2009 Nissan GT-R review & road test
Everything. Power, Braking, Handling, Quality, Comfort, the lot
Rear seats a bit cramped
– Review by Karl Peskett - Photography by Tom Jakovljevic
It’s 5:30pm on a Friday afternoon and I get a call on my mobile.
“Hey Karl, what are you up to?”
“Oh, anything and everything,” was my reply.
“It’s Friday afternoon, mate, you can’t pull that one on me.” Steve Jones is a perceptive young man.
“I was just talking about life in general mate. It’s been pretty busy, lately”, I said. Little did I know, it was about to get even busier.
“Aren’t we all”, said Jones. Continuing with barely a pause for thought, he lets go of the big one. “So, I hear you’d like to drive a GT-R.”
All of a sudden, in the time it took for my synapses to register that statement, my plans for that week changed. I had a clean slate. “When did you want to get together for it?” Jones asked.
No one would give up a chance to go along with Steve Jones, who, along with his navigator, Ruari Sauter-Dawson, recently won the 2008 Quit TargaWest tarmac rally in Perth. Working for Fabcar, a dealership in Perth that imports GT-Rs for private buyers, Jones is possibly the best qualified person in Australia to run us through the capabilities of a GT-R.
With that, we booked ourselves a time and a place.
Jones suggested that the best place to test Nissan’s latest and greatest car, was the very spot that its mettle was tested. A TargaWest stage? There couldn’t be a better location. As they say on Millionare, “Lock it in, Eddie.”
There was a problem looming though. The period we had set for the drive coincided with a gloomy weather forecast. The prediction was showers, with an afternoon thunderstorm risk. Perfect, if you’re wanting to test out grip levels in the wet.
However, on a road where rocks, trees and branches are being cleared by only centimetres, and in a car that costs more than $180,000, and goes from 0-100km/h in just 3.5 seconds, sitting on what can only be described as loose bitumen – well, let’s say we weren’t too keen to add water to the equation.
We arranged to meet at Fabcar’s Cannington dealership, with photographer and writer Tom Jakovljevic called in to document the whole experience. Both TJ and myself looked toward to skies and breathed a sigh of relief, realising that the rain would hold off.
Walking out the back, Steve Jones’s race-winning GT-R was sitting there, still with the TargaWest livery and numbers. Jones is inside one of the Fabcar cars in the garage, fiddling with a laptop. He pokes his head out and points at his GT-R.
“Don’t worry”, he said. “I’ve cleaned it for you.” So he had. The paint was gleaming, and there wasn’t a mark or scratch on it. Except for the Scratch on the wing mirrors., but that’s another story.
Jones gets out of the car, walks over to us and points to another GT-R sitting in the dealership. It’s already been road registered, as Fabcar has now been certified to import, comply and register Japanese production GT-Rs under low-volume import regulations.
“First thing’s first”, Jones started. “Let’s hop into this one, and go for a drive. It’ll be a good comparison for you.” The one he was was referring to, was a brand new, pearl white, Black-edition GT-R.
Jones backs the car out, as he knows its dimensions very well, and with a myriad of cars littering the dealership car park, it wouldn’t be hard to tag one. The GT-R is a big car, but it needs to be as you’ll find out later.
I hop into the passenger seat, and we head out onto the highway, easing it away, as the car is stone cold. Jones starts running through the various functions of the car – the touchscreen, the stereo, the traction control, gearbox and suspension settings buttons.
He starts complaining about the seats being too wide and not grippy enough in hard cornering, but that’s to be expected. He doesn’t exactly have the biggest build. The funny thing is, though, the passenger seat is actually more supportive and laterally closed than the driver’s seat.
We muse that it’s probably like that for the American market. There’s more weird design work going on. The passenger seat has a forward/back adjustment on the inside upright wing, so the driver can access it. But if someone wants to climb into the back from outside the car, there’s nothing available to press, short of reaching in and around the seat.
Passenger and driver also miss out on lumbar adjustment. Thankfully the seats are electrically adjusted, however only the driver gets a raise/lower function.
