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Tested: Nissan's fearsome GT-R

2010-01-26 10:05
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Nissan
Model GT-R
Engine 3.8l V6 turbo
Power 357kW @ 6 400r/min
Torque 588Nm @ 3 200-5 200r/min
Transmission Six-speed DCT
Zero To Hundred 3.5 sec
Top Speed 315km/h
Fuel Tank 74l
Boot Size 315l
Airbags Dual front, side and curtain
Tyres Dunlop SP Sport 600 F: 255/40, R: 285/35
Front Suspension Double-wishbone
Rear Suspension Multi-link
Service Plan 3 year/50 000km
Price R1 175 000

Lance Branquinho

Last year I was in the (very) fortunate position to drive Nissan’s GT-R supercar from Cape Town to Johannesburg.

After tallying up a fair distance and suitable time in the driver’s seat I, expectantly perhaps, lionised the GT-R as a glorious achievement. It was fast (staggeringly so, in fact) yet secure. Beguiling without being brutish or petulant.

It proved true to its billing as the consummate daily-driver supercar.

Admittedly it does represent a quantum leap in local pricing parameters for something sporting a Nissan badge.

Measured as the sum of all its parts the million and something price tag still represents something (thinly) approaching value, in terms of performance to other market related options…

Following a second opportunity to sample the GT-R, this time in Cape Town (where endurance sapping Karoo straights were replaced with tight corners) would the Nipponese supercar’s Halo effect remain?

Wind tunnel tested by Lotus (British). Suspension control by Bilstein (German). Tranmission by BorgWarner (American). Brakes by Brembo (Italian). GT-R could perhaps be the United Nation's supercar...

Pretty, well…

An esteemed motoring journalist once told me, in a moment of kindly advice, to never judge a car’s styling outside its market of origin.

If you really wish to pass judgement on a German über-saloon, make sure you’ve seen it at pace on the Autobahn. Think French city cars look odd? You’d be amazed how apt they look contrasted with a Parisian backdrop.

Much the same, I think, applies to the GT-R.

In terms of form it’s not a thing of great beauty. Aerodynamic function dictates the GT-R’s surfacing elements. I am sure if I saw one in a Tokyo tunnel, at 2am on a Saturday morning after a night of exceptional Sushi and Sake, it cuts a dashing figure.

Diplomatically phrased, it’s no Aston Martin.

What GT-R lacks in terms of aesthetically perfect proportions it makes up in terms of aerodynamics and presence.

As previously mentioned, the car’s shape has been dictated by aerodynamicists – every kink and curve shaped to ensure exceptional airflow management and, subsequently, stability at speed. An unintended consequence of this airflow dictated shape is a car which appears to have been conceived with American Muscle car sentiments, yet executed with Japanese Anime software.

Nissan’s stylists did not attempt to hide GT-R’s bulk with deft surface details meant to distract your eyes’ ability to visually gauge its weight.

Plainly, GT-R looks heavy - because, fundamentally, it is. With its characteristic hotplate rear lights, a severely slanting roofline and classic long nose front-engine/rear-wheel drive proportions, GT-R commands massive static presence.

Rear view probably the most flattering, encapsulating traditional Skyline hotplate lights.

Plenty of clever bits

Aside from its bank vault-in-your-living-room presence, the GT-R transforms effortlessly from Playstation fantasy (when static) into a dynamic collaborator of the highest order when driven with abandon.

I won’t bore you with details of the cabin’s ergonomic efficiency or the DCT transaxle gearbox’s gentle nature when trundling around the urban road network in traffic. Suffice to say, the dual-pedal GT-R is, when driven with restraint, an experience devoid of irritable supercar idiosyncrasies.

Driving the GT-R with restraint though, well, that’s hardly the point. It’s like going to Orlando and visiting Disney World to buy a box-set of Mickey Mouse DVDs and not going on any of the rides.

All wheel control at each corner

German industrial giant ThyssenKrupp’s Bilstein damper division provides an incomparably complex DampTronic wheel rebound management system for the GT-R. Three selectable modes are available, with the relatively harsh ‘R’ setting only useable on billiard table smooth test track surfaces.

Casual (uninformed) GT-R critics are swift to point to the car’s alleged lack of soul. As an inanimate object, I fail to understand how any mechanical device can have a soul, but this is hardly the space to wade into an existential argument.

