Not since we drove the Bugatti Veyron at 300km/h have we experienced such ferocious acceleration and such extreme levels of traction and grip
2011 Nissan GT-R 3.8-litre twin turbocharged V6 six-speed dual-clutch transmission 390kW/612Nm, 0-100km/h: 3.0 seconds, top speed: 311km/h - $168,800 (Manufacturer’s List Price)
There’s a brand new Porsche 911 Carrera 4S up ahead keeping what looks like a rapid pace with an Audi RS4 Avant, but I’m in the latest edition R35 Series Nissan GT-R and all my settings are in the ‘R’ mode – zero cause for alarm.
Frankly, it wouldn’t matter what was ahead of this thing, be it a Ferrari 458 Italia or Porsche’s latest 911 Turbo express, the GT-R is quicker in all manner of comparisons and its reputation as a street legal racer precedes it.
Lap times at the famous Nurburgring in Germany are today’s benchmark for performance testing and the Nissan GT-R has achieved legendary status there with a time of 7:24.22 in damp conditions and on showroom floor standard tyres.
That said, there have been many critics of the GT-R including several industry colleagues who admit that the car is fast (understatement of the decade) but lacks the soul of a Porsche 911. Well I’ve got news for them. Not since we drove the Bugatti Veyron (at 300km/h – that’s a fairly ordinary speed in that car) back in 2008, have we experienced such ferocious acceleration along with such extreme levels of traction and grip through corners.
Then there’s the myriad mechanical noises from the drivetrain. At low speeds as you’re pulling away, you’ll hear a race car-like whine and all kinds of clunks as the bespoke dual-clutch transmission warms up to what is the perfect operating temperature. Yep, the GT-R has got loads of soul – you’re just not listening to it.
Drill the throttle and keep your right foot pinned to the firewall for just a few seconds and only then will you fully appreciate what ‘fast’ is all about.
It’s not just quick; it’s positively mind-blowing under full throttle, and that’s before we start raving about the shift speed (say 'blip' as fast as you can and you’ll have some idea).
Nissan likes to release an updated version of the GT-R each year, usually adding more power and torque along with a variety of other features and new technology.
The standout improvements for the 2011 GT-R include increased power and more torque; up to a weapons-grade 390kW and 612Nm. That’s a serious set of numbers, especially when all that power is so successfully put to the ground by Nissan’s six-speed dual-clutch gearbox and permanent all-wheel drive system.
Its official nameplate is the R35 Series Nissan GT-R, but to enthusiasts and admirers world over, it’s simply the GT-R.
Like most supercars that make the cut for the sub 3.5-second club (that’s 0-100km/h in under 3.5 seconds), it’s hard to imagine just how explosive that kind of performance really is without ever having experienced such mind-warping acceleration from either the driver or passenger seats.
But there’s another more exclusive club whose entry fee is three seconds or under, and the 2011 GT-R is a fully paid-up member of this exclusive group. It’s also a car that punches well above its weight, or should I say, price, in that it’s technologically superior to almost any other car on the planet and is capable of going from 0-100km/h in a jet-like three seconds flat and hit a top speed of 315km/h (196mph). It’s also the cheapest supercar on the planet at just under $170,000 straight out of the box and all the good stuff like Bose audio, Xenon headlamps, full leather Recaro seats, sat-nav with 40GB of space and a seven-inch high-definition touch screen is standard, and that’s just a sample of the kit.
It’s hard to believe that you can buy a GT-R for less money than an Audi RS5 Coupe or for a fraction of the price of a Porsche 911 Turbo S. There’s no denying the Porsche Turbo has legendary status, but the fact is the GT-R can categorically smash the Porsche on - or off - the track.
Nissan’s 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 is properly hand-made by a single craftsman in a special section of the Yokohama plant in Japan. The red cam covers are out of respect for the previous-generation R34 Skyline GT-R, which also had this same identifying feature.
The current generation R35 GT-R has been around since its launch on the international stage in 2007, but each year, Nissan has made a few subtle improvements. On the series III R35 GT-R , power has been boosted by 33kW and torque by 24Nm, and while that might not sound like a big deal, believe me, you can clearly feel the difference whenever you’re brave enough to pin the throttle to the firewall for a few seconds. Yes, the GT-R goes like a three-second car, no question.
There are only a handful of car companies in the world that hand build engines for production series road cars and Nissan is one of them. The VR38DETT twin turbocharged 3.8-litre V6 is a very special bit of kit, a veritable volcano under the bonnet, if you will. Even so, Nissan engineers have included a few well-chosen modifications for the Series III car. Boost pressure has been adjusted, as has the valve timing and air mixture ratio. The end result is not only that three-second number already mentioned above, but also high-performance fuel consumption has improved by five per cent over the previous GT-R.
