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First drive: All hail the new Godzilla

Japan's finest: Brilliant new GT-R coupe sets new performance benchmarks.

New Nissan GT-R hits the streets as the world's most accessible supercar

1 Dec 2007

By MARTON PETTENDY in TOKYO

NISSAN'S new-generation GT-R might still be officially more than a year away from hitting Australian shores, but after becoming one of just 75 lucky testers to attend the global launch in Japan this week, we can unequivocally say it will be worth the wait.

Aimed squarely at the upper echelons of the automotive globe's finest performance coupes like Porsche's benchmark-setting 911 Turbo, but expected to cost less than half the price at about $150,000, the new GT-R follows a hallowed tradition best remembered for the giant-killing racer dubbed Godzilla.

The last (Skyline) GT-R was sold here in 2003 in R34 guise and, outside Japan, was also only made officially available in the UK. All that changes with the redesigned R35 GT-R, which was announced as a global model from the outset by Nissan-Renault chief Carlos Ghosn when he first presented the GT-R Proto concept at the 2001 Tokyo motor show.

More than six years later, Nissan has released a worthy successor that stays true to the original's turbocharged/all-wheel drive formula yet, in outright performance terms at least, is competitive with the finest supercars from Germany and Italy.

As we reported previously, at the heart of the four-seater two-door GT-R lies an all-new 3.8-litre DOHC V6 brandishing a pair of conventional turbochargers that provide up to a modest 0.75 bar (or just over 10psi) of boost.

According to official figures, the highly oversquare VR38DETT-codenamed TTV6 matches the 911T for peak power, with 353kW on tap from a similarly relaxed 6400rpm. It falls 32Nm short in terms of maximum torque, which is quoted at 588Nm from a slightly peakier 3200rpm, but is maintained for a usefully wide 2000rpm rev-range to 5200rpm.

On the road, the result is nothing short of scintillating. No, despite a 200cc displacement advantage, the Nissan engine doesn't match the off-idle response of the flagship Porsche engine, which employs NASA-type variable-geometry turbo technology and is regarded as the world's most flexible six-cylinder engine.

Meaningful power delivery doesn't arrive until about 2000rpm, which is barely noticeable until full-throttle inputs in taller gears are demanded from it, but from there it's only a short gap before full turbo boost is on hand, from about 2800rpm.

Beyond 3000rpm the force-fed V6 really gets angry, delivering a seamless and surprisingly linear wave of satisfyingly mad, seat-compressing torque, accompanied by a smooth, refined engine note that reeks of single-minded efficiency both inside and outside the cabin.

The GT-R doesn't exhibit the spine-tinglingly menacing exhaust note of the higher-tech German flat six, but offers a unique, attention-grabbing bark that signals its formidable intent just as convincingly.

Where the GT-R engine really shines is in the midrange, where there's a neck-straining wall of acceleration available in any gear, from any speed.

Plant your right clog and there's virtually no lag before a ferocious surge of violent acceleration explodes into life, spinning the tacho needle clockwise as fast as windscreen wipers in a tropical downpour.

Nissan claims 911T-beating 0-100km/h acceleration of 3.6 second and a 300km/h top speed, and an impromptu performance test at the launch by fellow Australian journalists revealed that by employing the BMW M3-style launch control function, the GT-R is easily capable of sub-four-second 0-100 passes, which firmly stamps it as one of the world's quickest road vehicles.

Thus, the new GT-R should be comfortably capable of eye-wateringly quick 11-second quarter-mile sprints.

Never mind the standard 20-inch alloys with massive 255/40-section front and 285/35 rear rubber, or the significantly longer (2780mm) wheelbase and wider (1590/1600mm front/rear) wheel tracks that give it a bigger footprint than Porche's finest conveyance, or even the specially-developed, electro-magnetic clutch-operated all-wheel drive system that comprises a weight-distributing rear trans-axle and sends a maximum of 50 per cent of torque to the front wheels only when the rear-end loses grip: the GT-R V6 makes power oversteer there for the taking.

On the tight, twisting and technical 4.1km Sendai Highland Raceway, which played a central role in the GT-R's development and provided our first taste of Japan's most significant supercar since Honda's ground-breaking NSX in 1989, the GT-R felt untouchable.

12 center imageSitting flat, stable and fully composed in all of the mountainous circuit's double and even triple-apex turns, the GT-R carried outrageously quick corner speeds with the confidence-inspiring agility and precision of a highly developed super-coupe.

Of course the GT-R cannot defy gravity and understeer sets in during over-ambitious corner entry speeds, but so neutral is its chassis and so muscular its performance that predictable oversteer is the overriding GT-R experience.

BMW's M5 and M3 pioneered the ability to select a traction/stability control mode that allows a satisfying degree of sideways attitude under acceleration before electronic intervention takes over, but in “Race” mode the GT-R delivers an even more generous yaw-rate allowance before throwing out its safety anchors, making it almost idiot-proof.

Of course, the VDC can also be fully switched off. As evidenced by a track session with Nissan's own test drivers, the GT-R is both powerful and poised enough to be “backed” controllably into corners under brakes and “steered” on the throttle via ludicrously crossed-up slide angles.

