Nissan 360

By Alison Lakin

Nissan Micra and Micra C+C

When a car manufacturer invites you to test drive their entire line of cars from around the world, most would jump at the chance. When they tell you the event is on the coast of beautiful Portugal, I guarantee you’ll already be out the door. Nissan 360 is that kind of event – the one that trumps all others. Since attending, our new motto is: Why drive just one car when you can drive them all?

2009 Nissan GT-R

Nissan Qashqai

The first Nissan 360 took place in San Francisco in 2004, and it was iffy as to how the idea of gathering every current Nissan vehicle in one place would be received. Simon Sproule, Corporate Vice President of Global Communications and Investor Relations, said, “Nissan 360 was nothing like any media event out there; it set a precedent. No manufacturer had ever brought all their vehicles together in one forum like that before."

Thankfully, the response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic, and organizers have decided Nissan 360 will now take an Olympian approach, occurring every four years. This will allow for most of their products to cycle through to new iterations – and give the event coordinators a break.

The six-week, 2008 event, spanning across April and May was a mammoth undertaking involving over 640 members of the press from around the world, all congregating in Cascais, Portugal. Groups of 80 journalists rotated in and out of the town, spending just two days per group driving the tiny Nissan Micra to the massive Nissan Titan and everything in between. Technology presentations were casually presented between drives, and, of course, there was food.

Over two days I drove nimble Japanese city cars, also known as kei cars, with 660 cc, or about 54 horsepower engines through the narrow streets of Cascais; explored the costal roads in the Qashqai, a smaller version of the Murano with a luxurious interior and full glass roof available only in Europe and Japan; and tested light commercial vehicles (LCVs), i.e. delivery vans and small trucks, in a maneuverability course set up to challenge everything from the 2,204-pound, 133-inch-long Japanese Clipper Rio to the European-based, 7,716-pound, 295-inch-long Atleon.

As much as I loved the brightly colored, tiny and well-built city cars like the Otti and the Cube, the highlight of the trip came at the end of the second day at the Esotril circuit when I finally slid behind the wheel of the GT-R. Yes, the infamous GT-R - the $70,000 supercar that everyone’s been talking about.

After a tutorial with the instructor behind the wheel, I was given the green flag and proceeded to wring as much of the 480 horsepower as I could out of the beast (they call it Godzilla for good reason). Now, feeling like a hero, my mediocre skills were quickly put to shame as Tochio Suzuki, Nissan’s chief test driver, took us one-by-one on blazing hot laps that would make even the most intense roller coaster feel like a kiddie ride.

However, there's more to this event than frivolities. “Nissan 360 provides people with a chance to see the similarities throughout the brand and hear about future ideas and technologies," says Katherine Zachary, Senior Manager of Corporate Communications. “It also brings people together: journalists, engineers, corporate executives, to talk about the global brand and create a dialog we wouldn’t get otherwise."

So often we view cars as individual entities, separated from others that may have been built in the same factory or conceived of by the same design team. By presenting Nissan in its entirety, including its burgeoning luxury brand, Infiniti, we get a glimpse at the method behind the madness and the reason an overall identity is so vital to the success of a company. Without cohesiveness, consumers would not recognize Nissan as a whole, and, trust me, the sum of any company and its reputation is worth much more than its parts, no matter how incredible that GT-R is.

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