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We drive the Nissan GT-R

2009-10-07 07:09
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Nissan
Model GT-R
Engine 3.8l twin-turbo V6
Power 357kW @ 6 400r/min
Torque 588Nm @ 3 200 - 5 200r/min
Transmission Six-speed transaxle DCT
Fuel Tank 74l
Boot Size 315l
ABS Yes, with EBD
Airbags Six
Tyres Dunlop SP Sport 600 255/40ZRF20, 285/35ARF20
Front Suspension Double-wishbone
Rear Suspension Multi-link

Lance Branquinho

The recent Nissan Murano launch was a golden mean kind of an event. The car was good, route impeccable and the food palatable.

Somewhere in-between, one of Nissan’s PR specialists happened upon me as I was about to load up my plate with muffins. Quite casually, she enquired whether I was doing anything vitally important the next day, as they needed a GT-R delivered from Cape Town to Johannesburg.

I set down my plate, half-laden with muffins, scanned the room for familiar faces to ensure I was not hallucinating and agreed to engage in what promised to be the most spectacular bout of Cape Town to Jozi driving I could ever imagine.

The deal was simple: I would get a driving partner, clandestine overnight accommodation in the Karoo, and two days in which to deliver the car, safely, to a Nissan dealer in Johannesburg for display purposes.

Familiar Nissan family switchgear is disconcerting at first - considering the performance you command from here - but ergonomics are in an altogether different league to most supercars.

Pretty? Well, spacious

I set off to my GT-R rendezvous from Cape Town on a rather unpromising, drizzling Thursday morning.

As we gathered our camera gear and overnight bags (admittedly they were shoulder sling manbags, much to my embarrassment) I was struck by the sheer size of the GT-R. Dimensionally it’s nearly 4.7m from bumper to bumper and 1.9m wide, hardly presenting a case for nimbleness.

GT-R pressures those four tyre contact patches with a substantial 1 750kg too. Tabling comparisons, it’s two passengers weight worth more than Porsche’s 911 Turbo (1 588kg).  

On the credit size of all this though, is the transcontinental-sized boot. It was actually alarming how little space three Pelican camera cases, two tripods and overnight gear took up.

Fuel gauge can be seen dropping in real time during prolonged high-speed runs. Note the indicated top speed 340km/h...

Biding time in traffic

I took the helm as we set off. My driving partner was disheartened though. He was certain our epic journey would depreciate into a wiper-stalk-setting-two rain-affected sojourn.

As we navigated north on the N1, outbound towards the Huguenot tunnel, I reminded my glum co-driver of two rather irrefutable facts.

Firstly, the weather would clear as soon as we cleared the Du Toitskloof Mountains. Secondly, we were piloting an awfully advanced all-wheel drive performance car that would hardly to be bothered by some moist roads.

For the 40km journey from our collection point to the mouth of the Huguenot Tunnel I had kept pace with traffic, familiarising myself with the GT-R's controls (which, even at this early stage, were surprisingly intuitive). My fingers kept well clear of the six-speed dual clutch transmission’s (DCT) override shift-paddles framing the steering wheel…

Transmission, damper and traction switches can be flipped to Race mode - which is a bit of an overkill for even the most spirited road use...

Opening the envelope…

As the tunnel’s artificial illumination gave way to sunshine (the Du Toitskloof mountains had buffered us from the rain, as I had expected) the urge to tug at the left-mounted shift paddle overcame my sensibilities.

Cruising at a leisurely 80km/h I tickled the paddle twice with my left index and middle fingers, signalling to the rear-mounted DCT transmission to engage fourth gear, down from sixth.

At this stage I had been driving the GT-R for all of 45 minutes. It had been docile. The controls were, except for the steering, over-assisted and light to the touch.

I knew it had an exasperatingly intricate (and therefore capable) all-wheel drive system, which meant there was no sense of foreboding when I angled the long-travel throttle pedal to a more acute angle within the footwell...

For a nanosecond, nothing much happened.

Much the same thing occurred in the logic underpinning the big bang theory.

All matter in the universe was compressed into the size of a pea (for an exceedingly brief moment in time) before exploding with unparalleled violence. This is exactly what happened when the GT-R’s 3.8l twin-turbo V6’s combustion regime fueled optimally.

Keeping the throttle open as the engine speed edged past 6 500r/min, a sense of disquiet chafed at my sense. Although this was a road I knew well (a dual carriage way at that), it made little difference to me - I felt acutely out of my depth.

The GT-R had displaced a disturbing amount of road in the 12 seconds since I had downshifted and throttled up. Now a medium radius left sweep loomed ahead.

