Actually, we're not entirely sure. Nissan first showed its BladeGlider concept at last fall's Tokyo Motor Show. The easiest way to describe the car? It's more or less a street-going version of Nissan's ZEOD RC racer; it ran Le Mans a couple weeks ago.
The idea behind both the street and race car is efficiency in aerodynamics, powertrain, low-rolling resistance tires -- you get the idea. For example, the electric BladeGlider's narrow front end is designed to poke a smaller hole in the air than a conventional car, and Nissan says the car's weight distribution -- 30 percent front, 70 percent rear (!) -- makes for quick, effective launches and strenuous acceleration off the line.
Another example: The rear tires are considerably wider than the front tires for more traction/better grip. Nissan says the wider rear track allowed designers and engineers to put the two electric motors, lithium-ion batteries and the passengers between the rear tires; the concept's cockpit seats three: one in front, two in back. Efficient.
Nissan sums up the car with this: “The car changes conventional thinking on sports-car performance handling, braking and weight distribution.” Amen to that.
The mule we drove was built so Nissan engineers could further explore the idea of turning the concept into production -- and also so that unconvinced execs could drive it and be persuaded the company should build it. So far so good: Nissan big shots strongly hint the BladeGlider could come as a production model, perhaps in 2017.
Nissan's BladeGlider Prototype is all about efficiency.PHOTO BY NISSAN
What's it like to drive?
Remarkable, actually. The BladeGlider mule was based on an Ariel Atom. We drove them both back to back on a small autocross course set up in a parking lot at the Circuit Zolder in Belgium.
First, the Atom. We fired it up (both cars have Honda fours producing 200 hp tucked in back, with five-speed manuals) and immediately noticed the Ariel's rocket-like acceleration, right-now throttle response and an engine howl to make the ears hurt. Headed toward the first corner, began the turn in and … understeer because we were going in a bit too aggressively. We backed off, and it tidied itself nicely and was fun to slide around the course. Steering felt immediate -- don't sneeze -- and we felt every stone and rumble strip on the lot.
Now to the BladeGlider mule. The most noticeable thing, of course, is the narrower front track -- 63 inches on the Atom vs. the BladeGlider's 23.6 inches. That offers a big handling advantage, according to Nissan, because the narrower front track cuts lateral weight transfer in corners; rather than shifting weight to the outside tire in a turn, the mule's tires have roughly the same cornering load. So, two tires handle the steering chores rather than one doing most of the work as in a conventional car.
It really works. The two cars felt basically the same in a straight line. In corners, the prototype understeers, too, but not nearly as much as the Atom. We thought we were going fast in the Atom, but the mule could be hustled much faster and pushed harder. Turn-in was even crisper and more immediate. The car felt much more forgiving and stable over the uneven(ish) pavement, where the Atom at times felt twitchy.
Approaching anything close to cornering limits in the Atom can be tricky, dancing on the head of the proverbial understeer/oversteer pin. Both cars were fun to toss around the cones, but the BladeGlider more so; it steered better, felt more planted and had more grip. It was laugh-out-loud fun.
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