“Deceptively quick.” That’s a phrase often used to describe cars so quiet and refined that you find yourself self going faster than you planned sooner than anticipated. There is absolutely nothing nothing deceptive about the Nissan GT-R. In fact, aside from the Lotus Exige, this may be the most brutally honest car I’ve ever driven.
Brutality is utterly fitting for a car known to its fans around the world as Godzilla. Like the Exige, the GT-R offers exceptionally rapid acceleration and amazing handling. Yet despite certain similarities in character that I’ll come back to, these two sports cars couldn’t be more different in execution.
However, where the Exige is a shining example of Colin Chapman’s credo of “simplicate and add lightness,” the GT-R represents the engineers run amok in pursuit of speed and yet more speed. Somewhat like that monster that emerged out of Tokyo Bay in the 1950s.
Slip into the GT-R’s form-fitting seat, press the red button on the center console and Godzilla fires into life and make no mistake, this beast feels alive! With most contemporary cars, starting up is a surprisingly benign process. If you hear the engine at all as it idles, it’s typically a distant whir and everything else mechanical is often so muted that were it not for the lights and touch screens, it’s often hard to tell if anything happened.
The GT-R’s 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V6 spins up and fires and there is never any doubt that it’s running. More surprising though are all of the other sounds. Unlike the delightfully simple mid-engined, manual transmission Lotus, the Nissan powerplant is mounted ahead of the cabin, but behind the front axle line while the big dual-clutch six-speed gearbox is mounted in the back just ahead of the rear axle.
The center tunnel of the car is packed with the exhaust system and two drive shafts, one connecting the engine and gearbox. The second returns part of the gearbox output to the front axle to provide the all-wheel-drive traction and blistering acceleration this beast is known for.
Having all these moving pieces sending torque to and fro generates a lot sound, particularly when maneuvering around at low speeds. Nissan could have added a lot of sound deadening material to neutralize the sounds, but would add weight to a car that is already on the heavy side with a curb weight of 3,851 pounds. Thankfully, the creators realized that the customers that would appreciate this car’s immense performance would likely revel in the aural feedback.
The result is a rawness that is increasingly rare in today’s cars and unlike electronically enhanced soundtracks being used in more and more cars today, it feels authentic. That said, for 2015 Nissan did add a Bose active noise control system to tune out a bit of low-end boominess from the engine, but if I hadn’t seen it on the spec sheet, I never would have noticed. As speeds climb, most of sounds that are prominent at low speeds fade away to be replaced by the roar of the engine, the air rushing over the body and the big tires pounding the pavement. The end result is a visceral delight that any true gearhead will appreciate.
While the GT-R shares some of the unfettered feedback of the Exige, getting in and out is far easier than trying to squeeze into the tiny Brit. Big, wide doors and a reasonable distance from the rocker panel to the roof rail make ingress and egress painless. However, it’s time for Nissan and other automakers to end the silly pretense of putting ornamental back seats in cars like this. Unless the front seat occupants are closer to five feet tall than six, legroom in the back will be essentially non-existent and the sloping roof leaves no meaningful headroom. Just leave out the back seats and save the weight.
Up front though, there is plenty of space and decent visibility to the front, sides and even straight back in the mirror. The view to the rear three-quarters however is limited by that sloping roofline and broad C-pillars. Thankfully, that shouldn’t be much of a problem when switching lanes. As long as you have space directly beside you, just slip over, squeeze the accelerator and the car will sling-shot you clear of anyone that might have been coming up in that lane.
After starting the engine, just slip the lever back into the A position and squeeze the throttle. Despite the power the gearbox has to deal with, the electronics manage the clutches smoothly for effortless and smooth around-town driving, unlike some DCTs offered in more mainstream cars or the single-clutch automated gearbox I first experienced in the Audi R8 some years back.
end the silly pretense of putting ornamental back seats in cars like this
A key element of a great sports car is that it should feel like a direct extension of the driver, responding to inputs NOW! Remarkably, despite its mass, the GT-R manages to accomplish this prime directive. Tapping a shift paddle brings a gear change. Now. Squeezing the accelerator, brings thrust, lots of it. Now. Pressure on the brake pedal triggers the huge six-piston front and four-piston rear Brembos to squeeze the rotors and dissipate kinetic energy. NOW! Turn the wheel … you get the picture. Precise, responsive, elemental.
The engine in particular is a wonder. This is easily the most responsive turbocharged engine I can ever remember driving. Not once did I get even a hint of lag. Tip in the right foot and more speed was there instantly, no matter what the initial velocity was. From a standing start, Godzilla launches cleanly and rapidly. At highway speeds, the time between 70 and 90+ seemed to be virtually negligible.
Ride quality was on the stiff side even with the adjustable dampers set in the comfort mode. However, it wasn’t uncomfortable and body control was excellent even over some notoriously bad Michigan pavement.
The GT-R consumes premium unleaded fuel, but let’s face it, if you have more than $100,000 to spend on a car like this, do you really give a damn how thirsty it is? Besides with barely more than 100 examples a month sold in the U.S. its impact is more than counteracted by a couple of thousand Leafs sold in the same period.
Godzilla has been with us in its current form since late 2007 and it’s due for a replacement within the next two years. That car is expected to follow the rest of the new supercar crowd and adopt some sort of hybrid powertrain. It will no doubt be more efficient and even faster than this already speedy machine. However, I suspect it’s going to lose a lot of the rawness that makes the R35 GT-R such an incredible driver’s machine. If you have the budget and the inclination to own such a car, now is probably the time to act to get a GT-R that is just plain fast, no deception required.
Driving photography by Max Abuelsamid