There are these things that make you question the order. You see, there almost always is a big, broad, wall between the everyday and the exotic, but every once a while comes along an explosive phenomenon which blows the barrier away. What typically ensues is democratization to various extents, along with a question mark in our aptitude’s face about what we perceive as value. It’s akin to knowing a local eatery that serves a better dal makhni for 100 bucks than ITC’s much lauded Dal Bukhara – exquisite, but hideously expensive. These are the OnePlus Ones of the world which emerge out of nowhere and alter people’s perception about the ‘value’ of stuff that sits right atop the price pyramid. And as I talk about such phenomena, it’s tough to think of a better example than the indomitably disruptive Nissan GT-R, a machine that thumbs its cute little Japanese nose at the collective ego of the Germans, Italians and Americans. This, here, is a story about how it feels piloting the legend that has earned the title of Godzilla for destroying whatever came its way.
It’s been 47 years since the Skyline GT-R first arrived. Always known for its solid engineering, the GT-R in its Skyline guise first turned a legend in 1989, when the R32 with its 2.6-litre straight six bludgeoned the scene. The car produced about 320 hp in the Nismo guise, though the spec sheet read only 280 (PS), as the Japanese car making community had an agreement to not create, or to be more precise, not advertise about it if their cars had more than 280 PS. But that wasn’t the headline – the block was engineered to handle more than 500 hp, a fact the tuners and racers exploited to the hilt. The legendary pedigree was carried forth by the R33 and R34 models which created unmatched success stories on racetracks, drag strips and most crucially, on fans’ mindscapes. A whole generation of video gamers grew up on the staple of modding the R34 on their phosphor lit screens.
Then came the R35 GT-R, sans the Skyline prefix and gave the supercar universe a rude shaking up with its mind bogglingly fast acceleration and an ability to translate all that power into unbeatable lap times around the Green Hell. With its 3.8-litre turbo powered engine kicking out 480 horses, the R35, originally was a metal grinding monster with a war machine like aural ambience. It made intimidating grinding and rattling noises thanks to that engine and transmission, and the owners were made to sign a document wherein they acknowledged that the racket created by the monster was perfectly normal lest they bring the car back thinking it was malfunctioning.
The 2015 version, the one we drove at the Buddh International Circuit is aimed to come across as a rehab returned druggie. It’s the same flesh and bones, more or less, sans the cranky, quirky, savage behaviour; but to believe that an addict can ever be completely rehabbed is an extremely optimistic thought in itself.
The R35 in its original avatar was savagely fast, without a doubt. Its suspension wasn’t too spine friendly though, and the fighter-jet like sounds it emanated would sometimes make the passengers eject in fear of exploding along with the car. For 2015, this junkie has been worked upon heavily to be made fit for select social appearances. It’s the same old rebellious soul at heart, but some coercing has made it emerge quieter for those wedding and funeral ceremonies. Fret not, though, the new GT-R’s ability to go fast has also been honed, and our space cadet would still run maniacally towards the podium with the menacing ‘die’ cry at a fund-raising political gathering. The 2015 GT-R is faster, with more finesse, and only god, along with the nerds at Nissan knows how to accomplish both at the same time.
The GT-R thus, for its 2015 avatar, the one that’s soon to roar on our ungraceful streets, has been given thorough training in a finishing school. The prime target of the engineers was the suspension. The springs and the associated dampers were taken back to the board and even the minutest of the details were tweaked. Distribution of load and torque to all four wheels under pressure was refined using a longer unit, while also reworking the front stabilizer and adjusting the spring rates. The bushes were reworked too and the electronic brain supervising the shock absorber valves was operated upon to function faster.
What the activity yielded was considerably more grip, substantially better ride quality along with some more bafflement for rivals.
In addition to the suspension, other wares were given their share of amendment too. Steering, for example is considerably lighter on the new car, thanks to a new hydraulic pump. Sure, the GT-R’s cabin would never be church-like, and there still is quite some noise in there, but it’s not even in the same town as the previous version. Almost 10 kg of sound deadening material has been put to work to insulate your auditory senses from that turbo charged mechanical monstrosity. Then there’s speakerphone driven Bose Active Noise cancellation to bring the sound inside to a perfectly acceptable level.
The shell is now tauter, thanks to lesser tolerances, more accurate fitting and use of extra adhesives on components around the shut lines. Brakes are sharper than ever, and have been engineered for better feedback and modulation. The Dunlop Sport Maxx GT rubber wrapping the 20 inch wheels now comprises softer compound, along with stiffer sidewalls for more grip, and better poise under load.
Some makeup has been applied on the face of our counterculture influenced mutineer friend. He’s been made to shave, too. In material terms, the headlight cluster is new, and now gets mostly horizontal, angular LED DRLs. The new headlight assembly also comprises a new Adaptive Front Lighting System with four LED lamps. At the rear, the twin circular lights which were dotted on the previous version now get a homogenously lit LED glow.
For 2016 the GT-R can be had in the base Premium, Black, which is a step higher, or the top of the line (with more power and kit) NISMO trim. Black trim would get you carbon fibre rear spoiler on a carbon trunk that shaves half the weight from the standard deck.
The changes on the skin are minimal, and the new GT-R for an uneducated fanboy wouldn’t be any different than the previous version. The east-meets-west, angles-meet-curves, function-over-form character of the GT-R is intact – nothing changes if you look at that strikingly unique design holistically.
Under the hood, the 3.8-litre turbo powered V6 petrol motor dishes out a proper supercar like 545hp with an increase of 60 horsepower (up 12 percent) from 2008. Torque is rated at a colossal 628 Nm. Every engine is hand built start to finish, by a “takumi” (master craftsman) whose name is engraved on the car, as it’s considered his creation.