Think about that for a moment. Here we have one of the world’s fastest supercars that in one year between the second and third series cars, managed to increase power and torque by 33kW and 24Nm respectively while at the same time decreasing fuel consumption and emissions during performance-style driving. That’s quite a significant achievement at this extraordinary level.
It’s a special moment the first time you’re handed the keys to a GT-R, especially the latest R35 Series car. I can’t say it’s a beautiful shape like Lamborghini’s latest and greatest, the stunning Lamborghini Aventador, because that would be straight out self-delusion on my part.
The GT-R is totally function over form. Every panel, every intake, and every shape has been designed for a specific purpose. It’s all about speed, agility and stability. Nothing else much matters. Well, except for those four oil pipe-size exhaust tips, so large they appear positively cartoon-ish to the disenchanted.
Aerodynamics is key to the GT-R’s rock solid tracking at high speed. Nissan has even reduced the drag coefficient on the GT-R by 0.1 Cd to an astonishing 0.26 Cd. By comparison the Aventador achieves a 0.33 Cd. Moreover, the front spoiler features ‘double rectifier fins', which increase front end downforce by 10 per cent and at the same time reduces air resistance inside the engine bay and cools the front brakes through specially directed airflow.
The level of engineering intricacy of every facet of this car is virtually unprecedented for a road car and made all the more remarkable when you consider its retail price. However, that’s not our focus today, at least not in this review. It’s more about the GT-R experience from the driver’s seat.
If you haven’t driven a late model Aston Martin, then it might take you a few seconds to work out the door opening operation on the GT-R. It’s a little fiddly, but you soon get used to it. No doubt the flush design (a signature feature on all Astons) helps to reduce drag.
The front seats are extra special too. They’re anatomically contoured and designed by Recaro. You literally sink into the ultra-soft and perforated Alcantara/leather seat cushions, only to be held fast by the perfect level of side bolster (that’s seat-base and-back). You’re sitting deep into the car – it’s the perfect driving position once you customise the steering wheel position. That’s ingeniously easy too, as the steering wheel and instrument display is all one module, so when you move the wheel up or down, the instrument cluster moves with it. Brilliant.
These sports seats aren’t stupidly firm like those favoured by other sports car manufacturers. The leather used in the GT-R is Lexus-style soft but seems more forgiving for those larger body shapes than others. They’re also electrically adjustable via a unique single joystick arrangement, which I prefer over the traditional cluster of buttons.
It’s not all roses though. What lets down the GT-R is the overall appeal of the interior finish – it’s downright ordinary. There’s an awful lot of grey inside here, despite the hand-stitched leather that covers a large portion of the dash and the genuine carbon panels. Rather than the smoked metal surrounds on the air-conditioning ducts and the switchgear, a Volvo-esque quality aluminium veneer should be considered for the next update, while the carbon panels would look more up-market in a typical gloss finish.
The good news is that the switchgear is clearly laid out and very intuitive. It’s a car that doesn’t set out to confuse the driver with too many dials and switches and the typeface on the dials is easy to read in poor light conditions.
You’ll like the high-resolution touch screen too. The graphics are superb and no wonder; they were developed with Polyphony Digital Inc, the guys that designed the Sony Playstation franchise Gran Turismo. There are also ten ‘custom views’ you can dial up on the screen bringing up everything from lap times to fuel efficiency, but it's more of a novelty than a useful tool, at least initially.
It’s not just the clarity either, the functionality of this system is outstanding and it’s by far the easiest system to pair an iPhone with for Bluetooth streaming – ever.
The Bose sound system isn’t too bad either. With 11 speakers and dual subwoofers there is absolutely zero distortion at near max volume.
The satellite navigation also works well and is quick to re-route when you’ve missed a turn. Let’s just say the spoken street-by-street directions can have trouble keeping up with the GT-R’s speed at times.
Unlike almost all other performance cars in this class, you’ll be able to pick your kids up in the GT-R. Adults too will be able to cope with short rides in the individual rear seats (as tested with a full car load), but rear seat leg and headroom can be severely limited. It’s much better traveling up front in the GT-R with ample space for long distance trips.
The key fob is a bit ordinary though. It's not quite special enough for a car this capable, although at least it has an embossed GT-R badge on the upside. That said, it’s a proximity key, so no one really needs to ever see it.
It’s an interesting feeling sitting in a GT-R for the first time. It’s different to all the usual exotica from Italy and Germany. Its reputation for being crazy fast on and off the track can’t help but inspire your enthusiasm to pilot such a extraordinary car.
