Is the Japanese interloper a poor imitation of German favourites, or does it combine the same Teutonic appeal with a bargain-bin price tag?
Think of a car. Think of something with a powerful, punchy V6, a competent rear-wheel-drive chassis and an equipment list and sticker price that would put many a European manufacturer to shame. Now, try and think of a reason why such a vehicle shouldn’t be sold in Australia.
Drawing a blank?
So are we. The RWD prestige sport coupe segment is one that has been dominated by the BMW-Mercedes duopoly for many years now, with nary another manufacturer daring to dilute their market share. Yeah, there’s the Lexus SC430, but sales of the bizarre-looking drop-top suggest that it isn’t the German-slayer Lexus hoped it would be.
Beyond the Lexo there’s Cadillac’s stunning CTS Coupe, which we can look forward to in 2009. But that’s around a year away from Aussie shores, so what to buy in the interim if you want a classy, driver-centric coupe that doesn’t hail from das vaterland?
Ask any dealership and they’ll say there’s nothing you can purchase that satisfies that criteria. Dig a little deeper however, and you’ll uncover something that - somewhat inexplicably - was never officially sold on Australian soil, but is perhaps one of the best non-German luxury coupes currently on offer.
It’s Nissan’s V36 Skyline Coupe 370GT, the more powerful two-door cousin to the 350GT sedan. As we reported late last month, the 245kW 370GT can now be imported into Australia and legally driven on the nation’s roads.
At a starting price of just under AUD$50k, it‘s a bargain compared to similar machinery from BMW and M-B.
But how does it drive? What’s it like to live with? Is the Japanese interloper a poor imitation of the German favourites, or does it combine the same Teutonic appeal with a bargain-bin price tag?
The kind folk at International Motor Group graciously provided us with a near-new V36 Skyline 370GT Type SP for a day, and here’s what we found out.
Before you’ve even reached for the door handle, the V36 is already off to a good start. Designed by the same bloke who penned the R35 GT-R’s finely-sculpted lines, the V36’s smooth organic form is a pleasure to behold in the flesh.
Compared with the more businesslike exteriors of the BMW 3 Series coupe and Benz’s CLK, the V36’s sheetmetal is more dynamic, more eye-catching and far more likely to turn heads than the rather conservative Europeans. If you never warmed to BMW’s current corporate ‘face’, the Nissan V36 just might be right up your alley.
Our tester looked great in Luna Mare Silver, but if you wanted to make an even bolder statement we’d suggest buying one in either Fountain Blue, White Pearl, or the very gangsta Super Black.
Metallics look fantastic on the V36 and do much to accentuate the Skyline’s more subtle curves and creases, so tell your importer to look out for them.
Anywho, grab the drivers door handle (no need to fumble for the remote – the V36 uses a keyless entry system), pull that big, sashless door open (a potential handicap in crowded car parks?) and settle into the captain’s seat. To the right of the steering column there’s a big white starter button, but don’t touch it just yet – just take a moment to relish the surroundings.
The pews in our test car were black-on-black leather with perforated cowhide in the center panels, although there’s also a leather/cloth combo available as well. There’s yet more leather on the steering wheel, door armrests and on the top of the center console lid too, while offsetting all the black is a thick strip of brushed aluminium trim that runs across the dash and over the top of the radio stack and centre console.
Prefer something a little less sombre than the “Cool Black” interior scheme? A woodgrain and tan leather set up is also available.
The instruments are clear, legible and well-illuminated while the controls for the dual-zone climate control are simple and intuitive to use. There are steering wheel-mounted controls for the audio system and Bluetooth telephone function and the column is electrically adjustable for reach and rake.
The front seats are also electric (although bolster adjustment is manual) and rear seat access is easy, however headroom is a little tight once you’re in the back.
The seats are comfortable and supportive and storage bins are plentiful, however there are a few niggling complaints. Given that all V36 Skylines imported into Australia are sourced from the Japanese domestic market, the cars we get are built with Japanese drivers in mind. That means people of more… (um)… European proportions may have a tough time with the seating position, which can be a little too high for the long of leg, wide of bum and tall of torso.
The buttons for the centre display are also written in Japanese and the radio and sat nav don’t function in Australia. The International Motor Group however assures us that English-language buttons are an easy retrofit and that frequency converters and ‘plug-ins’ can enable full function of the radio and navigation system.