After running through everything, we pull over in a side street and Jones hops out. It’s time for me to climb in behind the wheel.
After a few adjustments to the wheel position, seat distance and height and raising the backrest a little, the driving position feels entirely natural. As there’s no need to do heel and toe shifts, the pedals are perfectly spaced, with enough room to rest your left foot, if so desired.
A quick flick of the stubby gear lever through the gate and into drive, and we’re away. Immediately, the double clutch gearbox makes its way into the highest gear possible, conserving fuel along the way.
The shifts in standard mode are reminiscent of Volkswagen’s DSG behind its diesels, in terms of speed and quality. It’s smooth and clunk-free. It’s also responsive to downshifts with small prods of the throttle.
For daily driving, it’s a good as it gets. Of course, then there’s the paddles which activate as soon as you pull them. Response from the paddles when up- or down-shifting is as instant as your thoughts. That means downshifting can be done quickly under hard braking, the only exception being when it might over-rev, and then it won’t allow the shift.
In addition, to prevent labouring the engine, we found that as soon as the revs dropped to 1000rpm, the ‘box would instantly downshift. No biggie, as there’s little point hanging around down low anyway. Mostly because all the fun to be had is in the mid-range and above.
It becomes quite apparent when driving the GT-R that this is definitely a different engine to the award winning VQ series. Designated VR38DETT, the 3.8-litre, twin turbo, V6 sounds quite different to a twin-turbo 350Z engine for instance. There’s a lot less of the gruff, harshness that the VQ motor has at the top end. It’s just a smooth, effortless engine, which almost sounds more like an in-line six.
At full tilt, it’s got some lungs though. Punch it from around 3000rpm, and the sound of air being sucked in, combined with the whistles from the turbochargers and the exhaust noise, is something to tickle the senses. From outside the car it sounds like a Hoover, but inside it’s just wonderful.
Describing the sound gives no indication of the pure wallop that the GT-R is capable of. The power is so linear, and the delivery so smooth that you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’re not going that quick, either.
From a standstill, the GT-R will simply decimate anything in its price range. Yes, ANYTHING. Sinking the boot in, there’s a momentary pause while the clutches take up, and then wham! You’re off. There’s no tyre screeching, no kickback from the steering wheel, just a solid, linear rush from 0-100km/h in 3.5 seconds.
Thankfully, there’s a set of six-piston Brembos up front and four-piston Brembos on the rear, to help slow things down, and after one or two applications, you’re in love. The initial grab is so precise, and so progressive that you get the feeling that it might peter out with more push – not so.
What you feel when you first apply the brakes is simply the beginning of a blissful relationship with stopping power. Keep pressing, and you’ve got more depth than you realise. Every millimetre of push reveals more ability. It is perfection. Jones is looking at me, wondering why I’m shouting, “The brakes! Oh, my god, the brakes!” He says he’s a brake aficionado, too, so we’re in good company.
Then there’s the twin-clutch transmission. In full race mode (selected from the centre stack), the gearbox changes instantly, with zero pause or delay. There’s no jolt or shunt, either. Just a seamless blast into the next gear, with no drop of boost either. These changes are seriously about as quick and as good as you can get. Not to mention efficient, because the power delivery just continues without interruption.
Couple that with perfectly spaced ratios, and this double clutch gearbox is simply the best on the market. A small side point – at 5km/h or less, it’s best to actually pull to a stop. The box will then engage first, instead of riding and burning the clutches in second gear.
Throttle response is also instantaneous, and in gear rolling response is also lag-free, with every increment of throttle travel translating to immediate acceleration. As far as a drivetrain goes, it really is perfect. It can be driven as a daily by your grandmother, or it can give you a swift kick to the head. Your choice.
However, the drivetrain is only part of the equation. It’s no use having all the power in the world if upon the first corner the whole package comes apart. So Nissan has endowed the GT-R with its electronically-controlled ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive system.
Lots of letters to be sure, but they mean one important thing. It goes around corners quicker than just about anything you can imagine.
