Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Up, Down and All Around: The Nissan 360

Several carmakers each year host a full-line event at which media get to drive everything they market in America. Once in a while, they will even sneak in a model available only in a foreign market; but for the most part, they stick to what they sell here. Every few years Nissan does something entirely different when it brings virtually every light vehicle it sells in the world to one location for media to experience. 

They call it Nissan 360, and this was such a year. I attended the first one it held in 2004. Then it was only a day with far fewer vehicles. This year's version was much more expansive.

The Resort at Pelican Hill was ground zero for this year's event. Located near Newport Beach, it is a 30-minute drive from El Toro, the now-closed Marine airbase. Nissan mapped out several driving courses over the miles of El Toro runways. There was even an off-road course for its all-wheel drive trucks and SUVs.

This was a two-day affair with ample opportunity to drive whichever Nissan a motoring scribe's little heart could possibly desire.

There was a performance course where I was able to pilot a full selection of go-fast Nissans and Infinitis like the 370Z Nismo, Leaf Nismo RC (Yes, there is a Nismo Leaf!), Infiniti Q60 IPL (coupe and convertible) and a Q50S Hybrid.

There was a street course for driving world cars like the Note Diesel, Moco, Sylphy and Teana.

Nissan loosed its U.S.-spec cars on mapped-out routes on California roadways. 

Hey, Ralphie boy!
The moment the first day's presentations ended, I hot footed it to the Nissan Civilian. It's a 30-person bus. Why, you might ask, of all the vehicles available did I choose a bus as my first drive? Are you kidding me? When was the last time you drove a bus? Exactly, never. It was an opportunity to channel my Ralph Kramden and I wasn't going to get aced out. Remarkably easy to drive, I zipped around the commercial street course in no time. If I had had a nickle squirter on my belt, I would have headed off the airbase and made a little extra money hauling a few unsuspecting folks around.

I also drove the e-NT400 Atlas truck. It's odd to drive something this size powered by an electric motor. 

My driving highlight was behind the wheel of the Juke-R on the high-performance course. I could have jumped behind the wheel of the GT-R just as easily, but had to choose between the two. Having spent a week with the GT-R just a month or so ago, the decision was easy.

Think of a GT-R born and raised within spitting distance of a nuclear plant. That's the Juke-R. A modified version of the GT-R's 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6 gets down to business under its hood. In this application, it delivers 485 horsepower and can make the sprint from 0 to 60 in just over 3 seconds. It's all-wheel drive, which helps when you are going balls to the wall through the twisties. In its matte-black finish, it resembles a coal bucket run over by a dump truck. But fun? You bet.

The other car that blew me away was Nissan's Autonomous Leaf. This is Nissan's version of "drives itself" technology. Easily consumer ready in five to eight years, it applies technology already in use in several Nissan and Infiniti models, such as radar, lasers and cameras to flawlessly guide itself through traffic along city streets and freeways. It is astounding how far along Nissan has come with this.

Of course it requires a trunk full of computers and assorted gizmos to make it all happen, but I would have been quite confident riding in it on city streets. One demonstration had it drop its driver off at the curb before he dispatched it to find a parking space. It went into a crowded parking lot and pulled into an empty space on its own. With the push of a button on the key fob, the driver then recalled it to his position on the curb. It drove right up to him and he climbed back in. Amazing.

Yep, the Nissan 360 was quite the experience.

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