Sophisticated samurai

The Nissan GTR is cheap, but it has qualities of a car that costs ten times more.

The Nissan GTR has received plaudits from some but, despite its heady specification and relatively low price tag of just over £50,000, it has not yet found the universal acclaim that it may have expected.

One man who failed to be inspired was 'Top Gear' presenter Jeremy Clarkson, who said in the Times: "On the road, it is quite simply, how can I put this... very underwhelming. The noise it makes is normal. The ride is normal. The steering is normal. You can adjust all the settings as much as you like but it'll make no difference. It still feels like a big Sunny.

"It's not pretty either. I know every shape and every crease serves an aerodynamic purpose but it's like free-form poetry. It's like it was conceived by Bartok."

On the face of it, it is difficult to understand quite why the car has left one of the UK's fast car aficionados so underwhelmed.

Under the skin

Bucking the trend of automotive manufacturing, the new Nissan GT-R features a custom-designed chassis - no platform sharing for this beast. With the engine located behind the rear axle, the car boasts an impressive 50/50 weight distribution and with Nissan's ATTESA E-TS all-wheel-drive system delivering power to all four wheels, its performance will match its styling.

In normal running, the front-to-back power split is mostly toward the rear. In hard acceleration at low speed, the split is 50/50, but beyond that, power delivery to the front wheels does not exceed 30 per cent.

According to Nissan, the car will reach 60mph in 3.5 seconds, a quarter-mile in 11.7, and has a top speed north of 185mph. Those are serious numbers. For contrast, the Porsche 911 Turbo did the same in 3.8 and 12.2 seconds, respectively.

Getting high performance from two tonnes of machinery requires some significant grunt, and the GT-R has plenty: 480 horsepower at 6,400rpm, 434 lb-ft of torque from 3,200 to 5,200rpm - not quite as much as Porsche's 3.6-litre flat-six.

The source for all this power is a twin-turbo 3.8-litre twin-cam 24-valve 60-degree over-square aluminum V6 (VR38) with variable valve timing on both cams and plasma-applied coating on the cylinder walls, rather than steel liners.

"In designing the new GT-R, 'GT-R-ness' was always on our minds," explains designer Hiroshi Hasegawa. "For example, [we kept] the edgy form of the first-generation GT-R and the four ring-shaped tail lamps that started with the GC110.

"With the second-generation GT-R, the front opening was made to look like one continuous form between the grille and bumper openings. The theme was passed on to the 2001 GT-R Concept and also appeared on the 2005 GT-R Proto.

"When seen as an auto-show car, the graphic design was quite impactful," explains Hasegawa, "but when we thought about the car on the road, the black vertical graphic from the headlamps was too strong against the three-dimensional form. It was deleted because it would compromise the strength and solid feel of the front design.

"Many previous GT-Rs have the notchback coupe silhouette," says Hasegawa. "The new GT-R doesn't have a flowing cabin silhouette. Instead, it has an angled accent on the C-pillar as an attempt to keep the image of a notchback coupe."

Although the engine has great potential, Nissan have decided to make the engine control unit tamper-proof. The objective seems to be to portray the engine as environmentally friendly. But engine tuners always manage to crack the codes, and one of the first to achieve this feat was MINE's in Yokosuka, Japan.

The prodigious power is delivered to the road by an Aichi Kikai six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transaxle with triple cone synchros. The car also features stability and traction-control systems, although Nissan are very cagey about their exact details.

The transmission has full automatic and manual modes, and the paddle shifters operate in both, the difference being that in manual mode the selected gear remains engaged until the driver selects another.

Multimode also applies to the suspension, which features monotube Bilstein Damptronic shocks at all four corners that automatically vary damping across three presets - comfort, for town driving; sports, the default setting, a little firmer for daily use; and R, for track use.

Anyone, anywhere, anytime

Kazutoshi Mizuno is the former head of Nissan's Daytona and Le Mans racing program and a notable exception in the vast bureaucracy of Japanese auto manufacturing.

"I want the GT-R to make super car performance in all conditions," he says. In his estimation, the current crop of super cars are designed to perform only in optimal conditions (in the dry, at a track) with an experienced driver behind the wheel. His GT-R is the exact opposite: "Anyone, anywhere, anytime."

To create the performance of a quarter of a million pound super car, Mizuno started with an all-new chassis. Distinct from the FM (front-midship) configuration of such rear-drive Nissans as the 350Z and Infiniti G35, the PM chassis features an independent-transaxle-based all-wheel-drive system.

Sending engine output to a rear-mounted transmission is believed to be a first for a front-engine all-wheel-drive production car due to cost and complexity as it needs two driveshafts, but there are key advantages. The first is better weight distribution; a transaxle layout puts more weight over the rear tyres and helps the GT-R achieve near 50:50 weight distribution under acceleration. At rest, the ratio is more like 53:47.

The precision geometry of the transaxle design has another advantage. Mizuno's team engineered one degree of crankshaft tilt from front to rear that becomes zero degrees under acceleration. This means it's a straight shot from engine to rear diff, reducing wasted output. A carbon-fibre driveshaft is used to reduce not only weight but noise and vibration as well.

The transaxle setup also gears up the GTR for a new dual-clutch transmission and AWD system. Similar to other systems on the market, the GT-R's twin-clutch transmission features six forward gears that can be manually engaged via steering-wheel-mounted paddles or a console-mounted shifter. Nissan claims Formula 1 shift speeds as quick as 0.2 second in R mode

Control heart

At the heart of the GT-R's control system is Nissan's famed ATTESSA-ETS (Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All-Terrains). As with much of what is under the skin of the car, Nissan are frugal with their information. However, from the meagre scraps of information that have leaked out of Japan it is clear that the resemblance to the traditional system is in name only.

The traditional system was based primarily on mechanical feedback, whereas the one incorporated in the GT-R uses electronic sensors and hydraulically actuated clutches, similar to those of the Haldex 4 system used by Saab.

"No Japanese car has a weight-to-power ratio below 4kg/hp [8.8lb/hp]," Mizuno adds.

Skyline supreme

One of the standout features of the old Skyline was the innovative use of LCD displays that displayed everything from lateral acceleration and lap times to oil temperature and boost pressure. In the GT-R Nissan have taken this approach a step further.

It features five distinct modes that deliver literally reams and reams of real-time performance data. To make sure that it all operates intuitively, Nissan turned to video gaming
and Kazunori Yamauchi, the legendary creator of Sony's 'Gran Turismo' video-game series, to help design the menu structure.

But despite all that, Clarkson cannot acclaim the car as one to aspire to. "This, then, is an extraordinary car, quite unlike anything I've driven before," he concludes.

"You might expect it, with all its yaw sensors and its G readout on the dash, to feel like a laptop. Or you might expect, with all that heavy engineering, for it to feel like a road-going racer. But it is neither of these things.

"It certainly doesn't feel like it could do a 7.29 minute lap of the Ring. Even though I've seen a film of it doing just that."

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