When Porsche 911s all begin to look the same, the Nissan GT-R stands out in traffic like Bruce Lee in a sea of Steven Segals.
The 2011 Nissan GT-R is turning the world of supercars on its head. For $168,800 you can own a sportscar that will shame almost anything at a set of lights and around a track.
The new update will see the R35 Godzilla do the 0-100km/h sprint in a staggering 3.046 seconds. That's quicker than any Ferrari or Lamborghini you can buy today. In fact, it's even quicker than the Pagani Zonda S, Porsche 911 Turbo S and Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. All of which cost significantly more than this humble Japanese car.
The Nissan GT-R has earned itself a cult status in Australian car culture. Having made a name for itself back in the early '90s at Bathurst and through the fascination of car fanatics everywhere, the Nissan GT-R is an icon of the modern era. Its inclusion in popular culture is so prevalent that you can be assured any 15- to 30-year-old self-respecting male with even the slightest interest in cars will be able to spot one a mile away.
When Porsche 911s all begin to look the same, the Nissan GT-R stands out in traffic like Bruce Lee in a sea of Steven Seagals.
Everyone loves the underdog, but what happens when the underdog begins to kick the ass of its once mighty competition?
Although it would be impossible to ever get a company spokesman to admit this, it's pretty obvious that Porsche hates Nissan (in fact, Porsche has even taken legal action). Back in the good old days Porsche could single-handedly hold the 'supercar for the road' status without a need to look over its shoulders. These days, it's gone so far the other way that the Germans are running as fast they can just to play catch up.
If you're a Porsche enthusiast, don't get me wrong (and please leave the hate mail for now), I love Porsches more than most and they exude a sense of character that is hard to find in the GT-R. Nonetheless, competition is healthy and when it's as strong as it is from the GT-R, it's better for the consumer.
To be fair, the Nissan GT-R doesn't directly compete with any Porsche 911 in particular. In fact, according to the GT-R's chief vehicle engineer and the car’s ‘Godfather’, Kazutoshi Mizuno, the GT-R has no competition, at all. Which is surprising given how many adverts we've seen where Nissan has picked on Porsche owners in an attempt to win over more customers (look here, here and here).
Regardless of how you look at it or what the official line is from either company, the R35 Nissan GT-R is a vehicle you can drive to the track, set the fastest time of the day and then drive to the shops for the weekly groceries. Its extreme performance, practicality and usefulness can only really be compared against the Porsche 911.
It was 20 years ago back in 1991 when the original Nissan GT-R32s finished 1-2 in the Australian Touring Car Championship and won Bathurst (the first outright victory by a Japanese vehicle). Nissan Australia decided to bring in 100 ADR-complaint GT-Rs (as part of the rules to compete in the series) and those were the only officially delivered GT-Rs by Nissan until the R35. Back then, they were powered by a 2.6-litre twin turbo straight-six engine with 223kW of power.
When the first R35 came to Australia in March 2009, it signalled a new direction by Nissan Australia as it began a brand building exercise. The base model was priced at an unbelievably low $155,800, with the GT-R Premium coming in at $159,800.
The 2011 model GT-Rs are only available in Premium guise and have risen in price by $8,000. For that you get a significantly quicker car, better aerodynamics, updated interior and whole list of other improvements.
To celebrate the launch of the MY11 R35 Nissan GT-R, the motoring media were brought to Melbourne where we drove from the CBD to Phillip Island race course. As part of the journey, Nissan Australia contacted two original owners of R32 GT-Rs to see if they'd like to join us for the drive, which of course they did.
Our convoy of GT-Rs battled peak our traffic as we made our way to Phillip Island through a series of twisty mountain roads and long straights to experience the supercar on road (all within the constraints of the law, of course).
The first thing you need to know about the R35 Nissan GT-R is that your grandmother could drive one. It's as simple to operate as a Nissan Micra (in fact, even more simple if you have a manual Micra). The six-speed dual clutch transmission can be blisteringly quick when in 'R' mode or smooth and subtle when in 'Normal' mode.
As an actual day-to-day car the Nissan GT-R is not ideal. Not because it's impractical or hard to drive, but because you'll have an impossible time trying to keep your driver's licence. At each and every moment the urge to touch the accelerator pedal is overwhelming. In a normal sports car this sensation would get a bit tiresome after a while, but with the GT-R it's like having your own permanent Superman ride 24/7.
Any time you feel like a rush, just take it for a spin and flatten the accelerator. It will reach and overshoot the speed limit within seconds and leave you looking like a grinning idiot. In fact, I will go as far as to say the Nissan GT-R should be marketed as a cure for depression. It's a rocket attached to wheels and the acceleration is so brutal that it reminded me of when I drove the Bugatti Veyron.
With the 2011 update, the VR38DETT 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged 24-valve V6 gains an additional 33kW of power and 24Nm of torque, bringing the total to 390kW (at 6400rpm) and 612Nm (from 3200-5200rpm). The uniqueness of the engine is exemplified as each unit is handcrafted by its own technician (referred to as Takumi in Japanese). Mr Mizuno told CarAdvice the engines actually have a higher power output than what is officially quoted, but he wouldn't go into specifics.
The changes to the 2011 include higher boost pressure, different valve timing and air mixture ratio. The car's micro-chip computer (ECU) has also been changed to now process information significantly faster.
The six-speed dual-clutch transmission has been modified to include an R-mode which when teamed up with the R-mode of the GT-R's traction control can enable a brutal launch control system that delivers the impressive acceleration time.