There’s a problem at this point. You hop into the GT-R expecting mind blowing performance and you get it, for sure. The problem comes when the GT-R serves up, not a slice, but the entire humble pie.
You see, you may think you’re a good driver, you may even know it, but the GT-R takes your driving skills, matches them, beats them and then asks for more. You think you can keep up with it? Good luck, sunshine. There’s so much depth to its capabilities that it’s a game of chicken. Who will back off first? I guarantee it will be you, and not the car.
The grip levels are off the Richter scale, but running on the Bridgestone runflat RE070Rs, Steve Jones assures us that they would be a lot higher with different rubber. At this stage, we’ll take your word for it, Steve.
It’s also the way that it turns in and balances that really impresses. Most cars on turn in seem to lean a bit forward as the weight of the car rests on the outside front tyre. However the GT-R seems to immediately rest on both front and rear, so there’s no detectable weight transfer. It means you can turn in at silly speeds and the car stays level and planted.
The corner speed it can carry really is amazing, but it’s not just that, it’s the way you can keep coming into a corner and brake super late, while turning in, and not feel like you’ll understeer into a tree. Thank the near perfect weight distribution for that.
Unless you’re really booting it around corners at low speeds, it nearly always feels like a well sorted rear-wheel-drive car. When the fronts do cut in, though, the steering’s not really affected. Which is a good thing, because the amount of feel and feedback is among the best out there. There’s some torque-steer, but the transition is smooth and controllable. The whole setup gives you overwhelming confidence.
That is, until you hop into a race version.
After our drive in the standard GT-R, we arrive back at Fabcar’s premises, parked the pearl GT-R, and walk over to the Targa car. This is Jones’s pride and joy. He instructs us to hop in, and we’ll go for a drive. Where to?. Apparently, there’s no better place to test the car, than where it stamped its authority on the race scene. That’s right, we’re heading off to one of the Targa West stages. Joy of joys.
First we are going to have to get into the car. With its LF Performance roll cage, there’s a bit of twisting and contorting until you hop into the Bride Maxis III race seats. They’re extremely tight, and with the harness set to fit navigator Ruari, it’s a bit of a struggle to get sorted. Finally, after working out how to put the whole thing together, we’re away.
A few kilometres down the road, and you’re wondering how it’s any different to the road car. Of course, the pews stop you moving around more than the standard GT-R, but the driveline seems identical. That’s because it is. Jones’s race car has had nothing done to the driveline, save an ECU flash by Cobb Tuning, which removed the speed-limiter.
There’s a slight rattling noise coming from the rear, though, which Jones points out is the Mines 400mm brake upgrade. With such large full-floating discs, they tend to wobble a little when they brush against the pads, that is until you clamp on the brakes.
The ride is also a little harder, but then it’s still liveable. If you can drive a Mitsubishi Evo from day to day, you’d be fine with this. Except for the fact that there’s no door handle on the passenger side.
Jones looks at me with a smile, and says, “Sorry mate, there’s no way for you to get out. If we have a crash, you’re pretty much stuffed.”
Thanks Steve, much appreciated.
As we reach the beginning of the stage, we pull over so TJ can take some pics. It’s then a battle to get out of the car. First undo the harness, then wind down the window. Next, lean your backside up onto the roll cage so you can get your hand out of the window. After that, pull the reverse door handle on the outside of the car, and then duck under the top bar of the cage, put your hands where you nearly smacked your head and clamber out backwards, Dukes of Hazzard style.
I see what he means about getting out if the car is crashed. It’s an art-form climbing in and out, so once the pics are done, it’s another yoga-style contortion. This time, the effort is worth it, because we’re going to see why Jones won TargaWest.
With TJ following in an SS Sportwagon, Jones sets off down the road. The surface is littered with gravel at every turn, and the bitumen is scattered with bluemetal stones, making the whole traction issue very important. Jones starts on about the tyres.
“You know, the standard tyres aren’t very good. Because they’re run-flats, the sidewalls have no give, so when you start to break away, there’s a real fine line between grip and slip. If you lose it on those Bridgestones, you’re gone forever.”
