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Car reviews - Nissan - GT-R - coupe range

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, handling, all-wheel-drive traction, brakes, technology, quick-change gearbox
Room for improvement
Column-mounted gearshift paddles, exterior door handles, no opportunity to test on the road

24 Feb 2009

THERE are times when even the most hard-working motoring journalist must concede that we have one of the best jobs in the world and there are days when it hardly seems to be work at all.

If one was utterly honest, one might even admit to some guilt about being paid for such malarkey. Almost.

This week, dear reader, your humble correspondent had one of those days. As long as the day was, as exhausted we were by the time we finally collapsed on the couch, even as hard as we grilled the company executives to make it seem like work, there was no escaping the fact that this was just a day to put a smile on your face. How else can we describe an afternoon at the wheel of the Nissan GT-R at Eastern Creek Raceway?

I’ll admit straight up that this does not bode well for you, though. We ultimately do this job for your benefit, to help you understand an increasingly complex industry and the increasingly complex cars that the manufacturers produce.

With that charter in mind, I will shortly describe as well as I can the experience of driving one of the world’s most impressive supercars, describing its power and handling and braking prowess with as many adjectives as I can reasonably insert, but there is no hiding the inconvenient truth – you will learn little new if you are a regular GoAuto reader.

The fact is, we have long ago driven the car in Japan – on the road as well as a race circuit – and we’ve written all about the technology, design and marketing of this technical wonder. We’ve seen it take shape and develop, described its every nook and cranny, reported its snail-like path to Australia, talked about its likely price, arrival dates and local allocation.

We would have liked to tell you now about its local specifications and how the revised suspension handles Australian driving conditions, but information was scant at the local ‘launch’ and nine laps of Eastern Creek does not tell us anything we didn’t already know.

If there is a discernable difference with the ride and handling, then we simply weren’t given the opportunity to assess it on the road. On the track, we were just too damned busy hanging on, concentrating on our braking points and cornering technique and, well, having a jolly good time to tell.

Race tracks are probably the worst environment to assess anything but a race car. Even a relatively short drive around the local roads and freeways would have told us more about its on-road capabilities, but we just had to settle for driving our ring off and grinning like an idiot inside a full-face helmet. So please humour us just this once. Nissan made us do it.

On the track, the GT-R is an awesome bit of kit, leaping into action like a thoroughbred trained to race and sending G-forces through your body constantly – pushing you back into the seat under throttle, slamming you into the belts under brakes and banging you knee into the surroundings under cornering. It’s a wild ride and you’d better concentrate – and hang on.

With 357kW of power and 588Nm of torque, and tuned to run at high revs, the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 is a mighty weapon and it punches you out of corners ferociously, yet still smoothly, with the electronic four-wheel drive system diverting drive to the front wheels only as required, which is quite often on a race track.

Setting the stability control system on R (for Race, of course) allows the rear wheels to break traction under a heavy right foot and you can certainly provoke some Top Gear-style sideways action if you really try, though even test driver Toshio Suzuki had trouble maintaining those power slides during some demo laps for us at Eastern Creek. The GT-R simply has too much traction and self-correcting technology on tap.

The advanced traction control system (called VSC for Vehicle Stability Control by Nissan) does a superb job on the track, with little noticeable intervention, even when provoked, but was just a little too good for some in the US who wanted to show off the launch control capability. This enables you sit with 4500rpm on the tacho, the semi-auto clutch straining on the point of dragging, and then unleash all that power to first gear when the brake is released. No wonder there were some problems.

Nissan addressed the problem by firstly denying the GT-R has a launch control system at all (which it clearly does, to match its Porsche and BMW rivals), then by pointing out that driving in ‘VSC OFF’ mode is not recommended (and therefore voids the warranty), but ultimately solved the problem by cutting back the maximum revs at launch to about 2700rpm.

The cut in revs results in an initial lack of drama when you take off – it certainly doesn’t feel as fast as the figures (0-97km/h in just 3.3 seconds) suggest – but the engine quickly hits its straps and the GT-R launches forward at an astonishing rate, stabbing through the gears as the car rushes towards its theoretical top speed – or, in the case of Eastern Creek, the braking area for the next corner.

The Eastern Creek pit exit is a long curve up the inside of turn one, so the GT-R’s four wheels clawed at the bitumen for traction as the car rocketed to turn two with such forward and sideways force that I could even experience a touch of dizziness before straightening up and hitting those massive Brembo brakes.

We were unable to appreciate the high-speed capabilities of the GT-R, barely getting into the fifth of six gears before having to brake heavily for a false chicane and slalom inserted onto the main straight by Nissan’s nannies to eliminate the danger of negotiating Eastern Creek’s fearsome high-speed first turn, which would have been a great test for the car (and driver).

The rest of the track revealed how well-behaved the GT-R and the Dunlop tyres are, although the rubber was pressured for the track rather than road levels. And we would have been interested in a comparison with the Bridgestones fitted to the road-going GT-R Premium, but Nissan chose to swap the Bridgies for the more track-friendly Dunlops, which seemed inappropriate.

Nissan was also unable to tell us how much it has changed the spring and damper rates in response to criticism of the original GT-R’s arse-pounding ride – which GoAuto predicted a year ago would be “unbearable” for a daily drive on poorly-surfaced Australian roads.

With both tyre choices being run-flats, we suspect it is still stiff, which is obviously why Nissan did not want us to drive it on the road.

As stiff as it is, though, even the GT-R in Race mode feels relatively soft on a circuit, bouncing over the wavy surface at the left-hander on Eastern Creek’s ‘Corporate Hill’ and barely even noticing the rumble strips on the apex. In the same environment, a proper racecar would have been lifting wheels and bruising your ribs.

Perhaps surprisingly, the gearshift paddles (the only way of changing gears in the GT-R) are mounted on the steering column rather than the steering wheel and, although the paddles are quite long, it makes mid-corner shifts a bit more difficult and easy to miss if you keep your hands on the wheel like you should.

And, while the ergonomics are mostly excellent, we remain unconvinced about the tricky double-action exterior door handles, which require a push with the thumb and then a pull with the fingers in return for the benefit in terms of looks and aerodynamics of being flush with the bodywork.

Regardless of an inevitable late price increase, the new GT-R still represents great value at around $155,800 – half the price of a Porsche 911 Turbo – and at Eastern Creek at least we were mighty impressed with its awesome performance and show-off technical wizardry.

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