The Toyota Prius remains the butt of enthusiasts' jokes. And rightly so. Its passionless aim is to eke out every last mpg, at the expense of braking, steering feel, handling, power or practically anything someone who cares about cars would be interested in. There's nothing wrong with that. Just be primed to face the wisecracks.
However, times are changing. Hybrids have spread from small cars to the luxury and sports car world, with McLaren, Ferrari and Porsche using electric motors to fill a gap in the torque curve. It's now a performance gain. Better fuel economy? That's the lagniappe.
And where the supercars go, the Nissan GT-R will soon follow.
Nissan has now confirmed to Autocar that the next-generation GT-R, the brand's highly capable and cost effective supercar, will get its pair of electric underwear. Exactly how the hybrid technology will be applied -- Porsche went plug-in with its 918 while Ferrari and McLaren utilized an F1-style KERS system -- is currently unknown. This shouldn't come as a shock; Nissan has invested heavily in electric and hybrid technology, sporting a new battery plant in Tennessee. From a business perspective, this makes sense.
However, GT-R fanboys, of which there are many, may be upset. They talk about the GT-R as if it's a raw expression of muscle, like a Viper or Corvette. In reality, of course, it's more Porsche-like -- highly technological, easy to drive, all-wheel drive, and no stick. Those after a gritty driving experience will go American. The GT-R competes with the 911 in ways that drives Porsche to distraction.
In fact, Nissan touts the GT-R as every bit a rival to its British, Italian and German competitors — at a fraction of the cost. But that means the GT-R engineers must keep the car's performance ceaselessly improving. It must spend days at the Nurburgring, honing its cornering. Nurburgring lap times are becoming one of the most pointless but fascinating aspects of a supercars' stat-book. 0-60 mph time? Check. Top speed? Check. Nurburgring lap time? Check.
Or at least that's how it's supposed to be. McLaren has spent time testing its hypercar P1 at the 'Ring. It even teased a 6:33 lap time to prospective buyers. But now it won't release its time, stating that even though it went sub-7, revealing the time merely fuels a dangerous war between automakers to become number one.
Or perhaps it couldn't beat the 918?
Regardless, Nissan will reveal the 'Ring time for its GT-R Nismo during the Tokyo Motor Show -- the most track-ready GT-R ever, rumored to hit 60 mph in a scarcely believable 2.0 seconds. Logic says that despite this, the GT-R Nismo won't match the vastly more powerful (and expensive) 918. Nor should it. But with hybrid GT-Rs on the way, the Japanese automaker continues to evolve its highest-profile model into the most cost-effective everyday supercar on the market.
Oddly, when we're praising the hybrid in years to come for revolutionizing the performance car, we can thank the Prius. It forced manufacturers to direct attention to a technology it was previously unwilling to invest in. Although, for the GT-R boys, I fear this might not be the case. Prius owners beware: The GT-R super-fans aren't going to be happy.