GT-R RETROSPECTIVE: Blood Sports - Nissan GT-R

An awesome combination of applied science and brute force engineering grabbed Group A by the throat. Now, Nissan has unleashed the beast in road-going form.

GT-R RETROSPECTIVE: Blood Sports - Nissan GT-R

The Correvit couldn't spit the information out fast enough. We knew it was a good run, but we still weren't prepared for the standing 400 metre time. From a launch that smacked your head against the headrest, the Nissan Skyline GT-R offered itself to the breeze, pushing the envelope with every gear change.

Lackety-Iackety-Iackety . .. the printer took a lifetime to punch out the numbers against the background of a twin turbo straight six winding down. Finally, the figures came through: 13.7 seconds; 159.7 km/h.

That's quick. We laughed with the sheer elation of turning such savage motion into tangible numbers. For a moment, we could grasp what it was like for Jim Richards and Mark Skaife.

From the front, it's all puffed guards, fat paws and squinting eyes; it is, as some would say, one tuff muther. Okay, American muscle cars of the late '60s recorded faster times out of the blocks, but that's all they did. That the Skyline is equally challenging and exhilarating across sinuous stretches makes it a very special coupe indeed.

Born of a desire to tear the heart out of all Group A Touring Cars now and yet to come, the white-hot Skyline was always going to be one for the record books. It's a product of '901', the methodology behind Nissan's desire to become the world's Number One car maker in the 1990s. To do that, it acknowledged it had to lift its design and engineering game. It had to build cars like the Skyline GT-R.

The backroom boys took the long handle and included almost every piece of advanced technology at their disposal. And, according to the 901 philosophy, it all had to come together in a manner that made the GT-R satisfying to drive. It wasn't designed to flesh out a flowery brochure, it was designed to work...

An appointment with the Calder drag strip followed a routinely slow passage through Melbourne's blocked arterials. The GT-R's flicknife character took a back seat while jostling for space with alarmingly wayward taxis in the economically (and psychologically) depressed CBD.

Mental notes began to stack up. The GT-R doesn't like small amplitude bumps, causing light suspension patter and drumming through the cabin, and potholes confirm via your vertebrae that this is a tightly suspended car. Bucket seats cuddle tighter than a lonely aunt; the steering wheel is thick rimmed and soft to touch, and the clutch, although heavy on first acquaintance, becomes co-operative once leg muscles adapt.

The twin turbo 2.6 litre powerplant was oblivious to our staccato progress. Brushing the throttle was the only requirement for a clean take off on the flat, belying the GT-R's tremendous reserves of mechanical angst, reserved for the higher rev ranges.

It was so easy, whether kerb crawling in first gear with no pressure on the throttle pedal, or prematurely selecting the next ratio with the tacho needle nudging 2000 rpm. Rolling on or off the throttle at very low revs wasn't accompanied by the nervous spasms associated with less refined transmissions.

The assisted six has oodles of torque for low engine and road speed running, but 355 Nm of twisting force doesn't arrive until 4400 rpm, when both turbochargers' ceramic impellers are gleefully spinning like tops. It's turbo lag territory below this point, as a relatively naturally aspirated engine attempts to haul 1530 kg while your right boot's stomping against the plate.

At 3000 revs, there are signs of interest from under the bonnet, increasing in a linear fashion to 3500. Hit four grand, and the world's a beautiful place. The GT-R's accelerative prowess from this point to 6500 rpm is phenomenal, forcing an invisible hand against your chest and sending your left hand to the gear lever anticipating quick fire upshifts.

The six roars with heavy induction, then howls as it sprints athletically through a mid-range that dares the driver to push on. It's muffled, for sure, but you can hear and feel the Skyline race car. The engine has a sharp edged note that tears at the ears and pricks something deep and instinctive within anyone whose love for cars transcends plastic wheel trims and stick-on Garfield toys.

With the full 205 kW quota marching in at 6800 rpm, the 24 valve Nissan six steams on to the indicated 7450 rpm redline. A noticeable drop-off in acceleration isn't evident once past the nominated power peak; in fact, the GT-R easily slides over the edge and on to a bed-of-nails limiter at a staggering 8200 rpm. That's big numbers for a production six and a testament to the engine's balance.

Bringing up the 400 metre mark in 13.7 secs, 100 km/h in 5.4 and 160 km/h in 13.8 was a Herculean effort, made partly possible by the ATESSA transmission configuration. Nissan says it based the GT-R around a rear drive layout, adding front drive simply to help out, not dominate. The static torque split is biased 100 per cent to the limited slip rear end. Once the rear breaks traction, the maximum value becomes 50 per cent rear and 50 per cent front. The amount of slip is closely monitored by a silicon brain that thinks in stereo, transferring drive front and rear depending on the grip balance. The GT-R's tendency to break the rear wheels free is a help when looking for maximum acceleration from rest, because it prevents the engine from bogging and falling off boost.

It's easy to be drawn into only admiring the Skyline GT-R's powerplant. Yes, it has the most useable fourth gear you'll ever find and, yes, it's cause for a significant increase in blood pressure but that ain't the whole story. Turning at each extreme via the Super HICAS four-wheel steering system, the GT-R is a handling and roadholding revelation for a car of its weight.

