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Is the bonkers-looking Nissan Hyper Force Concept the next GT-R?

As the world pivots towards EV, Japan is busy figuring out how to keep its icons alive and kicking. Enter the Hyper Force

Published: 26 Mar 2024

The electric revolution is a scary place to be if you’re a carmaker. Performance metrics have basically been crumpled up and chucked in the bin, ideas of refinement suddenly uprated to the point where some cars make you feel like you’ve gone very slightly deaf. Previous bars superseded not by margins, but miles. But there’s one place where electricity hasn’t quite nailed it yet: the art and soul of performance. Why? Because to people who like driving, ‘performance’ has turned out to be a much more nuanced argument than any set of statistics can provide. Being fast isn’t the argument ender that it once was.

Of course, change is normal and rarely without issues, the process of evolution uncomfortable and sticky. Cars and technology are not a static thing – if they were, we’d still be hand cranking grease nipples on a Model T, repairing leather drive belts and burning ourselves with pilot flames.

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But the fact remains that while electric motivation is largely excellent at specific tasks, it’s not a magic bullet. And this is a problem that we must address. If electric is going to democratise pure speed, then performance EVs are going to have to quantify what else makes a good sports car.

And that question has many different answers. The truth is, human nature likes a quirk, identifies with imperfection. Just ask any Alfa enthusiast. The glossy effectiveness of electric drivetrains just seems too perfect somehow, too emotionally smooth, too cold, too slick.

Photography: John Wycherley 

It’s AI-generated beauty, too symmetrical to fall in love with. Effective yes, but not satisfying. But car manufacturers have noticed. And they’re doing something about it – they know that enthusiasm for the product drives sales, and that exciting sports models are the headlines of their corporate story. An electric SUV can only take you so far.

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It seems the Japanese have embraced the concept, both figuratively and literally if you look at these pages. It is, to be fair, something that the Japanese culture is excellent at. This is a culture whose 200mph Shinkansen bullet trains run to atomic timings through paddy fields tended by hand. Where traditional Shinto temples lie tiered and elegant in the aggressive, violent neon of skyscraper Tokyo. If there’s a culture that can forge a relevant relationship between the future and the past it’s this one. Japanese car culture has always been world renowned for being innovative, reliable and exciting, it’s been needing a shot in the proverbial arm for a while now. The electric revolution might just be it.

Nissan’s Hyper Force, the Toyota FT-Se, Mazda SP Iconic and Lexus Electrified Sports Concept all show serious intent, bags of innovation and more than a hint of next-generation thinking. Of course concept cars aren’t explicitly real, but they do point out the things that companies consider to be important – the canaries in the innovation coal mine. The future starts with ideas, with imagination and experimentation. For Japan, the future starts here.

No one wants to say 'GT-R' but everyone's thinking it. Even the pixellated blob on the front is the iconic signature as seen through a kaleidoscope, and the windowline looks like an R35 slowly sinking into a Japanese Batmobile. Welcome, then, to the utterly outrageous Nissan Hyper Force. The GT-R that isn’t.

 

 

What it is, is absolutely ‘stop and stare’, mouth open arresting. It is not pretty. It is not normal. But you can barely look away. And what looks like a matte painted battleship at first starts to resolve into something that has much more form and sculpture than your brain picks up on initially. In the first pictures released by Nissan it looked lumpen, a caricature. When you see it for real, it just looks angry and near-future, the kind of fever dream drawn from the minds of William Gibson and Philip K Dick.

Obviously the front is the immediate focus, a two-tiered maw that stretches the width of the car. At the sides are sets of flick knife canards that push out through the skin when needed, along with sets of serrated flaps that open on top of the front arches. Theatre on the concept, yes, but that double deck front is actually one giant aero addition, and the idea of active aero for the winglets isn’t daft. Elements of reality sneaking in while the craziness makes you look the other way.

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The windowline looks like an elongated version of the R35’s, stretched into a new form with a very long scuttle, but recognisable nonetheless. And the sides of the car are what give it the visual heft, big body made real, with an equally distorted and extended double height rear end. The spoiler has enough edges on its own to slice ’n’ dice any amount of traffic, and the more you look, the more you see – it’s a surprisingly nuanced bit of design, even through a sledgehammer of first impressions.