The audio system can be a little confusing to operate due to the controls being spread across two different parts of the dash, but once you get your head around it the sound produced by the six-stacker CD player is simply sublime. There’s also a built-in hard disk storage device too, so the tech-savvy amongst you can upload your own music to the V36’s onboard system and do away with CDs altogether.
But enough of that; it’s time to drive. Hold down the starter button (again, no need to mess about with keys), hear the Skyline’s 3.7-litre VQ37VHR V6 come to life and settle into a muted hum, put the selector in D and pull away.
At suburban speeds the 370GT is a delight. There’s an abundance of torque from the mid-sized V6 (366Nm, to be precise) and the big coupe gets up to speed with little fuss.
Flatten the accelerator and the engine responds straight away thanks to Nissan’s tricky VVEL variable valve-train tech, and pulls hard right up into the upper reaches of the tachometer. Speed piles on quickly and the engine noise is almost musical – a good incentive to do it again, no?
The five-speed automatic gearbox is smooth, and the Adaptive Shift Control does a good job at predicting driver behavior and selecting cogs to suit. Drive hard, it’ll shift hard. Gently tap the accelerator and shifts will be smooth, slurred and occur much further down the rev range.
If you want to turn up the wick a little you can put the gear selector one notch back into DS mode, or if you want full manual control over the gearbox you can tip the lever sideways and use the two magnesium paddles behind the steering wheel to swap ratios.
Nissan’s latest tiptronic system is great, and probably one of the best slushbox-based performance autos we’ve sampled. There’s little delay between pulling the right paddle and actually engaging the next gear, while power transfer feels very direct.
The suspension also boasts a similar blend of performance and comfort. The spring-rates are a little firmer than most luxury cars, but the dampers aren’t entirely unyielding and driving along some of Sydney’s more pockmarked roads didn’t faze the 370GT in the slightest.
Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to put the Skyline through the wringer on some more challenging tarmac however we’ve no doubt that it’d hold its own at a circuit club day.
The V36 rides on a development of the V35’s FR-L platform (in turn a development of the 350Z’s chassis) and boasts a sophisticated double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension, which will also be seen beneath the upcoming 370Z. The four-piston front and twin-piston rear calipers on the Type SP grip well too.
It was a pity that we didn’t get to spend more time behind the wheel of the V36 Skyline 370GT, but it was an incredibly impressive experience nonetheless. In terms of the sheer quality, equipment, handling and power that you get for the price, the 370GT soundly thrashes the European competition.
Yep, you don’t get the brand cachet of a three-pointed star or a spinning propeller and the interior materials aren’t quite up to par with the Germans, but real enthusiasts don’t give a hoot about all that guff. Simply put, the 370GT is a cracking drive, an outstanding cruiser and fantastic value.
It’s incredible that Nissan confines this little gem to the Japanese and US markets (where it’s marketed as an Infiniti G37 Coupe) when an Australian release would likely see customers clamoring to get into one.
Nissan’s loss is IMG’s gain, however, and at least now ‘us Aussies’ can finally get our mitts on the latest and greatest Skyline, the 370GT Coupe.
For options and pricing, see IMG’s website: www.internationalmotorgroup.com.au
Tony’s big statement
- Responsive engine
- Tiptronic gearbox
- Solid handling
- Gorgeous styling
- Generous equipment list
- Fiddly stereo system
- Lack of rear headroom
- Would be more fun with the six-speed manual
|Engine||3.7-litre V6 VQ37VHR|
|Max Power||245kW @ 7000rpm|
|Max Torque||363Nm @ 5200rpm|
|Performance|| Acceleration 0-100km/h: 5.3seconds |
Top speed: Over 260km/h (electronically limited to 180km/h)
|Transmission|| 6-speed Manual |
Type S,Type P
5-sped Auto w/ Paddle Shift
Type S, Type SP
|Wheels|| 10-spoke Front: 19x8.5” / Rear: 19x9.0” |
Type S, Type SP
5-spoke Front: 18x8.0” / Rear: 19x9.0”
|Tyres|| Front: 225/45R19 / Rear: 245/40R19 |
Type S, Type SP
Front: 225/50R18 / Rear: 245/45R18
|Brakes|| Front 4 Pot caliper, 355mm rotor / Rear 2 pot caliper |
Type S, Type SP
4 Wheel disk brakes Nissan, 1-pot front & rear