I should probably count myself as being a very lucky chap. It all started a few months back when the editor of a US magazine I work with, AutoWeek, asked me if I was interested in flying up to Hokkaido for a photo shoot. Of the new GT-R!! As soon as I heard these words I knew this was something more than just a job!! You see I’ve been a fan of the GT-R ever since I set foot in Japan back in 1993. My love started with the R32 and I slowly began learning about the history of this very special car. A friend of mine picked up a new R33 GT-R as soon as the car was released in 1995 and from that first drive I knew this was the car for me. When I finally got myself a new R34 V-spec in 1999 my love spiraled into borderline obsession and I now consider myself a true “otaku” of the brand!

Text: Dino Dalle Carbonare
Photo: Dino Dalle Carbonare

Since this photo session was being held a good three months ahead of the scheduled unveiling of the GT-R at the Tokyo Motor Show, Nissan decided to take the selected number of photographers from established publications around the world to its winter proving ground in Hokkaido. This was primarily to keep unwanted spy photographers away, but also provided a breathtaking backdrop to use for our pictures. I had arrived a day prior to everybody else and had a car all to myself. I was quite surprised to hear that a lot of the Nissan guys had yet to see the car without the exterior and interior masking! After a presentation by Hiroshi Hasegawa, the designer of the new R35, we were taken to a small double garage where two of the cars were kept. I tried my best to control my excitement, after all this was work, but it proved pretty hard, especially after I had spotted the unmasked GT-R from the bus! As we pulled up to the garage I got off and started walking towards it, my eyes scanning every detail of its angular yet extremely aerodynamic body. I was surprised the corners of the front bumper were toned down so much from the concept, making it look rather plain from the front. The rest didn’t appear too different from the 2005 Concept but what really surprised me was just how wide this thing is!

Stand in front of it and it just looks very wide, very menacing and like nothing else out on the road. The so called “Aero-Blade Fender” from the concept remains and is one of the main feature that give such a distinctive look to the new GT-R. Looking at the car head on these front wheel arches seem to jump right out from the rest of the car making it look very wide. Behind these bulbous arches sit the “Fender Back Scoops”, which are functional and channel hot air away from the engine bay and wheel wells. The A-pillars are, like the side skirts, bonnet ducts and the bumper lips painted black to create a contrast to the design. The rear-end of the GT-R seems virtually unchanged from the concept minus the addition of a low spoiler. Taking center stage are the four afterburner-style round lights packing some high-intensity LED lights.

Hard to miss are the oversized quad-exhaust tips which pop out from the rear diffuser. Like in the R34 GT-R the rear diffuser under-cover is made of carbon fiber and together with the front plastic cover helps smooth airflow under the car. The massive 20-inch wheels are made by Japanese wheel manufacturer, Rays Engineering, and feature a both lightweight and strong forged construction. These 7-spoke wheels come in light silver with Dunlop Sport SP Run Flat tyres on the base car or in darker silver if you opt for the Premium Edition or request them from the factory. These run performance oriented Bridgestone Potenza RE070, which offer a far stickier compound and again Run Flat construction. Sizes are 255/40/RF20 for the front and 285/35/RF20 for the rear.
Sitting inside the huge wheels are equally massive Brembo monoblock calipers biting down on 2-piece slotted drilled rotors. The 6-pot front and 4-pot rear set-up will no doubt offer excellent performance in this area. I have to say that I have grown to like the GT-R rather than fall in love with it straight away. It is not a beautiful car that’s for sure, but then again neither were the previous models. Like this new “R” they relied on in-your-face aggressiveness to captivate the minds of their owners not to mention the link with an unmatched success in racing.

The R35 does however combine all the aspects of previous GT-Rs but incorporates many others that are a necessity to allow it to go head to head with the best supercars the world has to offer. It therefore has a very big job to do, which is probably why Nissan took over 5 years to bring a successor to the GT-R badge. From the onset it had to be a world-wide model, but most importantly it has to be on par with the best performance cars on the planet. We have seen dozens of spy shots and videos showing Nissan using a Porsche 997 Turbo during development so it gives an indication of where Nissan are trying to place the R35. Shooting for this kind of performance bracket requires some serious hardware and I know Nissan have made sure the GT-R will not disappoint, but keep in mind that this car will cost far less than its direct rivals. The base price in Japan is of 7.7 million Yen. Just like the previous model that is phenomenal value for money!

One feature that I really liked were the aluminium door handles (the doors are also aluminium), which are so intuitive in their simple yet functional design. You push them out with your thumb, grab the handle, and pull. No key required to gain access to the interior as all models come with a key-less system, simply keep the fob in your pocket and the car will detect when you are close.

