It’s early in the morning as we arrive at the Sendai Highland circuit in northern Japan. The surrounding hills and mountains show off the most amazing shades of autumn as they bask in the warm light of the morning sun.

Text: Dino Dalle Carbonare
Photo: Dino Dalle Carbonare

Despite the lovely scenery most of us are more interested with what Nissan has prepared for us. Scattered around the paddock area of the track must be no less than 20 brand new GT-Rs, lined up and ready to be abused by an impatient horde of journalists. The GT-R badge hasn’t been seen on a Nissan since the R34 was killed off in August 2002, so the wait has been a rather long one. Carlos Ghosn promised the GT-R would no longer remain a Japan-only model so the people behind the development of the car knew from the very beginning that they had to create a very special machine capable of outpacing established supercars like the Porsche 997 Turbo. As was massively publicized at the Tokyo Motorshow the new GT-R lapped the Nordschleife in 7 minutes and 38 seconds, a time that deserves a lot of respect. But after months of hearing lists of specs and performance figures it is time to finally put the car on the road and sample for ourselves what this new GT-R can really do. After all, supercars are not all about Nurbugring lap times. Armed with the key-less fob and a pre-set test-route programmed into the navigation, I hit the red engine-start button on the transmission tunnel to awaken the all-new twin-turbo 3.8L V6.

After the engine settles down to a very quiet idle I grab the gear selector and shift down into D. I move off in automatic mode letting the world’s first all-wheels-drive twin-clutch transaxle gearbox swap cogs for me. Finding a comfortable driving position is very easy, the steering wheel adjusts for both rake and reach and carries with it the whole instrument binnacle in 350Z style. But as I get to the seat adjustment I hit on a slight problem, one that plagues almost all Japanese cars. Seat height. Why manufacturers don’t engineer a lower seating position is beyond me, especially when they are out to steal sales from German brands. If you are over 6 feet you will have to put up with sitting a little too high in the GT-R, not a great problem for the domestic market but Nissan will no doubt get some negative feedback on this when the car goes on sale in Europe and the US.

This aside the interior is a very nice place to be in with an up-class feel to both the material and the build quality. Our Premium Edition equipped test car is gadget-packed with sporty leather clad electric seats, seat heaters, as well as an 11-speaker Bose surround sound system. 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. The LCD’s various display pages can be flicked through via the two small buttons on the binnacle itself. The speedometer reads to an enthusiastic 340 km/h, but the top speed is said to be around 310 km/h. The rev counter redline is set at just over 7,000 rpm and as you rev close to the redline a series of shift lights on it’s background light up first in orange and then in red. But the interior’s piece de resistance has to be the multi function display unit. This 7-inch LCD display feeds infinite amounts of real-time telemetry straight to the driver. The touch-screen display allows you to flick through the preset screens or customize them by selecting through the long list of readouts. The graphics were designed by the people at Polyphony Digital, the creators of the Gran Turismo games for the Playstation. The LCD screen also doubles up as the display for the hard-disc based navigation system as well as the interface for the air-conditioning and audio system. The rest of the cabin is finished off with aluminium accents, which span from the pedals and center console to the doors and transmission tunnel.

As our test route takes us into some winding country roads it is time to pick up the pace. I flick the transmission lever into manual and with the toggle switch I select “R” mode, which will give me the fastest possible shifts as well as selecting “R” mode for the traction and stability control system. With the left gear selector mounted on the steering column I downshift into second and floor it. My head snaps back under the fierce acceleration and before I know it I’m already changing up into third. The engine seems to be an endless source of power, there is no lag what’s so ever and no interruption in the rate of acceleration even during gear changes. For a turbocharged engine the VR38DETT really has no right being so immediate in it’s response.

Third and fourth gears are absolute killers propelling the car out of corners with an unrelenting urgency. And then comes the handling. Taught and composed even through the trickiest corners it offers a telepathic turn-in followed by endless grip. With the Bilstein DampTronic dampers set in standard mode every imperfection in the road is soaked up, and the whole car seems to be impervious to mid-corner bumps or ham-fisted driving. This unforgiving character allows you to push further and further into the performance envelope of the GT-R and in no time you find yourself traveling at a rate that will have most supercars disappearing into the rearview mirror. Get on the power early coming out of corners and you can get a smidgeon of opposite lock as the all-wheel-drive system balances power between the front and rear wheels. And despite the pace you can sustain through B-roads the GT-R makes you feel safe, safe that if you need to shave speed off fast you can always count on the brakes.

