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BOTB Road Test: The Popular Nissan GT-R {{favouriteCount}} Quantity of Likes

13 May 2015

First off, let’s start with a disclaimer – I drove the Nissan GT-R for a weekend when it was launched in 2007. Back then it was very a new, super tech-laden supercar with 480bhp and I’m afraid to say I absolutely hated it. There was a huge amount of power, but it was so anodyne, so soulless that it just didn’t excite me at all. Yes, I got down my favourite bit of twisty road faster than I’d done in any other car but did it excite me doing so? Not at all, it felt like the car’s multiple ECUs did all the work and I was simply telling it where to go. Impressive, yes, but not exciting.

So it was with great trepidation but an open mind that I walked out of the house to be greeted by the latest GT-R some 8 years later. The detail changes have been very small on the outside, new wheels, slightly different bumpers, but it’s still basically the same car visually. The deep blue paintwork went some way to increasing the wow factor too, so overall it really does look the part as a supercar even if it sits at the more practical end of the spectrum.

There’s definitely visual drama to the shape, the wide front end that cuts back in behind the front wheels, the steeply raked roofline and trademark quad read lights, with four cannon-sized exhausts below. But it’s dramatic, not beautiful and isn’t beauty half of what makes a supercar so special? Therein lies one of the biggest unanswered questions of the modern age car world though – is the Nissan GT-R a supercar? Some say yes, with all the power and performance figures it has to be. But in the other camp it’s a large practical 2+2 and isn’t pretty, so not a supercar. We’ll let that one slide as it’s only a name.

The main differences though lie under the surface. Over the previous 8 years the engineers at Nissan have been constantly tinkering and tweaking almost every major component of the GT-R to make it into the car it is today, in fact there have been three major revisions in that time. The suspension geometry is now asymmetrical as the majority of the time there is only the driver on board, while the engine is canted forwards slightly at rest, as when the drivetrain loads up the engine rocks back to make it totally straight. The engine is built to blueprint specs by one man whose name is on a plaque on the front. The tyres are filled with nitrogen as it’s more stable (more on this later).

It’s the utterly obsessive details like this that make the GT-R so interesting though. Well that and the absolutely nuclear weapon of an engine – 3.8 litres, two turbos and 6 cylinders in a vee producing 542bhp and 466 lb/ft of torque. Yes it may weigh in at over 1700kg, but with the four wheel drive system and dual clutch gearbox it accelerates like a Caterham. The four wheel drive system is a complex one too, with many diffs and the gearbox on the rear axle and it makes an awful amount of clunking and whining when manoeuvring in first or reverse. I’m glad that was already known as you would think it was broken such is the racket.

Getting in you are of course greeted by the GT-R’s biggest failing – the interior. It was barely acceptable when the GT-R came out at £55,000, but now at over £75,000 it somewhat mocks the owner. The layout isn’t overly logical and the plastics aren’t commensurate with the price tag at all. Thankfully the leather covering a lot of surfaces makes up for it, but the next generation simply must have a better designed, higher quality interior.

But it is when you get to that closed straight road (officer) and have a go at full-throttle acceleration that you forget everything else in the world, let alone the interior. You reach 62mph in just 2.8 seconds, 100mph in 7.3 seconds and it won’t give up until 196mph. The acceleration is just brutal, with a very nice but not overly loud exhaust note accompanying you. That was always a party trick though, it was everything else that disappointed on last introduction.

The ride has been improved massively – before you could drive over an ant and you’d feel every antennae, but now there’s real control and damping going on. Okay British roads are never going to be incredibly forgiving, but it does a very good job of keeping the wheels in contact with the ground, to give you a better chance of putting all that power down. The steering is much improved too, less jittery straight ahead and with a lot more feel off centre. And it’s with the combination of all these things that the car comes alive.

You can throw this heavy car around down your favourite bends, revelling at the grip and acceleration but actually enjoying it as a driving tool. Okay it’s really wide so you have to be a little more careful than you would in something like a Lotus, but it really can be placed with real accuracy on the road and you can explore the limits of what it can do. Though it must be said, get nowhere near them – without a racetrack you’re not going to.

So it’s absurdly fast, practical, handles fantastically and looks good – suddenly the £78,000 price tag doesn’t look too silly. Especially when you consider what else you could get for around the same money. We recently tested the Jaguar F-Type Coupe R, which is a similar weight and identical power, but comes in at £8000 more. It’s not as quick off the line but this is choosing between the highest tech-laden Jap supercar and an old-school muscle car. The Jag will oversteer at will and make you giggle every time you drive it, so you just need to decide which sort of driver you are. Of course £91,500 will now get you the AWD version of the Jaguar, which may claw back some of the shortfalls in the wet. Either way you won’t be disappointed.

So in summary, the GT-R has proven me wrong. It can play the practical 2+2 with a big boot, but can also destroy any road you decide to point it down and make you grin while doing so. I like being proven wrong sometimes…

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