Inside you get a gadget-packed interior like the sporty leather clad electric seats, which also come with seat heaters on the Premium Edition, a massive 7-inch Multi Function Display screen as well as an 11-speaker Bose surround sound system. Leather is used to trim the dashboard and doors giving a very up-class feel. The steering wheel offers lots of easy to reach controls for the audio system as well as the cruise control. Yes, a cruise control in a GT-R! A large rev-counter takes center stage in the instrument binnacle with the speedometer fusing into it on the left side and a small LCD screen on the lower right quarter. With a red line zone starting at 8,000 and a speedometer reading 340 km/h there is definitely some fun to be had! After hitting the engine start button on the transmission tunnel you can select your gears via the leather and aluminium trimmed knob, or use the paddles behind the steering wheel. There is no clutch pedal as the new dual-clutch gearbox takes care of the up and downshifts for you. Polyphony Digital, the guys behind the Gran Turismo game on Playstation, were called in to design the graphics for the virtual instrumentation. Here, like on the R34, real time readings can be had from various engine parameters like turbo boost (with a max reading to 1.5 x100kPa), engine oil temperature, engine oil pressure, front torque, cornering G, transmission oil temperature, water temperature, throttle position, brake position and a multitude of others. Data can be shown in a customizable triple dial set up or if you want information overload you can have up to six mini dials on one screen.

The Gear Position screen shows you the selected gear along with a bar graph of the gears available for upshifts or downshifts. Not that you’d use this much, but there is also a Fuel Economy screen where you can keep a check on how fast the VK38 guzzles fuel. Nissan claims it can return 8.2 km/L, but they don’t say how slow you have to drive to obtain this! The 7” screen also displays the maps from the hard disc navigation system, fitted to all models. The GT-R also comes with a 6-disc, in-dash CD/DVD changer, which will play movies as well as decode MP3 and WMA files. On the center console you will also find the three “R” buttons. These will allow you to select modes for the AWD system, the dampers and the traction control. By holding each of these up for 5-seconds will allow you to enter “R” mode. What this actually is has yet to be explained but I assume the car will be put into its most extreme setting for fast road or track use. You can also choose the snow setting for the AWD, comfort mode for the dampers and off mode for the traction control. Nissan have done an amazing job with the interior combining innovative design together with top quality materials and build quality. Most of the supercars out there can hide in shame in this area, and that is without comparing equipment levels! The days where people ridicule GT-Rs for their tacky interiors are over. I know I’d rather have a 7” MFD than a little round analogue stopwatch on top of the dashboard!

As the car was about to be taken out from the garage I made sure to positioned myself behind it, ready to savor for the first time the sound of that new VK38 twin turbo V6 through those drain-pipe sized exhausts! Needless to say I was not disappointed. The exhaust note is very deep and throaty as the revs shoot up once the engine sparks into life but what surprised me is just how quiet it is once it settles to a low idle. It burbles quietly at tick over but on the go it is 100% GT-R! While doing driving shots I got to hear it all the way up to the limiter and it really sounds menacing. However I was surprised at how whiny and clunky the dual-clutch gearbox was at idle, something Nissan will probably fix on the production cars. Acceleration, at least seen from the outside, seems to be brutal and the gear changes instant. I liked how the gearbox hunts for the highest possible gear when set in automatic mode, to keep fuel economy in check.

I felt a bit let down once the bonnet was opened. People used to the glossy red-topped RB26 will find the VK38 looks a bit bland. There is a nice plastic cover over the six intake pipes but the engine bay looks very cluttered with a web of piping running all over the place. The radiator overflow tank is right in front of the engine and really does look horrible. This aside however you have to commend Nissan for giving importance to weight balance. The engine sits far back into the aluminium front sub frame and with the transaxle gearbox offers a close to perfect 50:50 front/rear balance. The bonnet ducts shoot cool air down into the IHI turbines, which for better flow, are cast in one piece together with the exhaust manifolds. This will make it, initially, impossible for tuners to bolt on bigger turbos to try and get more power. Obviously a high level of valve-train control is used on the VK38, expect to see a similar system as used on the VQ37HR as fitted to the new Skyline 370GT which uses Variable Valve Event and Lift system (VVEL) to boost torque, power, response as well as improve fuel economy and emissions. There has also been some talk of a direct injection fuelling system, but this remains speculative.

The final question thought remains. Would I buy one to replace the R34? The answer is yes, but sort of. I’m not the kind of person that looks for too much comfort in my sports cars. Even though Nissan is marketing this new GT-R as an everyday supercar that anyone can drive in any condition I still think it packs way too many gadgets, and ultimately weight. I will therefore have more patience and wait for the rumored race oriented version. After all, like most GT-R enthusiasts, I have been waiting over 5 years for a replacement. What’s another couple!