How much do you like pizza? Well, I can answer for myself and say ‘very much’.
During a night out in October with some friends, I was set a challenge: drive to Italy for pizza.
Like a true gent I quickly accepted without giving it a second thought. The first decision was which car to take. After I chatted with a few press officers, Nissan excitedly suggested I take their golden GT-R 45th Anniversary edition – the deal was done.
Back when I was just 29 – a long time ago – Nissan offered me a GT-R for the weekend. Sadly I was too young to qualify for their insurance, but six years later I finally got the chance to drive a GT-R, this time at Rockingham – quite a baptism of fire! And now here I am, sat in one of just five examples of the 45th Anniversary car that’ll make their way to the UK and about to put around 1,500 miles on the clock.
My co-driver is John Marcar, a seasoned long-distance driver, good friend and up-and-coming automotive celebrity. He’s also one of a handful of friends that I would be happy to drive me while I sleep – just in case!
Our route is pretty classic: London to Reims, Reims to Chamonix, Chamonix to Aosta. Overnights will be in Reims and Chamonix – three nights, then straight back to London. Four days of automotive adventure.
The first leg is a very simple journey, the Eurotunnel is on time and by early evening we’re in Reims, having a beer discussing our thoughts on the GT-R so far. The general consensus is that for a car with supercar-baiting performance – 542bhp to be exact – the Nissan is impressively frugal on the super-smooth French autoroute. Not exactly an exciting headline, obviously it’s ferociously quick off the mark, too! It’s ‘freshers week’ in Reims, so we leave the kids to it and turn in.
We’re up early eating a roadside breakfast at the iconic pit straight of the old Grand Prix track on the outskirts of Reims. If you haven’t been, do get along: the magical feeling is quite something, stood where some of the most famous racing drivers pushed above and beyond the limits of their cars. We shoot the obligatory photos in the glorious morning sun before setting off towards Chamonix.
It’s no secret that driving through the northern part of France is not the most visually stimulating thing you’ll ever do, so we decide to set the sat nav for lunch in Dijon. As well as a legendary Grand Prix circuit that was the scene of that amazing wheel-to-wheel battle between Villeneuve and Arnoux, Dijon is also famous for its mustard. We head in to the old town for steak frites with Dijon mustard sauce – perfect.
From Dijon, it’s a much more visually pleasing three-hour drive into Chamonix and our hotel for the next two days: Le Morgane in the centre of town. Travelling to the Alps at this time of year is a gamble –the first snow will be starting to fall and the weather can be very changeable up in the passes. While the hotels are cheap just out of season, our restaurant choices are limited and town is pretty quiet – apart from the nightclub opposite the hotel!
The next day, we head to Megéve before turning off the main road and climbing up to Beaufort. The D925 becomes the D902 – a fantastic road where we can safely start to push the GT-R. The sun is bright and the roads are fast and sweeping, with plenty of visibility. Before we know it we’re in Bourg-Saint-Maurice, ready to start the drive up to the Italian border and the famous Col du Petit St Bernard.
Call us obvious, but Matt Monroe is quickly loaded up on the stereo and set to repeat as we descend into the Aosta Valley for lunch. At this time of year, the roads are virtually empty: get the weather right and you’ll be guaranteed a highly spirited drive with no interruptions.
Given that Aosta is the first big town you arrive at after the Mont Blanc Tunnel, it’s a very touristy affair. We find a pizzeria and sit down for lunch and to recap the morning’s drive.
There’s no doubting the capabilities of GT-R: it’s hugely impressive and you could say it’s almost too fast to really enjoy on the tight mountain roads. You’re always aware of the car trying to manage everything that’s going on, which it does very well. The biggest problem is the weight: you really notice its 1,740kg whenever you have to scrub off speed for a hairpin. Turn-in and handling are exceptional considering the size of the car, but the brakes do take a pounding as you push on down the passes.
With lunch digested, we return back over the pass, choosing to split the ascent so we can both experience the different sections. The weather has closed in and dark clouds start to gather as the afternoon draws to a close. This is when the GT-R really comes into its own. The grip is astounding for such a heavy car; the cold wet roads should feel daunting on the steeper sections, but it’s a joy. We make swift progress back to Chamonix, choosing to ignore one last photo opportunity in the cold wind.
The next morning we have a long drive ahead of us: 660 miles back to London. Long-distance driving requires serious concentration, good-quality snacks and the co-driver getting as much rest as possible between stints.
While 660 miles is a long way, in a car like the GT-R it’s easily despatched quickly and safely. Most importantly, the seats are good and so is the stereo – vital when your only task is to crunch miles.
We arrive at the Eurotunnel in very good time and catch an earlier train than planned. Our 1,641 miles in four days isn’t going to break any records, but it’s still a healthy amount of driving and a great way to get to know a car.
The GT-R has what it takes to be a great Grand Tourer, insanely fast on the demanding mountain roads and a genuine head-turner in town.
It’s unfair to mark the Nissan down for braking in the mountains: it is a heavy beast after all, and was expected to struggle a little with scrubbing off speed in the tighter passes.
It’ll be interesting to see just how much the next-generation GT-R moves the game on in challenging the supercars.
Thanks to Nissan UK