Nürburgring, Germany -- Never has the arrival of a Japanese car been so anticipated as the Nissan GT-R. Around here, guys hold up signs reading, "Prepare yourselves, the GT-R is coming!" instead of messages forecasting the end is nigh. To import-car enthusiasts, the arrival of the GT-R to our shores is automotive salvation indeed. Thirty-nine years after the model's debut, it will be sold officially in the U.S. for the first time.
By now you've no doubt seen the final production model. The face of the concept has been slightly reworked, resulting in a milder overall appearance. Gone are the black "running mascara" patches under the headlights. The overall shape and proportions remain the same, with the car measuring 183.1 in. long, 74.6 in. wide and 54.0 in. high. Wheelbase is 109.4 in.
Chief Designer Hiroshi Hasegawa said he wanted to create something that would be instantly associated with what he calls "Japanese modern culture." One primary example of this is Japanese anime, and, as it relates to the GT-R, the science-fiction robot, Gundam.
"I wanted to take something like Gundam -- a purely mechanical object that moves like a living creature -- and instill that quality into the GT-R. We didn't exactly draw direct inspiration from the robot's appearance; we just wanted to make the GT-R look like a living mechanical entity with a distinct Japanese spirit," Hasegawa explained.
He certainly accomplished his goal: Even if you aren't familiar with the now-classic TV series, it's plain to see the robot-ness of the GT-R's styling.
Inside the sheet metal, it's all business. The torso-hugging seats are comfortable and supportive, there's lots of high-grade leather and the steering wheel is compact with a nice thick feel. Of note is a multifunction display on the center dash that shows a variety of information, including driving behavior, engine diagnostics and navigation. The program was designed by Polyphony Digital, the makers of the Gran Turismo driving game.
Supplying the power to the Nissan supercar is a new variant of the VQ engine called VR38. Almost every component of this 3.8-liter V-6 has been specifically designed for the GT-R, including plasma-coated cylinder walls, a high-capacity water pump, thermostat-controlled oil cooler and two IHI turbochargers. The turbos deliver about 11.8 psi-gauge to the all-aluminum powerplant, allowing it to pump out 480 bhp at 6400 rpm and 434 lb.-ft. of torque from 3200 to 5200 rpm. Power is sent to all four wheels via a new 6-speed twin-clutch semiautomatic gearbox (no manual is offered) and an electronic all-wheel-drive system. The transaxle and integrated awd transfer case are located between the rear wheels to help the GT-R achieve 54/46 front/rear weight distribution.
Like the DSG by Audi/VW, the GT-R's gearbox uses two separate clutches to ensure smooth gear changes when in full auto mode, while displaying lightning-fast up- and downshifts in manual mode, performed by paddles behind the steering wheel. There are three different shift maps, with "R" mode being the sportiest. This setting actually predicts your next gear change, based on throttle opening, vehicle speed and braking. The awd system is a new version of Nissan's popular ATTESA E-TS, now equipped with a yaw-rate sensor. This electronically controlled system distributes torque from 2/98 percent front/rear in dry conditions, making it virtually a rear-wheel-drive car, to a 50/50 split on slippery roads.
The Autobahn was the ideal place to sample the GT-R's prowess. There's no trick to launching the car: Put the shifter into 1st gear, and as you lift off the brake pedal, mash down on the throttle. You'll hear a slight chirp from the rear tires, and before you know it, you're gritting your teeth, as the g-forces squeeze the air from your lungs. Whether you upshift manually or leave the gear changes to the computer, the action is fast and flawless. After about 9 seconds, you're going 100-plus mph. I maintained a speed of 175 mph on a nearly empty stretch of Autobahn, and the Nissan was quiet, steady and smooth...so well-mannered at this speed that I enjoyed a conversation with a passenger. The GT-R's slippery CD of 0.27 keeps wind noise minimal.
Kazutoshi Mizuno, project leader of the GT-R, said the 3835-lb. car accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, and to the quarter-mile mark in 11.7. He emphasized that he used R&T's road test procedures as a guideline -- his assistant actually called us during their test to ask about the spacing between cones for the slalom. If he got everything right, the GT-R is among the fastest production cars in the world.
The handling portion of our evaluation occurred at the Nürburgring's south course, home of the German Grand Prix. It has a variety of corners and elevation changes that'll challenge anything on four wheels and punish brakes and tires. Our silver test car felt right at home around the 3.2-mile circuit. The structural rigidity of the GT-R is rock-solid. The suspension, toggled to "R" for this venue (there are also Comfort and Sports settings), felt race-car stiff and provided excellent stability through all variety of turns -- the GT-R just wouldn't get out of shape no matter how hard I pushed it. The suspension system consists of upper and lower A-arms in front and a multilink setup at the rear, with Bilstein dampers all around. Giant 15.0-in.-diameter Brembo cross-drilled rotors and 6-piston calipers up front and 4-pots in the rear do a commendable job of slowing the GT-R.
After the last car pulled into the pits, the GT-R test session came to a close for everyone...that is, except for R&T.
A few months after the Nürburgring event, Mizuno gave me a unique opportunity to sample a left-hand-drive U.S.-spec GT-R. As soon as I took the first corner, it was immediately noticeable that something was different. The handling balance seemed better than that of the previous car -- there was more compliance to the shocks and springs and improved steering feel. What's more, ride quality was definitely better. Mizuno said that he slightly retuned the suspension, making it more civil but without sacrificing handling. Also, he noted that the lateral weight distribution of the car is better in left-hand-drive configuration because the driver's weight offsets the weight of the front differential and driveshaft, both located right of center.
That Nissan used the Porsche 911 Turbo as the benchmark for the GT-R is no secret; simply look at the hundreds of spy shots of the masked Nissan, and you'll see a Porsche 911 Turbo close by. Mizuno's aim was to surpass the German thunder car in every category, while keeping the price at just over half of the 911 Turbo's MSRP. We'll find out if he succeeded when the GT-R goes on sale in June 2008 (Japan's on-sale date is December 2007).