If you think the new Nissan GT-R has gone soft, you have another think coming.
“OH, SHIT.” With these simple but all-encompassing words, I found myself at the business end of the all-new Nissan GT-R, with both of us at the business end of Eau Rouge, the most storied corner of the Spa- Francorchamps racetrack in Belgium, itself one of the most legendary motorsport venues in the world. F1 drivers adore this highly technical, fast and thrilling circuit, and they have sung paeans to Eau Rouge for decades; to actually experience it is a bucket-list item for a petrolhead. There is, however, one catch — when you drive into it for the first time, it’s frankly terrifying.
Here’s how it goes. You hurtle downhill and into a slight left-hander, which immediately leads to a very steep, uphill right-hander — it’s so steep that Michael Schumacher once described it as “flying downhill and seeing a big mountain in front of you.” From the car, you can’t see this corner’s exit, so you have no idea where you’re going to end up. Once you manage to negotiate this right turn, you find yourself in a left-handed kink, which opens out into what seems like another right-hander; at this point, your instincts scream “Right! Right!”, but if you were to heed them and turn too much, you’d find yourself in the gravel, or worse. As it happens, all you need to do is apply a very light steering correction and cut through this turn, rocketing onto the straight that follows. To give you some sort of perspective, F1 cars routinely tackle Eau Rouge at close to 300 kph.
I’m able to narrate all this with the benefit of hindsight, of course. When I faced Eau Rouge for the first time, all that came to mind was the scatological reference mentioned earlier, accompanied by a thorough workout of my sphincter muscles, which pulsed in rhythm with the GT-R’s array of safety gizmos, working to keep me right side up. The car, in stark contrast to me, seemed totally unconcerned about the events that were playing out before it — it simply put its nose to the ground and scalpelled its way through that series of turns. I must add that the weather conditions at the time were less than ideal as well — the whole track was slick with rain, and the fog was toying with the idea of drifting in and reducing visibility to near-zero. Indeed, when we’d arrived at the track, we were told it had been shut, due to the weather; this led to the assembled journalists vowing to camp there until it cleared, since it would have been a travesty to come all the way to Spa and not be able to drive the circuit.
Sheer pace; better comfort; mad looks
Still a little clinical
It would be appropriate to give you a little GT-R history here. Nissan’s flagship is one of the heaviest-hitting supercars ever made, and it has a giant-killing reputation going back to when it was first launched. The GT-R really came into its own in the 1990s and 2000s, when it was not uncommon to find tuned versions making as much as 1000 bhp. The car has a cult following, as much for its brutal, thuggish performance as for the fact that it costs much less than the German and Italian competition. It has been accused of being a cold-hearted machine, concerned only with going very fast and melting your face, but that doesn’t matter to its legions of fans, who regularly laugh all the way past startled Porsches and Ferraris.
Having briefly gone out of production, the GT-R was resurrected in 2007, and has since been gradually tweaked and refreshed through the years. The car you see here is the 2017 version, and with it, Nissan has decided to do something unusual, something nobody thought would happen – they’ve made it a friendlier machine, and for something that’s nicknamed ‘Godzilla’, the new GT-R is a surprisingly easy car to drive.
It doesn’t look very different, it has to be said. The GT-R has always resembled a Japanese teenager’s automotive wet dream, and it still looks like that, all slashes and sharp edges and Transformer-like exterior. If you look (very) closely, you’ll see that the grille has been redesigned, to aid engine cooling, and the bonnet is more rigid, with a more efficient spoiler up front. The C-Pillar has been kinked back ever so slightly, and there’s a new wing at the back, to give the car better downforce; the wheels are a new design as well. As always, the GT-R looks nice enough from the front and absolutely rip-snorting from the back, with those iconic tail lights being the talking point, in conjunction with the quadruple exhausts.
The car’s cabin was never its strong point, and although it’s been vastly improved, it still can’t hold a candle to the 911s and AMG GTs of the world in terms of visual appeal and quality of materials. Having said that, it’s now a much better place to sit in, with a number of useful additions and subtractions – the shift paddles are now on the steering wheel rather than the column, and the previous car’s bewildering array of buttons and switches have been cut from 27 to a more manageable 11. There’s a new 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, the instrument cluster still adjusts vertically with the steering column and the centrally mounted gauges still give you information about everything the car is doing, so hard core fans should be happy.
It’s the powertrain and ride/handling departments that see the most significant changes. Never lacking for shove, the GT-R now makes 565 horsepower and 64.5 kgm of torque, up from 545 horsepower and 64 kgm; the increases are thanks to greater boost pressure in the 3.8-litre, V6 engine’s twin turbochargers. The sound coming out of those titanium exhausts is meaty enough, but it’s not very evocative — a Jaguar F-Type V6, for example, will raise more hairs. Still, once you’re on the move, the GT-R is up for raising hell — or not. As I’ve mentioned earlier, Nissan has put a bowtie on this Godzilla, so it’s become quieter, more civilised and less violent than it used to be.
It’s quite happy to rumble about at slow speeds, which is something I had to do a lot of, given the pouring rain on my driving route from Dusseldorf to Spa-Francorchamps. The six-speed dual clutch transmission has been fettled to provide more smoothness, which it does, and better insulation levels mean that there’s no relentless amounts of road noise intruding into the cabin. Once you find a suitable stretch of road (or racetrack) and floor the accelerator, the GT-R perks up instantly and gets to work doing what it does best — slaying 0-100 kph times.
This is one of the quickest accelerating cars in the world, and you’ll see 100 kph come up in under 3 seconds, almost before you have the time to blink. The engine’s extra power kicks in after 4000 rpm, after which it’s one big rush up to the car’s 313 kph top speed, a faint turbo whoosh accompanying this ride. The gearbox doesn’t miss a beat, and even though it only has six speeds, you never feel like you’re short a cog. The brakes, unsurprisingly, have tremendous bite (a very useful feature when out on the racetrack).
Mercedes AMG GT
Aston Martin Vantage
In the older car, even a run down to the supermarket left your fillings in danger of dislodgment, such was the unforgivingly harsh nature of the suspension. In this GT-R, the Bilstein shock absorbers are more forgiving and are adjustable, with Normal, Comfort and R modes. Some structural modifications at the front and rear have also led to better torsional rigidity, which has resulted in better handling and stability levels — the GT-R absolutely monstered through the Spa circuit, even in those filthy conditions, its all-wheel drive system helping it along in no small measure; it’s rear-biased, but can do a 50-50 torque split if it thinks things are getting out of hand.
In a sense, Nissan has succeeded at what it set out to do — the GT-R is no longer the kind of car that wallops its driver as comprehensively as it does track records. On the other hand, Godzilla is still a clinical, focussed, go-fast machine that will eat more expensive competitors for breakfast Out later this year, for an estimated Rs 2 crore, it’s the kind of car that those obsessed with ballistic performance will be very interested in — and their spines will no longer scream along with the engine at its redline.