What surprises me most about the GT-R is not the digital/Playstation-esque heavy interior cabin (complete with G-readings, Race modes for transmission, suspension and traction control, and the big red stop-/start button), nor the mechanical sensation that comes with every driver input: upshift and, over the sound of the turbocharger whining, you can hear the next cog being slotted into place. This I had been prepared for after the civility of the Aston. But what does surprise is the difference in seating: from the low-slung Aston, I feel like I’ve just clambered into a truck cabin. The seating is similarly opposite, the supportive yet comfortable contours of the DB9’s seats a far cry from the Recaro buckets in the GT-R. It doesn’t take much to realise that – sans some carbon fibre effect trim and air conditioning – Nissan’s headline sports car is all about performance.
Into the first few corners, I’m already aware of the difference, heft through the steering much greater than the Aston and inputs more pinpoint as a result: whereas in the Aston the nose cruised through each corner, the GT-R’s attacks almost subconsciously, perfect weight distribution allowing me to fling the Nissan through the turns without fear of impending impact. Most of this is down to Race modes for the six-speed dual clutch transmission, suspension and traction control, which AJ has very helpfully left in their most ferocious setting. Downshifts are blink of an eye quick allowing me to keep the GT-R balanced under heavy braking, high revs and no lag from the throttle allowing me to get the power down much quicker than I had been able to in the Aston. All is not well though as there is a bizarre twitchiness under heavy cornering: it’s not understeer and it’s not lean, just a slightly unsettling bobble from the suspension that is not quite as GT-R tight as I’ve previously experienced. The fact that our 2014 test model has received several thousand media test drive kilometres might be the root of the problem.
And I must admit that I’m not fully enjoying my GT-R experience. As a performance weapon it is absolutely superb: you really couldn’t buy anything more powerful, more direct and more perfectly tuned at this price point, and it’s no wonder the GT-R has deservedly developed the reputation it has. But such is the raw, digital, and – consequently – cold environment the Nissan produces, I’m struggling to love it.
The time has come though – with Fujairah in sight – to make our final driver change of the day, a decision that rankles with Yazan in the Jaguar. And I can’t say I blame him. Throughout the day we’ve been followed by a superb V8 chorus, one that I’m hoping will be just as spectacular inside the cabin as it is outsides. I needn’t have worried.
It’s extraordinary, a bone-chilling roar of absolute guttural power that puts the Aston’s boomy V12 and Nissan’s whiny V6 to complete and total shame: whereas the V12’s soundtrack gets more emphatic at speed, the Jag’s supercharged V8 roar is immense even at cruise: it’s one of the reasons why perplexed bystanders turn their heads as we pass, presumably because they think gunshots have just been fired.
With AJ now in the DB9 and Yazan taking over in the GT-R, I fold myself into the Jag’s extraordinarily lumbar hugging seats. Beautifully – absolutely beautifully – designed and put together, but slightly more civil than those aggressive looks on the outside had suggested, it’s a step up from the raw veneer of the GT-R but still several steps below the DB9 in terms of refinement. Yes Jaguar, I am referring to those plastic paddle shifters. Unlike the GT-R and DB9 also, the F-TYPE is the only one of our trio without back seats, enclosing the cabin more fully around the driver as a result. Content, I flip to manual gear changes and plant the right foot.
The back end immediately steps out under less than full throttle acceleration, the violence almost palpable. Rounding sharper corners in the lower gears, it happens again. And again. And I’m staggered. I had fully expected the GT-R to be the most aggressive of our troop, given those menacing looks and Nürburgring record. Yet the Jaguar is taking me to school and I’ve barely started. Hard acceleration is immense, and though the gear changes through the eight-speed Quickshift are not quite as reactive as the GT-Rs, the manner in which the Jag picks up speed is scintillating.
What takes a little getting used to though is the sensation of steering from what appears to be the rear axle, given the long bonnet, no rear seats and setback seating. Turn the lighter than expected wheel and the nose is already reacting: you almost feel like the car is pulling you round the corner rather than the other way around. It’s a little unsettling at first but once up to speed, throwing the F-TYPE through the corners is phenomenal, the grip and balance enough to keep the Jaguar pinned. Even if you’re not quite sure whether the big cat is about to turn around and maul you. From the civility of the Aston to the mechanical precision of the GT-R, the F-TYPE is the first time I’ve felt such conflicting emotions – excitement with a dash of terror – on our drive today. Indeed, as the road straightens up and with the V8 soundtrack still ringing in my ears, I have to pull over to get my bearings.
Fortunately it’s a staggering location we’ve chosen to stretch our legs and de-clog the eardrums, auburn mountainscape disappearing into the distance and against which our multi-coloured trio ‘pops’ magnificently. It suits our photographers nicely too, both wandering off in search of the correct frames and thus leaving AJ, Yazan and I to set up base camp. And continue our argument.
Up to 20 minutes may seem an exhaustive amount for our sports coupes, but then the day has produced some notable talking points. The looks alone could easily take us into the next morning, and so too for that matter could the engines. It’s not often we get to enjoy the merits of such vastly different powerplants at the same time, and while their characterful sound provides more than enough fuel for debate, it’s the drivability of each that we’re really keen to get down to brass tacks about. From lunatic and stunning to precise and clinical, to the just downright elegant, we’ve rarely had a group test that’s provided such different contenders. And that doesn’t make choosing our respective favourites any easier.
For AJ, he’s adamant it’s the GT-R, the precision of the drive and the mind-bogglingly complex technology at work to find those extra last tenths establishing the Nissan in his mind as THE sports car of choice for petrolheads. Full stop. For Yazan, it’s the insanity of the Jaguar that he’s going for, a combination of stunning design and sound with formidable handling to boot, one that could punish you in a second.
Then there’s the Aston, which despite being in neither the GT-R nor F-TYPE’s league in terms of performance, has had an impact on me today. Chuffing enormous price tag aside, it’s a superb example of premium sports car panache, the Aston handles as a gentleman’s GT car should, neither overly aggressive nor wallowy soft, complete with V12 soundtrack that only really gets going in its bassy manner when you do. It’s very tempting to vote DB9…
But I can’t. The insanity. The design. THAT guttural soundtrack. I couldn’t forgive myself if I voted against the Jaguar, even though part of it scares the bejesus out of me and the prospect of ‘life on the edge’ could get a little exhausting day in, day out. But the Jag handles like a dream, grabbing your attention and manhandling it into submission. All with a spectacular eight-cylinder roar. I may be sacrificing the refinement of the Aston and the unparalleled engagement of the Nissan, but I doubt many of you would blame me.
Technical specifications available on page 3