The Brembo 6-pot monoblock calipers up front and 4-pots at the rear bite down hard on 380 mm diameter floating rotors allowing you to shave speed off fast and without drama. Pedal-feel is just about perfect, it offers instant bite and a progressive travel, and even when stamping on them hard you always know that if you need more there is always something in reserve. The gearbox is a revelation too, its changes are so immediate it makes you doubt the 0.2 sec shift-time Nissan quotes. And going down the gears the dual-clutch GR6 transmission is just as good, accompanying each left-hand flick of the paddle with the aural delight of a perfectly matched throttle blip.

After the spirited B-road drive the motorway was next. With the Bilsteins set into comfort mode I accelerate up to 160 km/h. I even play with the cruise control, which has a handy set-speed readout via the small LCD screen under the rev counter. It’s hard to resist shifting down and flooring it just to experience that immediate surge of acceleration, but all fun is hampered by the speed limiter (removable only when the car is on track), which cuts in at an indicated 190 km/h. At these speeds the GT-R feels like it’s not even breaking a sweat remaining very refined and quiet. After the short motorway hop it was back on normal roads and in auto mode where the transmission tries its hardest to keep you on the highest gear possible in order to keep fuel consumption low. And it really does work according to the consumption graph. Fuel consumption is calculated per time sector and the best I managed was 11 km/L (on the motorway) with an overall average of 8 km/L. Last on the cards was a quick drag-type start, just to see if the sub-4 sec 0-100 km/h time feels like. You have to first switch the traction and stability off, this allows you to dial-in the required revs while holding the left foot on the brakes. One you release the brake the transmission drops the clutch and off you go with all four 20-inch Bridgestone struggling for grip. It’s all very impressive and we have no doubt believing the 3.6 sec 0-100 km/h time quoted by Nissan.

After what was one of the best drives I’ve had this year it was on to the tight and technical Sendai Highland racetrack. Here we had the chance to take the GT-R out for two sessions and sample its abilities on the very limit. I took it easy for the first outing getting comfortable with the car and the twisty and cambered corners of the track. Powering out of the first corner with cold tires I was surprised at just how sideways you could put the GT-R, especially with the traction and stability control set to “R” mode. As the tyres warmed up, the grip just kept on increasing as did my speed and ultimately my confidence. The GT-R just keeps asking you to push more and as you do you begin to feel that rigid chassis work its magic.

A lot of thought went into creating a close to perfect weight distribution as well as keeping a low center of gravity. This is evident on track where the car feels optimally balanced in every situation. Stamp on the brakes hard coming down the gearbox from fourth gear and there is no tail waggling, it stays perfectly neutral and poised. The 1740 kg curb weight is as well masked on track as it is on the road, it only really becomes evident when you hammer into a corner too fast and start to understeer, but even then it is just so easy to real in. The traction and stability control came off on my second go on the track and what I thought would be a handful turned out to be an impressively easy car to handle even over the limit of grip. The car is just so well set-up and balanced that it’s very easy to steer on the throttle, and thanks to the excellent weighted steering there is a constant stream of information coming in. But it wasn’t until the end of the day that we really found out just how fast this car is when we were taken out for two hot laps by one of the development drivers. In a pro’s hands the GT-R just dances through the apexes of Sendai and I was really surprised just how much speed the driver was bringing into corners compared to myself. Chicanes are tackled with lightening speed and the changes of directions are what baffle the mind the most. 1740 kg changing direction so fast is not unbelievable, it’s purely physics-defying!

Nissan have really done it with the GT-R. They have set out to create a Porsche Turbo eater and have achieved just that. And to add insult to injury they sell it for the same money of an entry level Cayman. But this is only the beginning of things for the GT-R. There track-spec variant, rumored to be called “Spec-V,” will start testing in February with a projected introduction time of December 2008 in Japan. It will be lighter and slightly more powerful and an even more focused machine. It will probably end up costing a whopping 5-million Yen more than the base GT-R, but only time will tell if that will be worth it. For now however one thing is for sure, the GT-R is back with a vengeance!

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