With the first decent deviation, there was no overriding sensation of body roll, or even weight shift. Up to seven-tenths, you could run a spirit level across the bonnet and find the GT-R sitting flat. The overriding impression is of G force; heavy and sustained while ever the steering wheel points away from the horizontal.

And at seven-tenths, the GT-R is so neutral and so bloody fast that it's mentally awkward to push harder. In fact, it's so good most drivers will have to face the challenge of catching up with the car before getting more adventurous. Even driving a BMW M5 doesn't prepare you for the GT-R's demands on concentration and depth perception when shifting hard.

Not that it's a difficult car to punt swiftly. Its limits are so high that you will traverse in comfort any piece of road that at the same pace would leave a Commodore Group A driver wide-eyed - but it will exceed most drivers' accustomed limits long before it wants to go bush. Reading the road ahead and processing information at a rate more rapid than anything you're used to is an art form that takes considerable care to learn. Ham-fisted back street heroes need not apply.

Your instincts tell you that when this thing lets go, it won't be pretty. Not true. Open sweepers can be attacked in a sweet, flowing arc, with the steering and chassis encouraging satellite accuracy. Roll steer is negligable, with the effect of four-wheel steering evident only on turn-in to tightening corners at high speed.

The shift in weight combined with sudden lock application has a tendency to flick the GT-R into the corner. It's rare to approach that level of commitment and, when you do, the behaviour isn't unsettling or even vaguely disturbing, so reassuring is the Skyline's manner.

Nissan's sophisticated Super HICAS system works in two distinct steps; initially in reverse phase (with the rear wheels' turning through a small arc in the opposite direction to the front) before moving to the parallel phase.

The steering is superb; there's no other word for it. On-road, its level of power assistance falls neatly between the two extremes and offers good feel around the centre. It's weighting is just right, and remains consistent no matter how far the steering wheel revolves through its 2.6 turns lock to lock. The system's accuracy and feel remain intact no matter what the road speed.

Ninety degree corners can be attacked a little more vigorously and here, the GT-R understeers initially and requires some thought to give its best. Mindlessly sink the boot, and the bespoilered Nissan runs wide then wider. Using throttle control to keep the line tight returns it to neutrality, and then the fun begins...

It's at this point that the turbos start to turn and, boy, you've got to hang on. Reminded of the car's speed on corner entry, the Skyline now delivers another impromptu sermon on acceleration. The tail squats, revs rise at a ridiculous rate, and the tail steps out... and out! Catch it with 180 degrees of steering lock, feather the throttle, and the Skyline voluntarily accepts the leash.

It's fast, alright, and it would be a bad mistake to underestimate the car's ability to cover ground. Technical advancement, after all, should never compromise a driver's sense of mortality. The key is, as always, slower in, faster out, anticipating boost on the exit, and keeping a consistent cornering speed, pulling boost in as early as possible.

Ride improves at these speeds, because the stiff calibration on springs and dampers copes better with the increased forces. The transmission, so sweet at low speeds, maintains the ease of shift and solid engagement that endeared it in the first place. The speed of the shift seems to be inconsequential - Nissan's five-speeder will cope no matter how hurried the driver becomes.

Braking isn't as impressive. Fitted with an anti-lock system and massive ventilated rotors, the GT-R's anchors require a hefty prod on the centre pedal. They lack subtlety, preventing those incremental movements in the initial braking motion that make some stoppers so appealing. Pedal travel is short and makes heavy demands with little reward. Yes, they work; no, they're not in keeping with the GT-R's general ambience.

And ambience is the keyword in the conception of this car. Despite the GT-R's muscular machismo, its interior is a field of soft curves and even softer touches. Those bucket seats hang on tight and offer excellent support, but their appearance and material could have been formed from the action of water.

The shifter looks uncomfortable but slides smoothly into the palm. The dash is as integrated as the 300ZX's but more tasteful, offering well conceived binnacle controls with stubby knobs for lights and wipers. Instruments are clear and well positioned, but. a number are probably there for sales purposes only. After all, it's hard to take in speedo, tacho, water temperature, oil pressure, front axle torque, fuel level, turbo boost, oil temperature and volts in a single day...

Thankfully, Nissan sussed out the ergonomics, giving the wheel tilt and reach, and a dead pedal you can actually use without transmission tunnel intrusion.

Rear leg room - this is, after all, a 2+2 - is surprisingly capacious. You couldn't call this a genuine four seat sedan, but it's certainly capable of carrying four adults for a reasonable distance without requiring medical attention.

Same goes for head room, which is excellent front and rear. Road noise becomes obtrusive across virtually any surface, caused by a combination of little noise abatement material (no doubt for weight) and considerable contact patches. And you don't have to be at warp speed for noise around the A pillar.

Putting the beast into perspective, there are very, very few people who will ever see its limits on a public road - the velocities the GT-R can comfortably sustain are simply beyond the realms of normal thinking (and driving) individuals. At $110,000, many will see it as frivolous and anti-social. Let them, because they won't see that the GT-R is a two-seater sports car inside a coupe body. Japan has put the meaning back into GT.


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