But with such crisp steering turn-in and agile, progressive mid-corner chassis adjustability, not to mention the stupendously powerful yet progressive stopping power of six-piston Brembo front brake callipers and an extremely high VDC intervention threshold, there's hardly any need to disable it.

So the GT-R backs up its undeniable road presence with handling and performance that matches its far more expensive peers - despite a 200kg-odd weight disadvantage over the 911 Turbo at 1740kg.

But it's not perfect.

As the lumpy road drive revealed, the GT-R's surpising level of handling adjustablity at the track comes at the expense of a hard ride.

Though the electronically-adjustable damping system takes some of the sharp edges off high-frequency road irregularities in “Comfort” mode and on the whole ride quality is not exactly what you'd describe as harsh, we think the GT-R will be almost unbearable as a day-to-day driver on poorly surfaced Australian roads.

English testers also expressed concern at its overly firm set-up and Nissan has made it clear it intends to fine-tune the GT-R constantly over its model life.

But, given the company's pride in its claim the GT-R is up to five seconds quicker at Sendai than the 911 Turbo (which it says pitches and rolls more than the GT-R), whether that's enough to convince them to soften off the Bilstein-supplied shock absorbers before the car reaches Australia remains to be seen.

We suspect much of the GT-R's ride quality issues are inherent in its exclusive use of run-flat tyre technology, which is also responsible for the alarmingly high level of road/tyre rumble inside.

Despite being precise and super-responsive, the GT-R's steering also lacks the feedback of the 911's highly comminicative tiller, even in all-wheel drive Turbo guise.

On the mountainous northern Japan road loop its action and weighting wasn't nearly as light as it felt on the track, but overall we's prefer both less power assistance and more feedback.

There's no doubt the GT-R cabin is a carefully crafted example of Japanese supercar culture and has similarities with the NSX's classic cascade-style dashboard.

There's a wide array of controls, all of which are unsurprisingly effortless to use and well positioned, including separate manual release clamps for steering wheel reach and rake adjustment, a neat single roatary dial for the adjustment of front seat height, recline and slide, and full audio and cruise controls on the steering wheel.

There's also a genuinely grounbreaking information display system, via a large central colour display screen on the driver-oriented centre console, which reveals everything from instant and average turbo boost, engine and transmission oil pressure and temperature, front/rear torque bias, braking and acceleration force, steering angle, fuel flow and lap timing, plus the usual array of fuel range, fuel consumption, speed, ambient temperature and clock functions.

Stitched leather driver and passenger-side dash binnacles are another neat Porsche-style touch, but cover the prominently “GT-R” badged multi-function steering wheel and somehow it lacks the sense of supercar occasion and design craftsmanship of cars like the 911.

Despite its substantial overall size there's even less rear legroom for occupants of the twin rear bucket seats than in the 911's similarly arranged rear pews, which are likely to be claustrophobic thanks to the tiny rear side windows that also significantly reduce rear three-quarter vision.

Rear vision is good, however, despite the large rear wing atop the unexpectedly large, illuminated and fully lined boot whose usefulness is limited only by a small loading aperture.

Front headroom is nothing to write home about either, with six-foot drivers likely to find their heads sited deep in the scalloped headlining, although refreshingly narrow A-pillars provide good forward and side vision.

Oh, and we think the double-action push-pull door-handles look cool, but are totally impractical.

Of course, purists will also lament the lack of a full manual transmission option, as the GT-R will come exclusively with a double-clutch automated manual gearbox that dispenses with a clutch pedal and is operated only by shift paddles that are unfortunately mounted on the steering column – not the wheel itself.

Like Ferrari and Maserati, Nissan says this avoids confusion over which paddle shifts up and which shifts down on twisting roads, but when it requires you to take hands off the wheel to shift gears with steering lock applied, it can hardly be a better method.

The rear-mounted Borg Warner-developed transmission may also be as smooth, refined and even quicker-shifting than a conventional auto once on the move, but it requires just as much finesse as Volkswagen's similar DSG gearbox to get off the line smoothly and, if anything, sounds clunkier in stop-start traffic, where it never failed to jarr loudly as it changed down into second gear.

The inescapable fact, however, is that the twin-turbo engine is a masterpiece of automotive engineering and, because it is mated exclusively to a foolproof clutch pedal-less transmission, easily lives up to Nissan's claim that the GT-R is a supercar for everbody, everywhere in all conditions.

The fact it has enough blistering performance to overwhelm even the exclusive rear-biassed AWD system is negated by an equally high-tech stability control system that offers an incredible level of driving rewards in total safety.

Yes, we were sceptical about Nissan's ability to produce a GT-R that lived up to the reputation of both its formidable forebears and its potent new competitors.

The born-again Japanese supercar not only achieves both objectives, but comes with a style, character and driving experience that's totally unique.

The icing on the GT-R cake is a target price of $150,000, which is likely to attract plenty of pragmatic performance car lovers from all manner of more expensive coupes, as well as those migrating upwards - for whom GT-R ownership will be as accessible as its performance.

Ride quality and packaging issues aside, the new GT-R is easily the finest supercar Japan has ever produced.

More than that, with this much bang for your bucks on offer, it's also the world's most accessible supercar. All hail the new Godzilla.

Read more:

Tokyo show: Nissan unveils new GT-R

Dial 911 for GT-R

Stripped GT-R nod


The Road to Recovery podcast series


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