You’re going to like the new Nissan R35 GTR. A lot. But you’re also going to have to wait for it, like it or not. The official line from Nissan GB is that it won’t go on sale in the UK until, yawn, March 2009 – and when it does it’ll cost ‘between £55,000-60,000.’Unofficially, it went on sale in Japan on December 5 for 7.7 million Yen (just over £31,000, ouch!). And although the first 2500 out of the annual 10,000 production run have already been sold, there’s another reason why you won’t be seeing GTRs in the UK for a while yet. Nissan GB is threatening to punish anyone Tesco-Levi Jeans style who imports and tries to sell an R35 GTR in this country for anything less than the intended list price. Grey importers, in other words, won’t be getting their hands on cars anytime soon, not to sell on at a profit at any rate. Which is a pity because, having just driven the car in Japan on both road and track, I can tell you it’s a heck of a machine. Not just quick with a capital F (you expect that from a car with 477bhp and four-wheel-drive, even if it does weigh a lardy-sounding 1740kg) but also mind-spankingly composed. Way more so than a Porsche 911 turbo if you really start to lean on it, which is maybe not surprising considering Nissan benchmarked the Turbo during every inch of the GTR’s five year development program.
The technical highlights of the new GTR come at you so thick and fast it’s hard to know quite where to begin. If the engine spec sounds impressive – it’s a bespoke 3.8-litre V6 which, says NISMO, bears only a passing relation to the 3.8-litre V6 of the Infiniti G35 and 350Z but which does have twin IHI turbos and develops 477bhp and 433lb ft – then the chassis is very much the centre piece of the car technically. As with previous GTRs it’s four wheel drive and centrally controlled by a very clever brace of computers, but this time it’s massively more complex and allows you to do things on the road which no other car will allow. The reasons why are various, and not especially simple to understand. For starters there’s just one rear-mounted transaxle into which every key component of the drivetrain is contained. No one’s ever done that before but, says Nissan, this adds strength and saves weight compared with a conventional four wheel-drive-system (although that still doesn’t explain why the GTR weighs as much as it does).
Chief engineer of the entire GTR project, Mizuno-san, reckons he could just about get the weight down to below 1600kg if pushed – by reducing the huge 380mm brakes front and rear, swapping to lighter conventional tyres in place of the standard run flats and binning
many of the interior luxuries (heated electric seats, cruise control, BOSE stereo etc). But in doing so he’d need to sacrifice too much of the GTRs inherent strength and durability. So when the V-Spec version appears in Japan in ‘about one year’s time’ expect it to be half way between the two extremes. Around 1650kg in weight and even more focused than the standard GTR we drive here. Not that the standard GTR is what you’d call blunt. Genuinely it feels sharper than a 911 Turbo on the road, which is saying something. More accelerative (the official zero to 60mph is 3.5sec, the top speed 194mph), better steering, less roly-poly during high speed direction changes, and more sorted generally, especially on a track.
Nissan claims its testers have recorded a 7min 37sec lap of the Nurburgring but, apparently, certain sections of the lap were wet when the time was set. They also have data for a 7min 38sec lap on which the driver was blocked by a slower car for several corners. Both laps were recorded using original equipment Bridgestone RE070A tyres, in other words with the car containing no secret tweaks or tricks. In reality they reckon it’ll do a low seven-thirty – maybe a 31 or 32 – whereas a 911 Turbo wearing far more trick rubber with Walter the wheelman at the controls, could ‘only’ manage 7min 40sec. Truth is the GTR is a good 10sec quicker round the ‘Ring, maybe a little bit more.
And on the road it feels even quicker than that. Lag from the twin-turbo 3.8 is almost non-existent above 2500rpm, and by 3000rpm it fires the GTR towards the horizon with such conviction you wonder whether the tarmac can take it. Partly it’s the traction but mostly it’s the pure and efficient flow of power to the road that makes the GTR feel so rapid. And that’s before you so much as mention what it can do through corners, which is when the gap between it and the 911 Turbo really opens up.
There are no less than three driver aid systems, each of which can be tailored to suit an individual’s preferences. One controls the dampers, another the TC system, and another both the traction and stability systems. You can set them each to Race, Normal, or switch ‘em off completely, depending what road surface you’re driving on. And how brave you’re feeling at the time. With everything set in Race the GTR can be driven very aggressively on the throttle, especially on the way out of corners, mainly because it’s been designed to dial out understeer in this mode. So when you feel the nose running wide in, say, a third gear corner, rather than backing off to shed speed, you plant the throttle harder and, instantly, more torque flows to the rear axle and, presto, the understeer goes away. Then as if by
magic the nose tightens its line and you scream out of the corner with a whiff of opposite lock applied. And a round of applause from any one who happens to be watching. Switch the TC off altogether and the tail will come right round if you give it the full beans, but at the same time there’s still enough torque at the front axle to pull you out of the corner. Result? M3 style sideways amusement but with monster traction (read huge ground speed) thrown in as a bonus. And then there’s the interior, which is a surprisingly decent place in which to spend time, the proper sized boot, the never-ending standard equipment list, the looks. And the image.
The only downside is that the ride is stiff to the point of irritation over rough surfaces, even with the dampers set to Comfort. That could be a real issue in the UK, what with our beautifully surfaced, not even remotely pockmarked roads. But Nissan GB has time to sort that locally. And in any case, you’d be inclined visit the dentist more often if the rest of the car is as sensational as it is. Tech note; the twin turbos are no longer ceramic so the R35 GTR can no longer be tuned with relative ease to deliver massively more horsepower than standard. In fact, Nissan has written an anti-modification program into the ECU software to prevent the GTR from being tuned. They are even talking about de-validating the warranty on cars they know have been tampered with, although for sure someone, somewhere will find a way to tune their car. What’s not known, however, is how much more the new bottom end can take. The rumour is circa 600bhp, possibly less.