This was one of those days that make people insanely jealous: we gathered two GTRs and a Mitsubishi EVO X together for a drive on one of California’s great driving roads. Paul and I had been talking about this matchup since we first drove the GTR and EVO separately many years ago. Meanwhile, Gavin, one of cameramen, was so excited I actually thought he was going to strain something.
Such is the power of the GTR. It’s the dream car of a generation, offering performance rivaling the most expensive things on four wheels, but at a fraction of the cost. No car has a more rabid fan-base. Our original GTR review is simultaneously one of our most watched and most hated, all because we dared to critique this much loved car.
Mitsubishi’s soon-to-die Lance Evolution X might seem a strange pairing with Nissan’s Godzilla, but they have many things in common. Both cars present themselves as giant-killers, packing heavily turbocharged engines and intelligent AWD. They also sit atop their manufacturer’s range of vehicles like an island of cutting-edge technology and prowess not evident in the lower vehicles.
These cars aren’t designed to be pretty or prestigious, they exist to embarrass cars costing many times more. But now, after near constant refinement, the GTR finds itself costing three times more than the Evo X, and at over $100,000 it’s far from a bargain. So, can the GTR be beat at it’s own game?
Nissan’s improving on the GTR is well documented, but I still didn’t expect to feel much of a difference. The 2014 is the same model (the R35) and in the same lifecycle as the 2010 we originally drove. Seat to seat comparison should prove them to be nearly identical in feel.
And yet, the changes were noticeable.
The 2010 feels destructive, the parts clicking, whirring, and grinding together in a way that feels barely contained. There’s the sense the whole system is tightly wound and quite pissed off about its existence. Thankfully, the 2010s weren’t prone to the launch control catastrophes of the 2009, but this early car seems like the modern fighter planes that handle brilliantly unless their computers shut down and they rip themselves apart.
By comparison, the 2014 feels like the world’s most capable GT car. The capabilities of the GTR have increased in every way, but a subtle civility and refinement has also been added. With all the settings turned to their most aggressive, the 2014 will dart through corners with a flatter and more precise accuracy while still feeling less harsh than the earlier model in its softest mode. Overall, the 2014 is more capable and less punishing. I can’t think of a better compliment.
The Evo X is the real surprise of this gathering, especially in the tight canyons of our test day. While it can’t keep up with the GTRs in a straight-line blast, it rotates with a readiness so quick that it leaves the Nissans feeling enormous by comparison. Similarly, even though the Evolution packs half the power of the GTRs, throttle tip-in is more immediate and the power more frantic. It’s as if the GTR is lying in wait, and when you hit the power it builds before hitting you full force. There’s a tightly wound menace just below the surface of the GTR, waiting to see if you’re serious. The Evo has no patience and doesn’t hide anything, it’s ready to leap, spin, or fall at the faintest command.
After a full day on the same great road, we found ourselves gravitating toward the EVO based entirely on its communication and personality. Under hard braking and aggressive maneuvers the GTR remains defiantly flat and stuck to the earth while the Evo bobs, dips, and weaves. Both GTRs have the precision and icy demeanor of a trained killer. The Evo feels lively and ready for anything with just a hint of madness. It’s as if the Nissans were Batman and the EVO was the joker, generally I’d side with the caped-crusader, but in this case the crazy one just makes me laugh.
Of course the Mitsubishi is still the bones of a Lancer, and it can’t shake feeling like a cheap car next to the GTRs. You sit too high and there’s no telescoping to the steering wheel. At highway speeds the noise is astounding and the five speed is revving close to 4,000 RPM. Driven normally, it will even understeer like its origins would suggest. The EVO requires a different kind of fast driving where the throttle is the number one tool for everything. The result is an incredibly fun car, but it is far from well rounded. The GTR feels three times more expensive in nearly everything , and you can tell where the money went. But even if these cars were close to the same price, the Evo still rotates faster and seems eager for every blast of throttle or dart of the wheel.
After near-constant refinement, the GTR remains one of the most well-rounded and shocking performance cars available anywhere, from anyone, at any price. The fact that this is still true five years after it left the world speechless, is a testament to Nissan’s achievement. For comparison: it would take a Porsche 918 to beat the GTR to 60mph. And when the GTR launched, Porsche was the most vocal critic of its claimed capability and lap times.
The rest of the performance car world has improved because of the GTR. This “affordable” supercar from Nissan set a new benchmark and is the catalyst for a leap forward in technology-assisted performance. One look across the automakers shows the universal result of this car’s existence. Not since the Acura NSX has an automaker shaken up the established power players like the GTR. And like the NSX, this car will have hard-core fans indefinitely.
We shake our heads in amazement every time we drive a GTR. It’s impossible to not be astounded by the performance this car provides. When I walk up to the GTR with the keys in my hands it stirs the same anticipation of any exotic or lust-worthy performance car I’ve ever driven. I smile in surprise and wonder at what it can do. And yet, every time I walk away, I find I’m not in love. I’m okay to hand over the keys.
Whatever intangible thing we feel in our favorite cars is somehow missing from the GTR. I feel like I’m on a date with a woman who checks every box I’ve ever dreamed about and yet something about her personality keeps me at a distance. I would applaud anyone who buys and drives a GTR, but I don’t long to own one for myself.
Then there’s the Evo, a car with cheap and obvious flaws that I would put in my garage. Any time I’ve driven one on a track or on the street I’ve climbed out of the great seats wanting to drive it again. It’s inferior to the GTR in so many ways it’s not worth counting them, and yet the EVO seduces me with its positives and personality so I overlook the negatives. Or at least, like any relationship, I’m enjoying myself enough to live with the downsides.
The GTR wins every argument, conquers every stat, and snipers its way to world dominance. But it can’t win my heart. I respect it fully, but haven’t fallen in love.
If you do love Godzilla, congratulations – it’s worth it.