’t even close to that of the ZR1, with 620, but it’s certainly not slacking. Open up the taps a little and the 911 Turbo is brilliant. However, it’s not in a straight line where the Porsche excels. For that, you must head to the track.
The 911 is by far the best car in the this test for going around a corner. There is an old world feel to the steering, as if by touching the steering wheel you and the car are one perfect entity. There is so much feedback through the wheel that you feel what the car is doing at all times. If there is one downside to all this excellence, it’s that the 911 is a very serious machine and it doesn’t take too kindly to a good thrashing. If you’re after a tail sliding good time, this won’t be the best choice. Overall though, well done Porsche, you might be making sacrilegious SUVs, but the 911 is still sensational.
The 911 is the car that would be best for everyday use as well. Sure, the Aston has all the qualities of an everyday machine, but imagine if it got keyed. The Porsche on the other hand probably won’t have that issue, as most people will have no idea that your 911 is worth $150,000. The ride height is low enough for fun track driving, but high enough to get over speed humps, and the cargo area should be plenty for a trip to the shops.
Speaking of shops, if you’re heading over to spend some money and you want to be noticed, there is nothing better than the Aston Martin DBS . The Corvette can shout all it wants with those big wheels and clear-plastic hood bits, but the Aston will draw a crowd all day and all night. For good reason too, this car is gorgeous. If automobiles were welcome in art galleries, the DBS would be first in line for acceptance.
It doesn’t just look good on the outside either. The interior is like a Swiss coffee shop, very modern and very sleek. Sadly, sometimes that sleekness can get in the way of function, as some of the buttons are so thin that they can be a bit difficult to press while driving. If there was ever a case of form over function, the interior of the Aston is it. Besides the tiny buttons, the DBS has a grand interior. The seats are comfortable and the technological equipment is easy to use.
The Aston has the largest motor here in terms of size. With its 5.9-liter V12, the DBS has a fantastic deep sound that can be heard for miles and miles. If we were to choose an engine noise to listen to for years to come, this would be it. That gorgeous motor puts out 510 horsepower, which is 60 more than the DB9, in which the DBS is based, and 10 more than the 911. Off the line, the Aston isn’t as fast as the other three, with a 0-60 time of around four seconds. Honestly though, anything under five seconds is fast enough for our speed limited roads.
In the bends, the Aston is very poised and extremely controllable. The feedback you get from the steering wheel is top notch, but it’s not as good as the 911. That being said, the overall driving experience is sensational, as the car rewards you for a perfectly apexed corner and the gear shifts are smooth and quick. The Aston thanks you when you let the back end slip around, as it seems to be having as much fun as you are behind the wheel. Compared to the other three, it’s far more mechanical feeling than the GTR, more composed than the ZR1, and more fun to thrash, not to mention a whole lot prettier, than the 911.
4. Nissan GT-R
After spending time with each of these machines, our decision on how to rank them was made even harder. If you’ve never been behind the wheel of any one of these four, you could look at specs and numbers and determine a champion, but it’s not that easy. Driving dynamics far outweigh numbers in the TopSpeed world.
The Nissan GTR is like the bullet train in many ways. The most obvious way of course is their country of origin, but they’re also equally impressive feats of engineering. All that technology and computing systems are stunning. It’s like playing Gran Tursimo 5 behind the wheel of an actual car.
As good as that might sound, it’s not as impressive on the road. The grip is out of this world, but you feel like it’s the computers holding you in line, not your driving talents. Kiss the apex of a corner and the car should be the happy one, as it did it, not you. All you’re there for is to hold the wheel and press the throttle, the car can do the rest.
It’s hard to describe how the GTR makes you feel, but we tried our best. On the plus side, the build quality is what it should be - brilliant - and the motor is very strong. Sadly, that wasn’t enough to get the GTR out of the bottom spot.
3. Corvette ZR1
America’s attempt to dethrone the sports car kings might have seemed like a sure thing on paper, but in reality, it wasn’t going to happen. We understand that the whole point of a muscle car was to take a normal vehicle and strap a massive motor in it. That’s just what the ZR1 is, a Corvette with a supercharger and some other neat bits. But who is going to pay $120,000 for a Corvette? The build quality inside and out are not up to par with the price tag and the handling is still a ways off from the 911 and the DBS. We suspect people who can afford a car of this price won’t be looking at Corvettes.
If this is the direction that GM wants to head with the Corvette we anticipate one hell of a C8 version, but for now, the ZR1 just isn’t what we would like to own, so it winds up third on the list.
2. Porsche 911 Turbo
Logic tells us that the 911 Turbo should come first because it’s the best all around machine in this test. But our hearts are telling us something else. As good as the Porsche was, it seems to have no passion and no soul. As a machine, it’s the best here, but it’s almost as if it’s all work and no play. The styling is aerodynamically perfect, but a bit dull, and the handling is brilliantly crisp and precise, but a tad serious.
1. Aston Martin DBS
The DBS, on the other hand, is a gentleman’s ride. The visual aspect of the car alone is enough to make us want one, and once you add the car’s driving dynamics into the equation, it’s hard to turn away. It might not be the fastest in a straight line or around a track, but you’ll sure be smiling wide when you emerge from the cockpit. Not to mention you’ll be able to get anything you could ever want by owning this machine.
When it comes to these kinds of vehicles, it’s hard for everybody to agree. It’s more of an emotional choice than a logical one. It’s like buying Armani over Prada, Omega over Rolex, Bang & Olufsen over Bose. The more money you have to spend, the more you will care about the badge on the front and the prestige that the car has. At this level, performance is expected, but satisfaction is a must. Is the Aston Martin a better car than the Porsche, probably not, but it offers up something the 911 could never muster. It’s more stimulating to the senses, more awe-inspiring and far more seductive. It offers up more power than any normal human could ever need and the ride is supple enough for a car with this kind of potential. It does every thing well, with a side of personality to boot.