The launch control system is extremely simple to use. Place all the switch gear in R mode, hold down the brake pedal with your left foot and flatten the accelerator. The GT-R's computers will hold the revs at 4000rpm for three seconds. In those three seconds your job is to hold the steering wheel straight, let go of the brake pedal and make sure your head is resting on the seat otherwise a visit to the chiropractor will be mandatory.
When the car lets go there is next to no wheel slip and all that power and torque goes straight to the road. The GT-R accelerates with extreme fury and before you can even blink, it has hit 100km/h and shows no signs of slowing down.
There are two ways in which you can do the launch. One is to simply let the car do the gear changes for you. Doing it this way gets you a consistent 0-100km/h time of around 3.1-3.2 seconds. Or, you can do it yourself via the steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters (which, if done right, can get you the 3.046 second official time). Japanese media have been able to get lower than the official figure doing it manually. The launch control will let you do it four times before requiring the transmission and other components time to cool down. Four times is more than adequate as your neck will be hurting by then anyway.
The Japanese company has updated the exterior of the MY11 GT-R with a reworked front and rear bumper, new diffuser for better rear airflow, a rear fog lamp, LED daytime running lights, newly developed Dunlop SP Sport MAXX 600 DSST CTT tyres, lighter-weight wheels and a 14 percent larger front grille for better airflow to engine and brakes.
Under the skin, a modified exhaust system and new catalyst have helped improve fuel economy and reduce emissions moderately. Nissan has even put in a 'Save' mode to help you save fuel when driving in traffic (if that statement made you excited, please stop reading now). The chassis now benefits from the introduction of lighter aluminium shocks. The front brakes have increased in size by 10mm to 390mm (slightly less thickness than before for better heat exchange).
The exterior changes have allowed for the drag co-efficient to be reduced by a further 0.1 over the MY10 model, now down to just 0.26 Cd. To put that into perspective, the 911 is 0.28 or 0.29 Cd depending on model. In fact, the new GT-R's drag is now pretty much comparable to the Toyota Prius with 0.25 Cd.
Sit inside an R35 Nissan GT-R and you'll know instantly that it's not a supercar. Although it may be able to keep up and even overtake the mighty Italian and German supercars, it lacks the same feel inside. That's okay, because it's less than half the price of any European supercar that even comes close in matching its performance figures.
In saying that, it's not a bad place to be. It's by and large a comfortable and pleasant cabin to find yourself in. The new Recaro-designed sports seats can fit an average-sized adult with ease and provide enough support for both road and track. The GT-R's famous computer system lets you custom select pretty much anything you want to know about the car and display it on a clear screen. That can range from G-forces, oil pressure, acceleration, transmission temperature and an almost endless list of choices.
The rear seats are pretty useless to any grown adult but still handy when friends and their girlfriends are desperate for a ride.
The stereo system supports Bluetooth for both audio streaming and phone connectivity (although in the few minutes that I attempted to get my iPhone 4 connected, it was either going to do one or the other).
We can talk all day about the MY11 changes, but at the end of the day it's all about how the car feels. After our three-hour drive program from Melbourne to Phillip Island, it was time to put these incredible machines around the track. Unlike last year, the good folks at Nissan now trusted us enough to take the car out on track solo and without the aid of professional race drivers sitting shotgun.
Phillip Island is a fast and technical track, but the GT-R makes it easy. After 15 laps around the track by myself, I nearly refused to come back in the pits. The key point of driving a GT-R fast is to realise its limits, because regardless of what you might think, you're unlikely to ever reach them. Coming out of the main straight you jump on the brakes as late as possible and let the GT-R flow into the right hander. You can carry so much speed that it becomes a game of seeing just how much courage (or madness) is within you.
The GT-R is an extremely forgiving car on track. You can floor the accelerator any time you want at any speed and it will work it out for you. Around Phillip Island's tight corners, a wannabe racer (such as myself) will be made to feel like Lewis Hamilton and herein lies the GT-R's greatest secret: making the Playstation generation think they are much better drivers than they really are. While a Porsche 911 GT3 RS requires extreme skill and finesse to get the most from, a Nissan GT-R requires courage. Don't get me wrong, you still need to know how to drive to get the best lap times but where a Porsche might step out and try to get you killed, the GT-R will simply forgive you and fix up the mess.
To give you an example, the professional racing-car driver that took me around for a lap after I was done managed a 1:44.20 lap time on road tyres with yours truly in the car. This was a GT-R that had already done many, many hotlaps. He said a 911 GT3 RS ($341,100) can only do it about 3.5 seconds quicker on slicks without passengers! You can see why Porsche hates Nissan.
Mr Mizuno's mission with the GT-R was to create a supercar that everyone can drive and part of that requirement was its forgiving nature. Porsche purists and other motoring journalists have always argued that cars like the GT-R are just too heavy and take the fun out of driving, but I can assure you, the old-school thinking is on the way out. The Nissan GT-R is an exhilarating car to race and drive around town. As the photo below shows, at least this former 911 owner thought the same thing.
Nissan Australia has sold about 300 R35 Nissan GT-Rs since the vehicle's 2009 launch. So it also happens to be far more unique than a 911. The 2011 model is the pinnacle of what Nissan has to offer car lovers and in this reviewer's humble opinion, it's the absolute bargain of the century when it comes to the performance-to-price ratio.
Speaking to a few owners that showed up to the GT-R day, the ever dreaded cost of ownership was not as big of an issue as some have come to believe. Sure, it requires servicing and that's going to cost you more than servicing a Nissan Tiida, but think of it this way: if you want a car that will go from 0-100km/h in 3.0 seconds for under 200k, you can argue all you want about cost of ownership, the GT-R is still a bargain.