Godzilla plays well with others

We took the Nissan GT-R on the track


nissan-gt-rIt is hard to think of a modern car with a more fearsome history than the Nissan GT-R. It is spoken of with respect and more than a bit of panic.

This is a car that has in some forms been nicknamed Godzilla. Racing instructors often refuse to ride in them with overly-enthusiastic track-day drivers they don’t know.

These cars were lusted for even more because you couldn’t get them. They were Japan-only vehicles, then exclusively right hand drive.

An entire cottage industry grew from the demand for converting these things from one hand to the other. They were loved, revered, feared.

So what happened when we brought a brand new one out on a racetrack with permission to play?

A few days prior, we had lunch with Hitoshi Tamura, chief product specialist of the Nissan GT-R, the 370Z, and NISMO. This was someone whose love for the car traces to him sitting in the cold wet grandstand at the Fuji International Raceway. In the pouring rain, he told us, he watched other cars falter while this big, strong all-wheel drive just powered on through the downpour.

It was then that he decided what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to build cars. Specifically, he wanted to build GT-Rs. And yes, he built the crazy ones, the 800-horsepower monsters, the ones that take honors at the Nurburgring. But when the guy talks, he talks about balance, about maturity, about the homogeneousness of a good product. The GT-R? Seriously?

The track showed us what he meant. This was a car that, in spite of the massive power running through it, was always meant to be more balanced and drivable than its reputation makes seem. Insane tuners don’t help this rep, of course. But remember that the car from track day one had power to all wheels and massive rubber, so they were thinking big about grip. Modern technology just helps this hunting for protective friction.

Deceptively docile

nissan-gt-r-2The new Nissan GT-R is deceptively docile as you go out on the track with it, especially after race car drivers and photographers have been warming up the tires for you.

The car feels docile (in the beginning) because it is planted. You hear the gloriously screaming engine as you start taking corners faster and pushing straights further.

You cannot say it feels like a slot car because slot cars have their tails hanging out a lot.

The GT-R just goes as directed, increasingly fast. As increasing speed brings you into corners faster, you either brake harder or go through the corner carrying more speed, and the car is willing to do both.

If you are beginning to scare yourself, it is because you are going at velocities at which you should be scared. It is not because the car is getting too frisky.

Nissan designers and engineers have made the GT-R as balanced as they could, but this is a front wheel drive car with a big engine hanging off the front end.

All about power

nissan-gt-r-3The car doesn’t have the nimbleness or feel of cars such as the Audi R8, another generationally-consistent all-wheel-drive car of many dreams.

The GT-R is about power, and the harnessing of that power to make the car do what you want.

As easy as the current model is to drive (compared to the earlier ones), you cant help but remember that 3.8 liters of V6 goodness sits under that nicely shaped hood.

The long shaped hood, by the way, serves more than aesthetic and intimidation demands: it also helps to channel air at speed.

Two turbochargers help the engine produce 565 bhp at 6800 rpm, and 467 lb-ft of torque between 3300 and 5800 rpm.

This engine gives you a relatively wide range in which to play, but it does request that you keep the needle in the right place for maximum attack.

There are safety systems on board to help you keep the shiny side up and the sides undamaged.

Torque will be shifted towards whichever wheel needs it to help the car accomplish what it thinks the driver is trying for.

If the computers sense less traction and more wheelspin, they know not to add power on that corner, and instead compensate on the others.

In another comparison with the Audi R8, in the GT-R, you can sense computer intervention fairly early on and fairly easily once you get the speeds up.

Getting speeds up

About getting the speeds up. The power on tap can get you in trouble quickly, but you don’t get the squirrelly indications you normally would without the safety and dynamic drive controls.

The car can get a little sideways on a good hard launch (good, because you can use launch control, but that doesn’t mean you will get awesome starts with no understanding of what you are doing), but the attitude change will be slight and controlled—as if someone just kind of pushed the back of your car into line, or just held it the whole time and let you play a tiny bit.

Same with going out of corners quickly, you can roll on the throttle and the car accelerates out of the curve (remember that power is going to the front as well, so it pushes you sideways as well as forward) with the same small hint of breaking out.

This electronic adjustment is not harsh—more like progressive and somewhat mothering.

Actually, it reminds me of how video games make you understand that your car is losing traction by letting it get slightly askew.

The same planted sensation comes under hard and repeated braking. If you go too hot into a corner, things don’t really get crazy either. And this is a heavy car with a lot of power, so those big brakes (6 pot calipers on 15.4 inch Brembo discs in front, 15 inches and four-pots in the rear) earn their place.

As much as horsepower numbers and track times have defined the GT-R for years, this new model is far more luxurious than you would expect.

The drive reminds us that the first two letters in the name stand for Grand Touring, and the car is a surprisingly comfortable long haul drive.

The seats are beautifully put together, the dashboard both purposeful and luxurious.

nissan-gt-r-4The car keeps you comfortable, and surrounds you in plushness but still holds you firmly enough for some serious track work.

If you were to go racing, yes you might want some changes made. This GT-R, though, is meant for those that have high-test petrol in their blood, but enough money in their pocket to have the right tool for the right job.

In this case, you have the ability to embarrass many other more expensive road-going pretenders both in terms of specs and actual usable power.

But you don’t live in this world alone, and you didn’t get that money just to use it on yourself.

nissan-gt-r-5As Tamura-san explained, this car is for those that understand things at a higher, more important, more mature level.

This car lets you share your passion with those along for the journey, and lets them get a feel for the power and handling you enjoy while keeping the comfort that makes things pleasant enough for those without that petrol as a bodily fluid.

As we get more mature and include more people in our lives, Tamura-san explained with a smile, we learn that more joy comes from sharing than from just being by ourselves.

The GT-R is designed to allow you to share. Comfortably.

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