The Nissan BladeGlider may have divisive looks, but can the same be said of the way it drives? Ben Griffin took it for a spin at the famous Goodwood Circuit, sans Margot Robbie, to find out.
If I was going to die in a high-speed blaze of fire and metal, the most dignified way a motoring journalist can leave this world, I had always hoped it would be in some exotic, needlessly expensive machine with a huge engine.
But here I was about to drive a car that looked so thin it could be blown over by a gentle breeze and with a name so 80s it may as well have been wearing the Michael Jackson’s jacket from Thriller. Suffice to say, I was afraid.
Nissan’s prototype concept car, first unveiled at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show, is a mere 1,350mm wide at the front – 500mm less than the rear. My childhood tricycle looked more stable.
There is, of course, a reason for the look. Being arrow-shaped makes it capable of slicing through the air effectively, while the position of the battery helps keep the weight distribution even and the centre of gravity low. All make going fast easier.
With the reverse-opening doors ajar, the BladeGlider looks a little like some sort of deadly alien flower. Or a spacecraft from Star Wars. With them closed, it looks somewhere between a futuristic plane and a door wedge.
Said appendages actually posed a challenge. “The size of the doors, and the rear hinged, upward-opening design meant that the hinge and damper mechanism took a lot of fine-tuning,” explained Neil Reeve of Nissan global product communications.
“[It was difficult] to reach the point where they are easy to close, but when someone opens it, that it wouldn’t pop up suddenly and risk hitting the person in the face.”
If you really had to pick a favourite angle, it would be from the rear, where you can see the central fog light of a Williams Formula One car and some of the sharpest rear headlights in the business.
To be fair, the BladeGlider proved a bit of a hit as it silently crept up the Goodwood Hill behind a slightly more vocal Aston Martin.
You can understand why, then, the BladeGlider advert (above) uses Nissan electric vehicle brand ambassador Margot Robbie, seen driving around the Monaco GP circuit at night, to take your eyes off the styling.
To some extent, the plan works because there is something inherently nerdy about the BladeGlider unlike the Suicide Squad movie star. But, as I was about to find out, this is more than some geeky science project. It’s actually a bit of a hooligan.
Nissan BladeGlider: How fast is it?
UK-based Williams Advanced Engineering helped build the 268hp powertrain, which is comprised two electric motors, 220kW battery and a bespoke cooling system.
The fact each motor has its own rear wheel to worry about meant Nissan could employ torque vectoring for better turn-in and cornering potential, complete with three different settings to adjust the amount of intervention.
Once sitting in the middle seat, located ahead of two passenger seats, you have to latch up the four-point harness and then tighten it to keep you from being blown out of the roof which, as I found out later, is very possible.
Concept cars are meant to push boundaries and the feel of the BladeGlider certainly felt somewhat unfamiliar. But the seating layout, as odd as it looks, does make sense from a rear leg room perspective.
My passenger, who has been driven the BladeGlider extensively, explained the controls. Not that he needed to bother, because the only oddity is the drive selector, which is on the steering wheel and had to be twisted round to ‘D2’.
There is no gear stick to worry about because of the all-electric nature of the beast. In fact, there is very little to worry about at all save for the odd brightly coloured button. This is because, like in most racing cars, everything that could be jettisoned to save weight has been.
You do at least get a measly display to show things like the battery level, torque map and current speed. Then there are two small screens either side of you, connected to two small cameras behind the front wheels, that act as wing mirrors, reducing the level of aerodynamic drag.
Nissan BladeGlider: How does it handle?
Before setting off I noticed the brake pedal, though large in size, sits quite far to the left so it is harder to find than you would expect. The accelerator, meanwhile, is just about soft enough to give you precise acceleration but, again, the position takes some getting used to.
A mixture of a relatively short driving time, the fear of destroying one of only two cars in existence and because it had been while since I had driven the Goodwood Circuit meant I was more reserved with the go pedal than usual. But just a few seconds of movement put my concerns of tipping over to rest.
For such a thin front track, the BladeGlider grips with serious enthusiasm so you can corner fast and get the power down early. Be too eager and it is easy to correct the oversteer, which it is very prone to. No wonder it comes with a Ford Focus RS-inspired drift mode.
Scrub off the right amount of speed before a corner and it turns with unexpected poise and control. If there is any body roll, you would be too busy enjoying the sensation of speed to really notice, owing to the lack of a roof. The way it handles really defies the way it looks.
Nicely weighted steering and a high level of visibility (seamless windscreens are great) makes it easy to be precise with the front wheels, but there is a catch. The wider rear track makes it possible to narrowly miss the apex with the front wheels but catch it with the back, which could send it off course.
I was surprised to read the kerb weight is 1,300kg because the BladeGlider feels considerably more nimble than that figure suggests. Then again, a car capable of producing 521lb/ft (707Nm) of torque in an instant does have a significant advantage.
A top speed of 115mph looks bad on paper, but how fast it gets there is nothing short of exhilarating. It lacks the same punch you get from a top-spec Tesla Model S, as the 0-62mph of around five seconds suggests, but the speed gain is as unrelenting as it is satisfying.
As a result, the Nissan BladeGlider gives you relatively little time to think between corners, even on the longer Goodwood Circuit sections, but you never feel out of your depth. There is an accessibility to the way it drives, yet Nissan has avoided diluting the race car vibe too much.
As for the noise, the electric motors whine like a a big supercharger fused with the Starship Enterprise. It sounds okay, particularly as the pitch gets higher as it gets faster, but then most of the time the only thing you will hear is the wind.
Soon my driving time with the BladeGlider came to a close. It was the turn of a professional to show me how slow I was and how fast it is. As I soon discovered as we left the pits so fast my helmet began to lift off, the answer was very in both cases.
Even at much higher, scarier speeds the Bladeglider remains unphased and only too eager to turn. Only really heavy braking caused it to snake a bit. Admittedly the faster the BladeGlider goes, the easier it is to describe it as a big go-kart, yet it is much more predictable.
Because you sit slightly higher up in the back and the windscreen slopes away a bit, gravel and other debris has the chance to hit you in the face so I was told to wear safety glasses. There was no need though because, such was the level of wind hitting in my face, my eyes were barely open anyway.
Nissan BladeGlider: The future
Nissan said the BladeGlider is good for just 10 laps of Goodwood Circuit racing before the battery runs out. But then the sizable capacity is there for the sake of performance, not multiple trips to Asda. With that said, it does highlight the fact battery technology has a long way to go.
So what was the point? To show that electric cars really can match their combustion rivals for effectiveness and in this area Nissan has very much succeeded.
“Normally, designers and engineers are constrained by regulations, customer needs, achieving cost targets and production requirements, but in the case of BladeGlider, they really had freedom to design and create a vehicle which meets the design brief without compromise,” Reeve added.
If my limited time in the BladeGlider is anything to go by, it certainly feels as if no compromises were made in Nissan’s quest to make it fun to drive. No wonder Margot Robbie was so smiley.