IF I SIMPLY presented the GT-R’s statistics and test data, you’d be impressed at its worth in the supercar world. Alternatively, I could use strings of expletives and onomatopoeia (whoosh!) to communicate some of the thrill and emotion that comes with living at warp speed. But then I’d have to censor most of the first and the latter would be more akin to reading an Action Comic series. Seriously though, my time in the recently reinvigorated GT-R is a blur. Fact is, like The Matrix, you can’t be told what the GT-R is, you need to experience it for yourself. But I’ll give it my best shot.
It’s a big car. I mean massive. There’s no tarmac scraping here; it towers over the supercar stalwarts from Italy. Its profile easily blots out German efforts such as an Audi R8 or Porsche 911. Even Honda’s NSX looks like a Dinky car in comparison. The reason for all that heft is twofold. Firstly, the GT-R heritage is a long line of medium saloons. So it shares ride height with something like the similarly blown BMW 335i Coupe that’s pulled up alongside you at the red light, spoiling for a fight – he really shouldn’t be doing that. Secondly, it has to be huge, by virtue of all the tech packed beneath that long bonnet and into that complex drivetrain charged with sending mega blasts of power to Dunlop-wrapped 20- inch alloy hoops filling each pumped arch. The lightweight bodywork is also clever, with scientific honing arguably overpowering sheer beautiful sculpture. The end result doesn’t sit well with purists, though I find it wholly deserving. It certainly stirs emotion in the type of enthusiast who can see the beast beneath that physics-defying veneer. And it still turns heads violently thanks to its heavily-muscled body. The most recent update has added sparkly LED running lamps (hate them), and a redesigned carbon fibre rear diffuser (love it). Little else changes, though mild aero tweaks have added 10% more downforce and scalped the drag coefficient from 0.27 to 0.26. Even in ‘business suit blue’, little visual edginess is lost: think of it as an assassin in stealth mode, Gucci style.
Hop aboard and it’s like slipping inside a tub of Marmite. I don’t mean that it’s dark inside (although it is), I mean that it’s polarising ‘love it or hate it’ territory. A sombre Japanese cockpit greets you featuring dark, hard plastics, some more dark plastics and switchgear shared with the 370Z and Navara stablemates. The leather Recaros do a good job of hugging you without bludgeoning your thighs when you try to climb into them though. A GT-R emblazoned helm is a tactile gem: heavy, leather-wrapped, purposeful and promising so much. Centred on the dash you find a user interface designed by Polyphony Digital (the folks who make the Gran Turismo games). It has the task of relaying valuable ‘telemetry’ type data – everything from boost and fluid levels, to steering and pedal inputs – via a 7-inch multifunction screen. We’re talking about levels of information bordering on the obsessive compulsive here. The same screen also displays satnav and multimedia data. Drop your hand about five centimetres and there the fun truly begins. A trio of toggles set in a carbon fibre plate await your input on drivetrain behaviour, suspension characteristics and traction control levels. From the default centre position, push down and the first two engage a more conservative mode with a softer ride and fuel consumption a priority. The third disengages traction control, so leave well alone. Return them all to their normal positions and you’ll find the GT-R feels perfectly athletic and responsive. Flip all three up and a red R is illuminated over each. Welcome to the GT-R’s full blown ‘Race’ mode where it will splash through 95 unleaded like a pubescent does cheap cologne.
‘Launch Mode’ returns for the 2011 GT-R. Nissan quickly removed it from the previous model after owners grenaded their very special, very expensive dual-clutch gearboxes after attempting to show off that startling 11-second quarter mile over, and over, and over again. To access it is simple enough. Once all three Rs are lit, shift the stubby gear selector into D, flatten the brake pedal, floor the throttle, and when the buzzing reaches a mild crescendo jump off the stoppers and in less than four seconds you’ll be nudging the highway speed limit.
Then there’s the noise… glorious, busy sounds abound here! While I love the purity of an ally V8, the rasp of a straight six, and of course the sonorous flat plane crank vees from Italy, there’s something deeply visceral about a V6 that’s been boosted to the max. You have the engine gargling dead ahead, induction roar surging through the cabin, and twin turbos whistling eerily at each audible gear change. The transmission is mounted over the rear axle, so it literally sounds as if it’s shifting massive metal weights between bench presses – ‘clack!, clack!’.
Thankfully the new car also gets larger brake discs to haul in the speeding 1.7-tonne mammoth. And speed it does, now with 390kW and 612Nm to test the traction on all four wheels with a theoretical 0 to 100kph run of 3.6 seconds, a quarter-mile benchmark of 11.xxx seconds and no let-up until it runs out of puff at 315kph. Enough stats?
There are some brain gymnastics going on here. It has niceties like Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, yet is blistering quick. ‘With something like an M3 or an E63 AMG you sort of know what they’re capable of before you get into the car… but I can’t really get to grips with the GT-R’s pace,’ grinned road test engineer Peter Henkel as he struggled to process grip levels and mathematics at once.
It is a case of being ‘GT-R’ than the sum of its parts? The sum of just R1 314 000 (for the Premium Edition tested here) boggles the mind. It’s expensive for a Nissan, but you need to remember that only a handful of cars that match its performance are on sale in this country today, with its closest rivals being the costlier [which and which] from Germany. Yet the GT-R is capable of mixing it up with exotics costing three times more. Obsessive drag racers often spend more than the purchase price to get their cars across the quarter line in less than 12 seconds and it’s these guys who truly appreciate Nissan’s best effort. But looking only at straight line dominance is really to miss the point.
Handling is all about grip. Which is difficult to judge on public roads because the GT-R is one tenacious beast. I mean those bespoke Dunlops JUST DON’T LET GO. Exaggeration is exponential in this car. Where you’d normally nip to 120kph on a certain stretch, you’re at 170 in a moment. Where you’d typically need 100m to come to a stop, you now need 80m, despite travelling faster. Barrel into a corner and it’s more of the same, except now you have nearly two tonnes to contend with via a very heavy steering wheel. Time and again I find my forearms fully loaded with the weight of the car, fighting the gravitational forces being chucked about both axes. My neck is doing all it can to ensure my head and body stay friends yet the car tracks smoothly and gracefully, swapping directions as though it’s been told it’s an Lotus Elise. You don’t so much as floor the loud pedal, as negotiate with it. You dial in a little, it gives you a lot. You dial in some more, and teleportation feels less like a sci-fi concept and more like something you find in the Nissan brochure’s options section.
The GT-R is not perfect, but then no supercar has the right to be. One notable oddity is a reversing beep reminiscent of a dump truck. Of course this is because it has less than ideal levels of outward rear visibility and it warns pedestrians of an impending leg-crushing. Also, I cannot ignore that the GT-R is a very digital experience versus the analogue themes you expect of a car designed to get your blood rate up. To be fair, cars such as the Ferrari 458 and McLaren MP4-12C have also become a bit more ‘cyborg’ as their computer brains interface your supercar experience. But to those numbers again. We thought the 2008 model with its 354kW and 588Nm was the bargain sports car of our generation. With 9% more power, 4% more torque, better fuel consumption and a smaller carbon footprint, it’s clear the 2011 iteration is even better than that.