Nissan GT-R. Finally, the full-blown road test…
Yes, after all the hype, the teaser images, the passenger rides and interviews, we’ve finally been let loose in the Nissan GT-R, one of the most anticipated drives of the year.
And my word, it’s been worth the six-year wait. This is one of the finest, most engaging and desirable cars we have driven in ages, a car with a seemingly endless range of ground-covering abilities that elevates it way beyond the common Nissan badge. It’s automotive heaven…
For Gavin Green's full report, buy the new January 2008 issue of CAR Magazine.
The GT-R is really that good?
Yes. It’s really that good. Nissan took us out to its test track in Sendai, a small student town a couple of hours north of Tokyo on the Bullet Train. The circuit is only 2.5 miles long, but it crams an amazing number of different corners – fast, slow, off-camber and sweaty-palm kinks – into a short stretch of tarmac. A Nürburgring-lite, if you like.
There we hooked up with Kazutoshi Mizuno, former head of Nissan’s sports car racing programme, who warned us about the intricacies of the Sendai circuit and then lobbed us the GT-R’s keys for ten fast-as-you-dare laps.
Please, please tell me it turned you into a driving god…
One with winged heels! The GT-R is ferociously quick, sucking in the horizon with the kind of pace that makes you radically recalibrate your speed-distance-time triangle. The 3.8-litre bi-turbo engine is a new V6, not related to the fine one used in the 350Z. It’s an amazingly tractable engine, pulling from way down low in the rev band, then energised by the twin IHI turbochargers all the way, uninterrupted, to the 7000rpm redline.
From launch to 62mph takes just 3.6 seconds. Top speed is a supercar-rivalling 193mph. The gearchange is lightning quick and clean, and those big Brembo brakes are quite brilliant. They stop you like a giant hand firmly pulling you backwards to safety. Mizuno says they’re the best brakes on any production car and Japanese homologation tests say the same. On our experience, we'd be inclined to agree.
Straightline speed is one thing, cornering is another...
Don't worry, the GT-R has the polished dynamics to use all that power, all that turbo-enhanced performance all the time. Sure, the steering isn’t as sharp or as delicate as a 911’s – the GT-R is 350kg heavier, remember – but it’s linear and the GT-R’s blunt nose instantly changes direction, no questions asked.
It doesn't understeer, it simply hunkers down and goes where you want it. It’s a car that drives square on its feet rather than always on its toes. Less poetic, perhaps, than its European rivals. But, in this case, faster. And so easy to exploit.
It is, says Mizuno, the fastest production car in the world around the Nürburgring – according to Nissan, only the bespoke (and out of production) Porsche Carrera GT can lap the daunting German circuit quicker. That’s real-world pace, irrespective of road or weather conditions.
So it’s a real hardcore machine?
Oh it’s quick alright – quick enough to make Porsche’s 911 Turbo feel unexciting – but the GT-R’s real appeal is its adaptability. Punt it hard, really hard on a track and the GT-R responds, delivering searing pace, formidable control, a fine and perfectly judged balance and a wonderfully high level of feedback.
But if you want to drive it across town in rush-hour traffic or halfway across a continent, you simply slot into Drive, settle back into the thickly padded and generously bolstered seats, switch the suspension setting to soft and the GT-R is so easy and effortless, you might just as well be in a Maxima. A very brisk Maxima.
And that’s core to the Nissan’s magic appeal – its ability to deliver two distinctly different driving characteristics, where the qualities of one don’t compromise the other.
How does it achieve this duality?
With just three switches, housed just above the gearlever, at the bottom of the centre of the dash. The left one adjusts the transmission and you choose ‘R’ mode for faster gearshifts. The middle switch adjusts the dampers. Again, you choose R for the sportiest chassis set-up. Those Bilsteins are now on maximum sports setting.
Finally turn the VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control – controlling stability and traction controls) switch to R. Which means it’s turned off. Ring up three Rs and you're ready to Race. Flick them back to their default settings and you have a comfy cruiser.
There’s even a brake-assist function for hills, to avoid rolling backwards unintentionally on those awkward hill starts.
Not that it looks like a cruiser…
True, the GT-R’s lines are bold, brutal and intimidating, but its hides a surprisingly roomy and well packaged cabin. There is none of the styling poetry of a Porsche or, even more, a Ferrari, but the Nissan is bank-vault solidly built and - apart from the PlayStation graphics on the ‘multi function meter’ (myriad info read-outs include turbo boost and front/rear torque split, plus steering angle and even a g meter) - it’s coupé conventional.