Comparo: Nissan GT-R vs Ferrari F430 vs BMW M Roadster
Before anyone gets too excited, this is not a full-blown comparison test. Getting the Nissan GT-R for a test drive was a good excuse as any to assemble a few other sports cars and a photographer. We’ve had our 2000 BMW M Roadster for more than a year, the 2009 Nissan GT-R tester was with us for only a few days, and our friend’s 2009 Ferrari F430 Spider was still being broken in so we couldn’t push it. But we did get a feel for three different approaches to speed.
Our photographer Faisal Khatib was already at the venue of the photo-shoot, waiting for the cars to arrive at dusk. I showed up first with the Nissan GT-R.
The latest Nissan GT-R has become a modern legend, beating out everything from the renowned Porsche 911 Turbo to the poseur Audi R8 at the track. But the GT-R is a very large and heavy car. To make a heavyweight dance like a ballerina, Nissan has probably spent more time with the GT-R’s nanny computers than any other aspect of the car. As such, while the drive is still very sporting in feel, it is a bit more disconnected than that of a real sports car.
The steering offers great feel, the engine is moderately loud, and driving it fast around corners is immensely confidence-inspiring, as the car’s computers seem to quickly take care of slipping rear-ends and overzealous cornering, even when the tyres of our pre-abused tester seemed to be half-way worn already. But the 478 hp turbocharged 3.8-litre V6 engine doesn’t sound like that of a typical exotic car, roaring and humming simultaneously, like a passenger-airliner taking off at full throttle. This seemed cool initially, but then paled in comparison when the Ferrari showed up.
When my buddy showed up with his Ferrari F430 Spider, it was easily the real attention-grabber. While the GT-R is interesting to look at, the Ferrari is downright stunning. Smaller in size, with low-slung seating for two, the cabin is cramped, but it comes with premium leather upholstery over every inch of the interior, unlike the GT-R’s cabin, which has materials only a step above that of a Nissan Altima.
The Ferrari’s lack of “convenience” gadgetry was instantly obvious. The stereo head looks like a cheap aftermarket piece compared to the GT-R’s touchscreen LCD computer. The lightweight keyfob offers basic keyless entry when the Nissan has ‘intelligent’ key-free entry and start. And starting the car requires inserting the key, then pressing the starter button oddly placed on the steering wheel.
But start the engine, and all hell breaks loose. The 490 hp 4.3-litre V8 revs like a superbike, and is so ear-splittingly loud above 7000 rpm that I decided not to go anywhere near redline after one press of the accelerator. Unlike the comparatively-luxurious GT-R, the Ferrari has little sound-deadening, and does not even have a secondary gear-shifter besides the wheel-mounted paddles.
Managing the F430’s gearbox is slightly complicated, but once moving, shifts are instantaneous and comes with many settings, just like the GT-R. But as I took it around a few sharp corner quickly, it became obvious that the F430 handles like a go-kart. Around tight curves, with its fresh tyres, the Spider outclassed the heavy GT-R whose worn tyres squealed rather early for a car that is satanic in its domination of high-speed racetracks.
As for the BMW M Roadster, whether brand fanboys choose to believe it or not, it is the purest driver’s car, requiring the most skill to drive. Consider the fact that it comes with a proper manual gearbox, a clutch pedal, a simplistic rear-wheel-drive platform and absolutely no electronic aids besides ABS, the M Roadster was the last of the true sports cars.
Both the GT-R and the F430 have far more powerful engines, but the 321 hp 3.2-litre inline-6 MPower engine is a technological marvel too. It also sounds like a pile of metal spoons being shaken around in a glass jar, and while still enjoyable to play it as a high-revving instrument, it isn’t as loud as the petrol-hungry Ferrari.
Even though the BMW will surely fall behind on a long-winded track, it is as small as a rat, and can chase the GT-R around the sharpest bends with more agility, without the Nissan’s tyre squeal. The Ferrari can likely do the tighties even faster, but the BMW requires more balls to push to its limit, with no ESP safety net. A GT-R could lull anyone into thinking he is a great driver, which is a credit to its engineers.
These three cars have very different approaches to achieve the same goals. One has its engine in the back, another has power going to all four wheels, and the oldest one goes for pure uncomputerised fun. None of them are particularly comfortable, and all require immaculate maintenance to keep speeding. All of them are real near-exotic sports cars, not some over-revving four-banger or sloppy muscle-car. But in the end, none of these three are interchangeable, given the massive price differences between the three.
2009 Nissan GT-R
Price: Dhs 430,000 (new, including service package)
Specs: 478 hp 3.8-litre V6 turbo, 6-spd automanual, front-engine, AWD
Mileage: Around 10,000 km
2009 Ferrari F430 Spider
Price: Dhs 815,000 (new, discounted recession bargain)
Specs: 490 hp 4.3-litre V8, 6-spd automanual, mid-engine, RWD
Mileage: Around 2,000 km
2000 BMW M Roadster
Price: Dhs 45,000 (used, high mileage 2nd-hand price)
Specs: 321 hp 3.2-litre I6, 5-spd manual, front-engine, RWD
Mileage: Around 114,000 km