Nissan’s monster machine

Nissan’s monster machine

In its latest form, Nissan’s GT-R remains one of the world’s most iconic performance cars. Wynter Murdoch reports

There’s plenty about Nissan’s GT-R that makes it alluring to pilot – neck-snapping acceleration; lightning-fast gear changes; good dynamic balance in the chassis and power to all wheels.


In the 50 years since the original’s debut at the 1968 Tokyo Motor Show, the model has undergone many significant changes, evolving from a four-door sedan to a racy coupé to a sports icon dubbed Godzilla in honour of its monster performance capabilities. One thing has remained constant, however – it’s ability to astonish.


The latest model to come to South Africa –the 50th Anniversary Edition – is based on a platform that is more than a decade old. It’s a tribute to Nisan’s design and engineering prowess that, apart from a few aesthetic embellishments, the vehicle remains true to the benchmarks set by its forerunners and, measured against rivals, continues to set the pace for aerodynamic styling, interior space and an uncanny ability to unleash on tarmac all of the engine’s 550 horses with nary a squeal of protest from the tyres.


In standard trim, the GT-R will easily clock less than 3,0 seconds in reaching the 100km/h mark from standstill, going on to a top speed of 315km/h. That’s terrific velocity from a V6 powered vehicle, even if the engine is helped by redeveloped twin turbochargers and plasma sprayed, low-friction piston bores.


One of the secrets of the car’s high-speed success is the way it sculpts the air through which it travels, the result of the original development team’s two-year test session at the Lotus Group’s rolling-road wind tunnel in Europe, complimented by another 18 months of experimentation at aerodynamicist Yoshitaka Suzuka’s facilities in Japan.


At least, that’s what Nissan claims. For the driver, though, the fruits of those labours are manifest the surprisingly low levels of wind noise in the cabin at ultra-high speeds and the solidly stable feel of the car on the road, due in part to incorporation of a canard-like wing at the front spoiler, a partial underbody cover that’s designed to accelerate airflow under the car, a bonnet that’s been reinforced to prevent flex, and a carbon fibre rear diffuser tray that helps to increase downforce.


Incidentally, stylistic tweaks to the 2017 GT-R – the vehicle upon which the 50th Anniversary Edition is based – saw a redesign of side sills, the rear pillar and extensions to the back bumper, cutting the coefficient of drag by one percent to achieve a figure of 0,26, excellent for a car that’s 4 710mm long, 1 895mm wide and 1 370mm high.


The anniversary edition’s engine, too, has been upgraded thanks to refinements to the turbocharging system – adopted from Nissan’s FIA GT3 race car – and is said to offer a five percent improvement in throttle response times compared with that of the previous version, though power and torque outputs remain unchanged at 408kW and 632Nm respectively.


While the engine is high-revving – maximum power output is achieved at close to 7 000 rpm – the car is easy to drive in traffic, since the unit provides peak torque in a band that stretches from 3 300 rpm to the 5 800 rpm mark. Also, the six-speed, dual clutch auto ’box offers rapid-fire, seamless shifts – it is said to be capable of swapping cogs in just 0,15 seconds, about the time it takes to blink – and incorporates a pleasant-sounding, synchro-rev feature on down changes.     


Just as effortlessly as the car accelerates to its top speed, so is it uncomplaining when tasked with relentlessly chugging around town. With its sophisticated, multi-mode electronic management system set to the most relaxed of suspension settings, steering effort and engine responses the vehicle morphs from high-performance beast to comfortable, four-seat commuter.


Improvements made to the brake system – 390mm rotors and six-pot callipers at the front and 380mm and four-pot equivalents at the rear – appear to have enhanced pedal feel, with stopping power remaining strong and sharp.


Though coming from a brand that specialises in the mass production of vehicles, the GT-R demonstrates the infinite value of handcrafted expertise – its exhaust system, for instance, hewn from notoriously difficult to work with titanium and machined by specialists, not only looks good but sounds wonderful, too.


On this point, for those who don’t like exhaust noise roaring into the cabin, Nissan has equipped the GT-R with active sound cancellation to mute the clamour at the flick of a switch. And, while on the subject of sound, the vehicle’s 11-speaker Bose audio system has been designed as part of the car, rather than an addendum.


Die-cast aluminium structures in the doors and behind the rear seats not only help to make the vehicle incredibly rigid, they also provide an ideal mount for the speakers to guarantee optimum sound.  The dual subwoofers between the rear seats were specially developed for the GT-R, too, precisely angled to work with the sound of the car itself while utilising the space in the large boot as a giant bass enclosure.


Another point in the vehicle’s favour… unlike many of its supercar rivals, the Nissan proves that real-world practicality and staggering performance get along very well. With usable rear seats and a spacious trunk, the GT-R could be more than a weekend car – it could be your only car!


The anniversary edition – which was unveiled in April at the 2019 New York International Auto Show – comes in three heritage-era, two-tone exterior colour combinations which emulate the GT-R's liveries from the Japan GP series.


Inside, a special grey colour scheme gives the cabin a sense of luxury, complimented by features which include a model-specific steering wheel and shift knob trim, special seat embossing and Alcantara-finished headliner and sun visors. The dashboard is upholstered in Nappa leather – hand selected for tone – which, to save weight, needs less padding to retain its soft, supple feel.


One of the central focal points of the cockpit is an eight-inch, multi-touch infotainment screen which includes audio, navigation and a configurable display system that allows the driver to control key functions by rotating a dial. For instance, he or she can keep an eye on what the engine is doing by viewing turbo boost, oil temperature and pressure or, alternatively, monitor g-forces and throttle position or simply check coolant, oil and transmission fluid temperatures.


There’s also a stopwatch activated from the steering wheel to record lap times if the vehicle is being driven on a track, with USB ports positioned on the centre console to enable downloads and storage of the data. Another feature allows the driver see how well the car remains under control when cornering.


And, believe me – it’s not only in a straight line that the GT-R is fast! Equipped with Nissan describes as one of the world’s most advanced all-wheel-drive systems – which includes equally advanced stability control – the vehicle tends to engender in the driver a superior sense of confidence when powering through a corner.


Grip levels are extremely high, the specially-developed, nitrogen filled, 20-inch Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT 600 DSST CTT ultra high-performance tyres designed to work in concert with suspension movement – even down to stabilising blocks of rubber in the tread pattern to combat squirm.


Instead of the traditional 50/50 torque split between front and rear axles, the GT-R’s electronically controlled drivetrain is designed to provide up to nearly 100 percent of available torque to the rear wheels and send up to 50 percent of torque to the front wheels. The result is a steering feel and dynamic response similar to that of a rear-wheel drive vehicle, but with a lot more grip.


With most of the body manufactured from carbon aluminium die-cast steel – a combination of carbon fibre, aluminium and steel – and underpinnings hewn from die-cast aluminium as well as lightweight carbon composites, the GT-R feels light on its wheels despite its size – and agile, too.


For night driving, headlights feature four LED units that replicate daylight, offering excellent illumination thanks to a super-wide beam. During the day, hyper LED driving lights are highly visible to other road users – a useful feature given the GT-R’s performance capabilities.


Janus Janse van Rensburg, marketing manager for Nissan Performance Cars, says the GT-R has been the lodestar for high performance driving for the past half century. “We are incredibly proud of where we have come from and of the direction in which we are headed,” he says. “I its newest form, the car offers plenty of excitement and unparalleled refinement. We look forward to carrying the sterling reputation that it has built for itself into the future and beyond.”