The any critics of the car’s stupendously complex all-wheel drive system, trust me, when you have 357kW (and that’s a very conservative official output number) you want all-wheel drive traction security. You really do. There is a fundamental reason you can’t (for the most part) buy a rear-wheel drive Lamborghini anymore, for example…

It might not be direct-injected, but oversquare internal architecture and forced induction ensure sufficient urge to see of most things with four-wheels.

Proving Newton wrong

Despite the GT-R’s gaming fetish assortment of digital cabin read-outs (courtesy of Gran Turismo creator Kazunori Yamauchi), this is by no means an artificial performance car.

When you flip the trio of transmission, damper and traction control switched to ‘R’ functionality, the GT-R gravitates from the realm of cutesy point-and-squirt electronic driver aided quickness to a relatively lively (and foreboding) supercar.

Wheels are gorgeous. Surfaced with knurled beads to prevent tyres from slipping under acceleration. Gives you an idea of the performance on offer...

Demanding drive

In a fairly rapid hot hatch, when you brake late and turn it in on a proper performance cornering line there is a moment of weight transfer before the chassis settles into position, grip is optimised and you factor in at which point you’ll start adding power and unwinding the steering lock.

In a GT-R, the moments of dynamic load transfer (between the axles under deceleration, and between opposing wheels when cornering) are measured in fractions of a second.

The adaptive damping responds with light-switch alacrity to increased dynamic load on any of the four wheel corners. Combine this with an all-wheel drive system able to channel 100% of available torque to the aft axle, and GT-R’s front end tucks in with remarkable dynamic dedication when powering out of slower corners.

On straight bits of road, the 3.8l V6 powerplant simply compresses time and distance with staggering distain. Simply put, at speed on a challenging road, in a GT-R, you find yourself awfully busy with steering, left-pedal and downshifting duties. This is, coincidentally, the choice regime of driving interaction in any proper supercar…

There’s a GKN-sourced rear slippy diff too, which even operates under deceleration, ensuring epic poise on trailing- or during lift-off throttle errors of judgement.

GT-R’s only dynamic foible is mass. Fuelled up and with a driver behind the helm it’s a 1.9t car, which is not light. Not at all.

Dynamically, in terms of acceleration and cornering verve, GT-R’s mass does not notably depreciate the driving experience – primarily due to the excellence of the car’s adaptive damping.

The brakes, though, accumulate all the punishment.

Although Brembo branded, dedicated track day use will whittle down the rotors effectiveness and lifespan of the pads dramatically. Much the same can be said for any roadcar (even high performance ones) operating in a track environment.


Not pretty, but exquisitely made. Built quality is towering, despite some Nissan family familiar switchgear…


Comfy, well insulated (perhaps too well insulated for supercar). Rear seats not useable though, except for additional baggage stowage space.


Hugely powerful and balanced by enormously capable reserves of traction. Bizarrely agile for 1.9t car. DCT transmission the best of its kind currently found in a road car.


It’s a proper performance car, the GT-R.

Kazutoshi Mizuno’s team set simple goals when conceptualising GT-R. It had to run 300km/h at the top end. The fearsome Nürburgring was to be lapped in less than eight minutes.

Unofficially, too, it had to cost less than $70 000 Stateside and feature a two-pedal transmission, pandering to the American market’s abhorrence to self-shifting.

When you look beyond the lack of elegance pertaining to its styling (supercars aren’t really meant to be pretty anyway, now are they?) and switch off from all the digital in-car information displays, what remains is a very engaging performance car.

So, when you’ve forgotten all your road manners and left any sense of self preservation behind, the GT-R is probably the choice car to work up to very naughty speeds in local conditions. The all-wheel drive system and variable damping simply undo any unbalancing/traction challenging act South Africa’s broken road surfaces usually inflict upon high performance cars. 

If you buy one, you can be assured it will gather classic status in the fullness of time.

Even In your poorest moments of driving judgement it will benignly guide you through (safely) and always leave room for further dynamic exploration.

There are many cars which cue up to reside in the enthusiasts’ fantasy 12-birth garage. Years of Playstation gaming (however realistic the digitisation appears to shadow actual dynamics) has seen some cars move to positions of eminence they probably don’t deserve in reality.

GT-R is not one of them.

In terms of my fantasy car collection, it gets a slot in the 12-birth garage far away from the wall – way too special to risk a scratch you see…


Seamless turbo power
Incomparably brilliant adaptive damping
Rapid-fire DCT transmission


SpecV brakes would be nice
Not suble (but it's a supercar, right?)


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