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Car reviews - Nissan - GT-R - range

Our Opinion

We like
Still amazing value for money, cracking engine, super-sharp handling, explosive acceleration, ability to make an ordinary driver go fast, cabin quality
Room for improvement
Bad driveline shunting in stop-start traffic, gear-shift paddles should be on steering wheel and not the column, suspension is still far too harsh

29 Mar 2011

YES, the Nissan GT-R is even faster than its ballistic predecessor and yes, it is still remarkably unrefined on the road.

Nissan has again produced a techno rocket-ship that stuns every driver with its sledgehammer force thanks to its incredible twin-turbo V6 that surely deserves a place in the high performance engine hall of fame.

Nissan has further honed its high-end handling, its powerful brakes and the launch control system that fires the latest Godzilla from a standstill to 100km/h in just 3.0 seconds.

Yes, three seconds.

Doing a launch in the GT-R is an incredible experience. It is dead easy – you just press three buttons, press the accelerator and then step off the brake, but the result is breathtaking.

There is an instant brutal surge as the gears and differentials attempt to feed as much of the tremendous power as the four wheels and their sticky tyres can take.

The force pushes the driver back in the seat so violently that the hands instinctively tighten their grip on the steering wheel.

It feels more forceful than a Porsche 911 Turbo immediately off the line and the numbers suggest it is also faster, although the Porsche sounds far nicer.

The launch is probably the most striking party trick of the GT-R, but lapping Phillip Island and spending some time in stop-start traffic is also illuminating.

Around Phillip Island, the GT-R is daunting and forgiving at the same time.

Such is its grip and extraordinary power that almost anyone can go fast. The GT-R appears to make up for late corner entries, poor lines and pretty much anything else. It’s daunting because when you push, you go extremely fast and it would quickly get ugly if something goes wrong.

The immediate pace of the GT-R was evident at Phillip Island. On the first lap we were able to hit 260km/h on the straight, despite having to pull up early for some cones placed on the entry to turn one.

The combination of pace carried through the long left-hander on to the straight and the ferocious power of the engine made it easy to hit the same top speed every lap.

Urge is plentiful all the way through the rev range, although it goes absolutely bananas from around 3500rpm. Everything happens too quickly to notice, but I recall changing up at about 6500rpm to beat the engine cut-out. There is no noticeable turbo lag.

The engine note is a mixture of induction and exhaust and it sounds exciting, but doesn’t have the same richness of the Porsche boxer.

The gearbox is excellent on the track and the shifts are suitably fast. It also blips on the downshifts.

Somehow, Nissan decided against ditching the previous model’s gearshift paddles which are attached to the steering column and not the wheel. This is disconcerting should you need a different cog or at least prepare for the next cog while the wheel is not straight.

The all-wheel-drive system works with the wide tyres to provide the ultimate traction. Its ability to switch up to 50 per cent of power to the front wheels when the rears start to lose traction probably explains why it is so hard to lose control partway through a corner.

Also evident on the track is the potency of the enlarged brakes.

No amount of late braking from warp speed seemed to bother these anchors, and there was no a hint of smoke in the pits after the test runs.

The steering still doesn’t give Porsche-like levels of feedback, but is quite precise.

Nissan has been playing with the GT-R’s suspension, introducing some new dampers, among other minor changes, which help the tyres make better contact with the road. On the track, where the surface is so wonderfully smooth, the GT-R’s suspension is brilliant, keeping the car flat into the corners and allowing predictable direction changes.

On the road, the body control and lack of roll is great on some of the faster turns, but it is a pain in the back to put up with. It is simply far too harsh for road use.

There was laughter in our test car the first time we hit a bump after selecting the comfort mode for the suspension. It crashes over seemingly benign bumps, testing the patience of the occupants no matter which mode is selected.

A short road drive is enough to show this suspension was never designed to be used on the kinds of rugged roads we experience in Australia. The cynical would suggest the set-up was designed and developed for super-smooth race tracks.

The GT-R is a high-tech beast and as such you must be prepared to put up with some niggles, but we were surprised by the lack of refinement.

The first thing you notice is the whirring and whining of the gears that sound like a dog-box (straight cut gearbox), and there are some other strange pump and fan noises too.

Then there is the ‘clunk’ through the transmission when the dual-clutch gearbox changes down. It sounds, and feels, like the driveline snatch you get from a poorly designed one-tonne ute with a long driveshaft.

I’m not sure if this is a product of having a transaxle dual-clutch automated transmission, but it feels and sounds horrible, and many simply wouldn’t be able to put up with it.

Porsche also has a dual-clutch gearbox for its cars, including the 911 Turbo, and while it doesn’t always execute perfect changes in stop-start traffic it is smoother and quieter than the GT-R’s.

A manual gearbox can be selected on the Porsche, unlike the Nissan. The Porsche dual-clutch box is also so much more refined, especially in the 911 Turbo. It isn’t until you start looking at race-ready Porsches such as the GT3 RS or the GT2 RS that they start to make loud gear noises and light flywheel grumbling at idle.

The interior quality of the GT-R has been lifted and it looks good in there. The unsealed carbon fibre panels are a good touch, and the leather seats, leather dash section and door trims appear to belong to an expensive car.

The high-res centre screen is excellent, and graphics, designed by the PlayStation game company Polyphony, still looks modern. The driver can select from many telemetry readings, including a full suite of gauges for just about everything, which should please the tech heads.

A premium Bose sound system, which should help drown out some of the gear noise, and satellite navigation are standard.

Nissan has upgraded the exterior design with new front and rear bumpers and new head lights and tail lights with LED daytime running lamps for the front.

It largely retains the Japanese menace of the first model, and you would have to be a fan to tell the difference unless the two cars are next to each other.

The GT-R is a truly brilliant car on the track and will continue to hose various Porches at drive days. The track is really where the GT-R belongs, not because its explosive pace could lead into trouble on public roads, although owners will need to show steel-plated resolve to not get carried away, but because it lacks sufficient refinement.

This wouldn’t spoil the odd special drive, but all the whirring and clunking inevitably prevents the GT-R from working as a drive to work car, something the Porsche is good at.

While the price of the GT-R has risen, it is still less than half the price of the Porsche 911 Turbo.

When you consider that, it is clear Nissan has done a fantastic job to build a car capable of so much for such a low price. It might test your patience around town and in halting traffic, but the thrill of winding roads and more especially the racetrack are more than likely to make up for its brutish ways.

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