This is not a rivalry you might expect.
What on Earth gives this GT-R, from the makers of the Almera and the Juke, the audacity to stand up to anything from Maranello. A true king does not have to proclaim himself as such, the saying goes, so when the rest of the world refers to an automobile as the Supercar Killer, well, it has every right to be compared to anything.
I’m not being very subtle about my bias, obviously. The underdog story is appealing everywhere, especially here where the GT-R has the Ferrari’s monolithic provenance and lustful Italian desirability counting against it. But ask any European supercar owner, Italian or German, what they feel when a GT-R fills their wing mirrors. In Malaysian street lingo, the feeling is eloquently described as “balls drop”.
Won, on the other hand, flies the Ferrari flag high as you will see in the video below. The word Speciale is enough to make him weak in the knees and although I disagree with his taste, vehemently, I can understand why his heart is where it is.
This 458 has recently been replaced by the 488 GTB, and with the succession comes a smaller, turbocharged heart ala the rest of the bloody auto industry, but we chose it for our comparison for a reason. It sounds the bloody business, I have enough humility to admit that at least.
What’s interesting here is that the usual drivetrain assumptions don’t quite hold true with these two. Yes, the AWD hardware in the GTR means that off the line it breaks into a urgent stride but it drives with a bit more twitchiness than the 458. The Ferrari needs to reach alto levels of bellowing for anything to happen, but it feels a whole lot more surefooted than the GTR.
One very endearing quality to the GT-R that will likely disappear from future iterations — especially since the whispers of a hybrid powertrain have now become full-on yelling — is how gratuitously old-school it is in the behaviour of its turbos.
3.8-liters is a lot to displace, and unlike small capacity turbos of today which deliver boost at a smidge over idle, the twin snails in the GT-R take a deep breath before exploding into beast-mode fury in the mid range. It will take your breath away, whereas the 458’s linear crescendo is a lot better for predictable performance but a little less of throwing your organs against the seats.
You will, however, feel a longing deep within for the tune of the latter.
There are times when the Universe tends to line things up in the most perfect way. As if on cue, with the repeated howling of the 458 slowly making its way into my affections, a red GT-R found us as we were returning the Ferrari to its owner and wanted to play. Now bear in mind that these were public roads so there was a limit to how boisterous things could get, and after a few minutes of cat-and-mouse the GT-R driver gave us a thumbs up and turned off the LDP.
The consensus between Won and I was unanimous: the GT-R is fast. Just so damn fast. It wasn’t stock that was for sure, but therein lies one of its strengths. Tunability and modification potential is at the very heart of Japanese performance car culture and its God-in-car-form, the GT-R, and the relative ease with which more grunt can be extracted from it compared to something like the 458 makes it even more worth what you pay for.
But what did that tell us, that we had caught one on the way home? There are GT-Rs everywhere, in fact every other car in the Sunway Workshop District has scientifically been proven to be a GT-R whereas Ferraris are still preciously few and far between. Except at the Bangsar Shopping Centre valet drive-through. The “special” feeling that Won keeps yammering on about is all-encompassing, from the rarity of the ‘Rari to the attention devoted to its creation, to the experience found within as both driver or passenger, and even as part of the audience. This is undeniable.
The GT-R, on the other hand, does not inspire this feeling. Far from special and even further from luxurious, the key fob could easily be mistaken for the one your uncle uses for his Sylphy. The interior is purely functional, the displays calculator legible and everything is ergonomically where it should be with no thought to flair and flourish. The triplet of GT-R switches for the suspension, transmission and VDC are an exception to this, but besides the beast’s imposing proportions and the single-track purposefulness of its design there is very little soul-moving drama. Whatever, I’ll bury the throttle and create it myself.
Keep your supercar, Won, I’ll take the Supercar Killer thank you very much. But that’s just me. Now watch as the pair of us disagree in the video below for an entire day before coming to a conclusion that perhaps both sides of the fence can somewhat agree upon…