What would, in a garden variety 200kW rear-wheel drive car, have been a neat 160km/h job with a nice, crisp turn-in, the GT-R now approached at a fearfully more rapid speed.

At this stage I decided to bear my insecurities to this example of Japanese performance car engineering. I kept my right foot on the throttle and simply turned it in, leaving those 380mm Brembo brakes out of the equation.

It was an act of foolish commitment.

The GT-R’s steering feel solidified as the chassis loaded up with the shift in lateral cornering forces. An obscene dataset of calculations quickly split torque (mostly to the rear wheels) and then, with no sense of drama (and a noble sense of triumphant engineering achievement) the GT-R navigated the high-speed left sweep effortlessly.

This pretty much set the tone for the rest of my two-day blast up to Joburg.

GT-R was fully at home in the Karoo. Likes finishing off 74l tanks of petrol too - unsurprisingly.

You expect to be frustratingly disappointed with a car which has been as over hyped as the GT-R, but it just oozed impeccable engineering and performance biased dynamics over every kilometre travelled.

The GT-R is so pure in terms of construction and design, with such impeccable levels of torsional rigidity and build quality, you worry about breaking the road when putting down power in corners instead of doing even negligible damage to the any of the car’s components…

Japanese design efficiency – everywhere

The GT-R’s specification sheet says 357kW, but these must be the most urgent kilowatts ever produced.

I have driven cars boasting superior power-to-weight numbers, yet few convert their statistical superiority to severe linear acceleration with such efficiency.

Ferrari (and Porsche GT3) apologists will dismiss the GT-R’s 3.8l V6 out of hand as an artificial engine solution, boosted by immoral IHI twin-turbochargers. They’ll say it’s a poor substitute for redoubtable, naturally aspirated, high-performance engine design.

Curiously, for a car which majors in stupefying technology in every way, the GT-R V6 is still fed by multi-point instead of direct fuel-injection.

Each engine is hand assembled by a master technician in a clean-room environment fit for open heart surgery. Nissan only has eight of these "Takumi"-titled fellows building GT-R engines, so we imagine they don’t go on vacation much.

Even better is the gearing technology. Designed by BorgWarner, yet built domestically in Japan by Aichi Kikai, GT-R’s six-speed DCT transmission boasts 12 fiction faces and triple-cone synchronisers on each gear.

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.

The all-wheel drive system is so complex it can only be understood by MSc qualified engineers in a dazzling series of schematics. Suffice it to say it has the uncanny ability to spin most of the 588Nm worth of rotational force to the aft axle - vanquishing any doubts concerning the exuberance of GT-R’s rear-wheel drive handling at the limit.

Too refined for its own good?

I can’t vouch for the GT-R’s agility at low speeds in tight radius corners – only a dedicated track session will illuminate any shortcoming there.

What I can assure you, unequivocally, is when it comes to travelling at speed (maddening, triple digit speeds), there can be very few cars as stabile.

GT-R’s flat undercarriage dovetails perfectly with the dextrously formed surface styling (courtesy of Lotus engineering’s wind tunnel expertise) to provide airflow management that is usually the preserve of Le Mans race cars.

South Africa’s logistical lifeline – the N1 between Cape Town and Johannesburg – is a perpetual work in progress (or disrepair) depending on whether you’re a civil engineering contractor or a road user.

On such a disrupted surface high-speed driving is a different proposition to autobahn charging in Europe.

Looks like a Playstation set-up because it is, created by gaming legend Kazunori Yamauchi's team. This is the best set-up, with all high-friction mechanicals displaying their lubrication temperatures. Just exchange the total G-meter for the torque distribution view - which shows how RWD biased the GT-R can be...

The GT-R’s German-sourced Bilstein adaptive dampening ensures all four wheels keep in contact with the road surface as true as possible whist still managing to balance the critical tipping point between relatively tolerable ride comfort and dynamic feedback.

In terms of comfort (both acoustic resonance and the vibration threshold), GT-R shames its 370Z sibling. I dozed off in the passenger seat during one my driving partner’s stints.

After almost 2 000km and nearly four plane tickets worth of fuel (we averaged 26l/100km) I would unhesitatingly confer supercar status on the GT-R.

Now before you flame me to a cinder, I’ll admit it’s not perfect. The GT-R could do with signature exhaust acoustics, sure.

To dismiss its supercar validity simply because it’s easy to get in and out of, accommodates four people and their luggage whilst pampering them with foolproof ergonomics, is automotive fascism of the highest order in my opinion.

To borrow Nissan's catchphrase, it’s a supercar without supercar limitations. Easy to drive, yet hugely rewarding too.

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