But even though the exterior design looks Kaido racer meets DC comics, in typical Nissan fashion it’s not pure fantasy. The aerodynamics were codified by Nismo, a project to see if something so blunt could be made to channel air in a slippery enough way. The retractable canards and wingtop vents offer plausible aerodynamic advantages, as does that active rear wing. Every surface seems to have a job to do, and it’s generally there to generate downforce as much as headlines.

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But there’s more here.

While the R35 GT-R is now a venerable performance car hanging on to its credibility by the skin of its reputational teeth, the immediate next-gen GT-R might still be based on a heavily modified R35 chassis. It’ll likely be hybridised rather than pure electric, but it’ll probably have some sort of battery. Active aerodynamics look set to feature, and there’s plenty to get excited about. But the properly all-new generation of GT-R will be fully electric, and that offers up more opportunities in terms of packaging and design. Or more headaches, depending on which side of the fence you sit.

Whatever, the unreal engine of the Hyper Force consists of a couple of electric motors pushing 1,341bhp from a solid state battery. That would likely translate to the usual two-something 0–62mph times of an electric hypercar, corralled via a performance version of Nissan’s eForce AWD. But that claim of a solid state battery is interesting. Solid state batteries are considered something of a holy grail among electric enthusiasts because they promise much, and have become tantalisingly close to reality – most big players think they will have production versions ready by 2027/28. You can see why they’re exciting, mainly because they have a higher energy density than traditional lithium-ion, are safer, easier to recycle, last longer, charge faster and don’t generally have to be the same shape or size as we’re used to, opening up a whole ream of possibilities from packaging to weight. But they’re expensive and nobody has really quite cracked the formula for big EV-sized ones that don’t cost the same as the GDP of California, so while the world is confident that they’re coming, they ain’t here yet.

While the Hyper Force looks about as angry as it’s possible to get without compulsory therapy, again, there are real ideas camouflaged in the shouty presentation. The carbon aero wheels might be extreme – and make you park a foot from the nearest kerb, just to be safe – but they’d be likely on a performance EV. Then there’s the ‘plasma actuator’ which “suppresses air detachment to maximise grip and minimise inner-wheel lift during cornering” – sounds like utter made up nonsense, but plasma actuators are a real thing when you’re talking about aerodynamic flow control. Sounds like science fiction, is actually science fact.

This is a culture whose 200mph bullet trains run through paddy fields tended by hand 

And the same goes for the interior. OK, so the Hyper Force’s interior is part video game and part Berlin nightclub, but there are ideas on a couple of levels. The first is a practical one. In the first of the two modes – ‘GT’ – the steering yoke and screens sit back presenting a larger single piece frame that will have things like audio and nav, multimedia and HVAC controls on it. It’s calmer, much bluer, with softer, more malleable suspension and delivery. After all, Nissan has explicitly stated that this might be a car for daily use as well as racetrack annihilation.

But in the second of the two modes – ‘R’ for racing – the car turns blood red throughout, and satellite screens detach from the main dash and reach out to frame the yoke, giving more direct visual access to things like laptimers, boost gauges, tyre temperatures and engine monitors. The usual stuff also happens: responses will adrenalise, suspension will hunker, the battery will be preconditioned for action.

Interestingly though, Nissan is fully self aware when it comes to the GT-R’s – sorry, Nissan Performance’s – connection with gaming, so there’s a set of VR goggles so that you can use the Hyper Force as a life- sized sim, as well as another set of skeleton visors, which will allow you to superimpose augmented reality systems on a real life situation. You’ll also be able to go to a real racetrack and race ghost versions of yourself or others, access augmented reality instruction on lines and braking points, steering angles and time loss mistakes. You just need to be really careful about noting the difference – one comes with a big bill rather than a reset button.

The genius of the Hyper Force is that Nissan isn’t actually giving anything away, while exploring possibilities. It’s a big, bold, silly cartoon thing with a coldly calculated undercurrent of reality. But it’s also exciting, and fresh and energetic. And even though this isn’t the next GT-R, it feels worthy of wearing the pixellated badge.

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