I ask him what he swapped to. “Well, we actually got these tyres from Germany. They’re off a Porsche, would you believe?” Ah, the irony.
“Yeah, they’re about the only non-runflats in 20-inches we could get hold of. Dunlop Super Sport Race, and the sidewalls flex, so at least when you lose it, it’s progressive. You’ve got some hope of catching it.” Which is good, because after he points out the black marks on the road from the race, he asks if I’m ready.
Once I’ve given the nod, he sinks the boot in, there’s a huge shove in the back and in an instant, the Sportwagon is a speck in the rear view mirror. The GT-R keeps on piling on the speed, then Jones brakes lightly, turns in to follow the road and the foot is floored again.
The suspension and tyres are bucking, trying to cope with the immense cornering forces. The car is slithering across the gravel, with the all-wheel-drive kicking in and letting go accordingly.
You can hear the stones being kicked into the wheel arches. The rocks and trees flash past the car with what seems like millimetres. The road snakes left, right and left again, with Jones smoothly clipping the apexes, and drifting through each corner. The road noise gets louder and louder as the speed increases. At this point, I’m squirming in my seat.
Worse was to come. Without warning, the road dips, climbs and then dips again. The car crests the hill, and the wheels come off the deck. As I look ahead, I see that there’s a sharpish left hand bend coming up. We’re still in mid-air when Jones clamps on the brakes. This is not the way I wanted to die.
As soon as the wheels hit the ground, the ABS kicks in and hauls us up with retina-bleeding force. Jones flicks the wheel to the left, and the GT-R obeys his command, with the nose tucking in neatly. I’m thankful right now that the GT-R is a heavy car, at 1750kgs, it won’t sway or move from its line.
He backs off, and slows down, waiting for the Sportwagon to appear. My heart is doing about 250bpm, and the adrenalin is making my ears ring. It’s at this point, I realise why he’s number one. Steve Jones is a very, very brave man. Now, I’m not shy of driving quickly, but his skills are on a whole other planet.
Then, he drops a clanger – “Oh, that was about three-quarter race pace.” You’re joking, right? “Nah, if I really wanted to push it, I’d need an ambulance on standby, and be wearing helmets.” I’m glad you didn’t push it then.
It confirms in my mind at least that the GT-R’s abilities are at a level that most mere mortals won’t ever get near. The funny thing is, is that the Targa winning car is only a few thousand dollars away from the standard car. So it’s then up to the driver. Which is what I’m about to become.
We pull into a car park, and start talking about the modifications he’s done. The bonnet comes up, and people start walking over, asking all sorts of questions about the car. There aren’t too many R35s on the road, so you can imagine the attention that a race-winning version receives. Jones is modest, not sprouting the fact that he’s won against Weeks and Richards in cars costing double and triple what he’s spent.
We start running through the details of what he’s changed on the car. We know about the brakes, the driveline and the interior. He points to the pyrotechnic charges that take care of the bonnet deployment for pedestrian safety.
“They’re next to go. Can you imagine if I hit a rabbit, or worse, a kangaroo on one of the stages?” With a bonnet blocking your forward vision, we imagine that it might be just a little difficult getting around. Then we ask about the suspension.
Jones smiles. He looks over at my notepad, and says, “Just write down that it’s coil-over suspension.” The team has obviously done a lot of research on springs and dampers, so from here on in, it’s known as ‘Coil-Over’ brand.
With the car looked over, poked, prodded and generally tyre-kicked, it’s time for us to hop behind the wheel. Jones throws me the key, and you can tell that the entire budget of the GT-R program has gone into the development of the drive. The keyless start fob is straight from the Maxima.
Jones walks over to TJ in the Sportwagon, catching me a little off-guard.
“Weren’t you going to come along?” I ask him.
“Nah, I trust you”, Jones says. “Have fun.” Cool. I will, thanks. I’ll see you in Sydney.
The engine is fired up, and with the harness again taking forever to put on, TJ and Jones pull out of the car park and away, into the distance. No matter. It’ll be only seconds to catch up.