You can’t miss the fire engine-red starter button recessed into the centre console. About the only thing missing from this picture is a weapons-style thumb cover as seen on some GT race cars and strike fighters. It even sounds like a GT racer from the moment the V6 fires up and quickly settles into a decidedly up-tempo engine note. It all seems fairly well muted though, at least from inside the cabin.
Time to engage drive and see how the GT-R performs in late afternoon traffic. This has to be the world’s shortest automatic gear shifter, but it feels good in your hand. Into Auto mode for this trip - plenty of time during the week-long loan to try the full range of drive modes.
The GT-R is blessed with a bespoke six-speed dual-clutch transmission that allows for a broad range of driving styles. If left in standard Auto mode, it will shift much like a standard automatic gearbox. I didn’t say it was quiet though. There are a lot of mechanical noises coming from the transmission, especially when using reverse gear. It’s sounding more like a race car every second. Who says the GT-R hasn’t got soul? What rubbish.
Driving down the Great Western Highway, the GT-R actually feels and sounds quite tame and very driver friendly. I prod the throttle to make a green light and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Gee, it’s not so quick after all'. What I should be thinking about is just how easy Godzilla is to drive in traffic. You would have no issues using the GT-R as your daily drive. It's almost docile if at low speed in Auto.
The traffic has freed up ahead and in preparation, I’ve changed the three major settings to ‘R’ mode as distinguished by blanket red lights above the toggle switches. I go for a gap and give the right pedal a more serious prod and boom, that little manoeuvre may well have broken the 0-60km/h speed record. Immediately, I call my colleague and proclaim the bleeding obvious, ‘This thing is seriously quick’ (well maybe in slightly more descriptive language than the above wording, but you understand that it was a special moment).
There’s no need for a ‘Sport’ mode in the GT-R. If you’re on a closed road or at a track day, you have the option of switching the shift leaver across to the right and using one of the best paddle shifters you’re ever likely to come across in any supercar. Handcrafted in super-light magnesium, the paddles are extra long and properly mounted to the steering column.
After driving for half an hour in free flowing traffic it’s completely understandable how the GT-R can achieve a combined fuel consumption of just 12.0L/100km and CO2 emissions of 279g/km. At 60km/h in Auto mode the gear ratio indicator is showing sixth. It’s clearly an intelligent transmission that is able to quickly adapt to a variety of driving styles, which is what makes it such a unique supercar.
Leaving the transmission in ‘R’ mode is a treat if you get the opportunity to properly load up the throttle proer and experience instantaneous shifts at speed (0.15 seconds) with only fractional power loss. Especially rewarding are the automatic throttle blips on downshifts into corners under braking – they are precisely synchronised with engine speed for extra aural satisfaction.
The GT-R’s steering is perfectly weighted too with superb communication and feedback through the steering wheel. Turn in is razor sharp and feels more European than Japanese, with lighting response from the smallest steering input.
It simply doesn’t matter how hard you approach a corner, these enormous brakes will not only wipe off speed at an impossible rate, but they are truly fade free, even after multiple applications. That’s the result of Nissan's Brembo-developed disc brakes measuring 390mm up front with six-pot monoblock calipers and 380mm with four-pot at the rear. That’s not far off the Veyron, which makes do with 407mm brakes, but it needs to haul up considerably more weight than the GT-R.
The GT-R does outright acceleration and speed better than most other supercars and it’s handling skills are on par. It’s hard to describe how well this thing does corners without comparing it with bona fide GT series race cars. It’s the sheer speed you are able to carry through tight bends that boggles the mind.
Sure the ride is firm if you choose the ‘R’ mode with the Bilstein DampTronic system, but even then on the generally rubbish Sydney suburban roads, it’s never bone rattling. There’s definitely a level of pliancy built into the GT-R’s suspension system that can effectively absorb speed bumps and moderate potholes better than you would ever expect.
Switch the damping settings to 'Comfort' and the ride quality is decidedly more supple and great for the drive home from the office.
There are no options to have to decide on with the GT-R - they’re all included, as is one of the world’s most advanced all-wheel-drive systems. It continually adjusts front and rear torque dispersal depending on conditions and driving style. Four-wheel drive cars can be difficult to manoeuvre in car parks and tight spaces, but the GT-R makes that job easier by adopting two-wheel-drive at speeds under 10km/h.
There’s also a full suite of active and passive safety systems including six airbags and front seatbelts with pretensioners and load limiters. Active systems include Nissan’s Advanced Vehicle Dynamic Control with ABS and EBD.
The Nissan GT-R is unique in the world of supercars. Here is a four-seat car with a 315-litre capacity boot that can pretty much blitz anything from Europe including some ultra exotics with price tags up to five times that of the Nissan. The other half of the GT-R story is that it’s also a car than can be driven to and from the office, day-in day-out, and used to pick the kids up from training on the way home. Try that in a 911 GT3!