The throttle response seems very similar to the standard car, and with only the reflash to the ECU, you wouldn’t expect much different. What you don’t expect is the minimising of the lag.
It’s detectable with the stock GT-R, but barely there. In this one, it’s completely non-existent. That means it behaves almost like a naturally aspirated car. When you’re balancing on the knife-edge of grip or slip, that is a trait that you come to appreciate. There’s no sudden break-away, or rush of boost that you weren’t expecting, it’s all predictable.
Just like the handling. The feedback through the steering gives you full indication of what’s going on. You never feel as if it’s giving you a false impression of where the car is at. Sure, it tramlines a bit, as expected, but you can lean into corners much harder than you can in the standard car, too – thank ‘Coil-Over’ brand for that.
The stock GT-R has some roll, but the Targa car simply does not. It means you can just brake later, and later, and later. You can also punch it out of corners earlier, too. Any lateral movement while cornering is simply sidewall flex, and nothing else. The chassis just pushes directly up and down on the tyres. It is perfection.
One run up and down a stretch of road for photography allowed us to keep trying the line, to keep pushing it and see how it went. Try a different gear, brake later, accelerate earlier, turn in harder – it doesn’t matter – it takes it all in its stride. Put simply, I’ve never been in anything this composed, this balanced, and this agile.
Don’t whatever you do, look at the speedo while cornering. It’s genuine heart-attack material to realise how fast you are going, yet realise you still haven’t gone too far.
The Mines 400mm brake package does feel a little underdone on the initial grab, though, compared with the stock car, but it’s the continued depth that really impresses. You can lean on them as hard as you like, and there is zero fade. The stock GT-R will fade off after brutal use, but Steve Jones’s Targa winning car doesn’t suffer that problem. That’s probably a good thing, too.
Expect to see a raft of R35 GT-Rs entering competitive events from here on in, and winning them too. Because if this is how good a lightly modified GT-R is, only time will tell how well these machines will go.
In the meantime, we’ve done our test, had our fun and it’s time to head home. Jones hops back in the passenger seat and we head out onto the highway. Sitting on 100km/h, it feels like you’re doing 60km/h. Jones says that’s about the only problem with the car. Well, apart from the rear seats not being that big.
“Anyone who buys a GT-R, WILL lose their licence”, he says. It’s hard to disagree, when even in the standard car, you should add around 40km/h to whatever speed you think you are doing. At 60km/h, it feels like 20km/h. At 80km/h it feels like 40km/h, seriously.
In my mind though, the Nissan R35 GT-R is quite simply the best package out there today. It’s priced right, its abilities are supernatural, and it’s so user friendly as well.
It’s built to perfection, it’s comfortable, and when correctly used is completely devastating. For the lucky few who will own one, it’s going to be a good life.
Godzilla is back. And he’s dethroning Europeans along the way.
Mr Ghosn, I salute you.
Massive thanks to Steve Jones for his time, and showing us how it’s really done! Also thanks to Fabcar, and to Tom Jakovljevic for the photos.
CarAdvice Overall Rating:
How does it Drive:
How does it Look:
How does it Go:
• Engine: 3.8-litre V6
• Power: 353kW @ 6400rpm
• Torque: 588Nm @ 3200rpm
• Induction: Twin turbocharged
• Transmission: Six-speed dual clutch with paddle shifts
• Driven Wheels: All
• Brakes: Four-wheel disc with ABS, EBA & EBD
• Top Speed: 310km/h
• 0-100km/h: 3.5 seconds
• 0-400m: 11.67 seconds – with 180km/h limiter cutting in before end of quarter mile
• Fuel Consumption: 14.0 litres per 100km (Combined)
• Fuel Tank Capacity: 73 litres
• Fuel Type: 91-98RON petrol
• ANCAP Rating: Not yet available
• Safety: DSC with TCS, front, side & curtain airbags
• Spare Wheel: Space saver
• Turning Circle: 11.4 metres
• Warranty: 3 years/unlimited kms
• Weight: 1750kg
• Wheels: 20-inch alloy