With a lot of help from those wide (255/40ZRF20 front and 285/35ZRF20 rear) tyres, all wheel drive, a 6-speed dual clutch transmission and launch control, the GT-R slingshots to 100 km/h from a standstill in 2.8 seconds flat. That’s fast, very fast – faster than some of the fastest production cars, and fast enough to shove you into that seat backrest like you never have been before.
As former F1 driver Karun Chandhok, our friend and guide for the day, lounges around taking a robotic massage in one of those chairs, I ask him about his inputs on the car before venturing out on the track. “It’s extremely predictable, usable and friendly,” he says “leaves a lot of space for you to drive it freely without getting intimidated.” “It’s just the perfect day for the track with a bright sun, a dry track and just the right temperature for the tyres,” he adds. I rush to the paddocks in reflex.
Down in the paddocks, I wait for the GT-R. We are running behind schedule as the tyres have to be replaced and the fluids replenished. A short wait later, I see it approaching out back. Wide, low, squat, making a guttural, overpowering sound even as it gracefully enters the paddock at a crawling pace. That sight is that of a lion growling and walking indolently back into its den, unmindful of the world around him. Even in his most subdued, least spectacular moment, he walks past the world indifferently, as the onlookers stare on, gasping in awe, fascinated by his regal gait and unassailable presence. That sight is a confluence of respect, fear and exaltation. That’s how legends look. That’s how legends should look.
“It’s more aerodynamic than a bullet” I was told during the product presentation in the lounge, the fact duly quantified in cd (coefficient of drag) terms. I took it in with a fistful of salt, while still doubting my own cynicism – it’s the GT-R, after all.
A few moments later, I see myself looking through the car’s windshield – the pit lane offering a repulsive view, as I can’t test the launch control here. An old hand at driving fast machines, humble and helpful, sits next to me, for guidance. The seat is pleasingly low, the steering and dash a tad too high, for my liking. The cabin is nice, though I find it a tad unpolished and a generation old in terms of material choices when compared to similar European offerings, much to the delight of the tuner mind. This one costs a third of those machines, though, and laps the ‘Ring faster by about half a minute. My cribbing about the interior is sacrilegious.
Right then, I am not allowed to change any settings. The transmission, suspension and VDC (vehicle Dynamic Control) settings can be tuned for Puppy, Pappu and Papa modes, though we are told we’ll run the standard setting for all three. Jokes apart, the transmission can be used in Save, Standard and R modes. R mode is for aggressive, faster, higher-up-the-tacho shifts, Standard for everyday driving, and Save mode for slippery, snow-like conditions for maximum traction. Similarly, suspension can be tuned for comfort, standard and Race modes. Finally, VDC can be turned off, which removes the electronic safety net entirely. It can also be put in to standard or R mode, where the power distribution can be juggled between the front and rear axles for maximum traction.
In Pappu mode, then, I drive off the pitlane at a slow pace, the sound inside the cabin being very mechanical, very raw, very GT-R! While traversing the pit lane, I make good use of the time at hand glancing at that central screen, developed by Polyphony Digital, the video game company, to make customizability and readability easier. It shows you data you’ve never seen in any other car ever, transmission fluid temperature, braking times, transmission oil pressure, G-force… Heck, where am I, really? Inside a PS3 console!?
Alright then, out of the pit lane, down goes the right pedal, and I taste that ludicrous acceleration the first time. It’s tasty, addictively tasty, so tasty, my back knows its flavour! Approaching the first corner, I find the brake pedal a tad bit harder to my liking, but boy, does this thing lose speed – I instantly shift my braking markers a few meters deeper, closer to the corners.
Into the right hander – first corner and the GT-R emphatically introduces me to its monumental grip. This thing sticks! A wide, sweeping uphill bend follows and I gun for the hairpin. My co-passenger is observing keenly, and hasn’t hitherto intervened; he’s been told to, if he’s not comfortable, so that’s a good sign.
Into the hairpin, I try pulling out a wee bit of sideways action, just to gauge my guide’s tolerance level; he looks at me, but stops short of saying something. I see the 1060m backstraight ahead, one of the longest anywhere in the world. The right foot has dug into the pedal already, and apart from the warp hole ahead, I have only a hint of the fuzzy lines which have been created on the flanks of my vision. That 6 speed dual clutch ZF transmission is pretty darned quick, and quite noisy too, but I’m not here on a honeymoon to moan about noise.
It’s not the first time I am driving a 500hp + monster on this straight, but that distance has never felt so short. Into the 150 meter marker, I am well past the double ton mark, and the only reason I am a tad shy of 250 kays is because this one’s supposed to be the ‘sighting lap’ and I’ve been told to ‘go slow’.
Into Turn 4, the downhill, low-grip corner that allows you to go sideways without even trying, I focus on keeping the line, and experience a wee bit of understeer for the first time. That’s natural, though, as this one’s not a RWD, and with the rubber around all four of those 20 inch rims wrangling with the tar to negate the lateral forces, the steering does require the driver to dial in a wee bit more input. I feel some degree of deliberately engineered softness on the outside for the first time too. A small bit of give in the suspension is always great for better grip, especially if you’d be driving over slightly undulating surfaces, or the wheels would skim over the imperfections, losing contact. I’d have wanted the steering to be a wee bit quicker, but I’m already pushing this thing, and it’s not making me feel as though I am – so I really shouldn’t be complaining.
Through the chicane the GT-R shifts the load from one side to another carrying forward zero wobble, but perceptible compression on the loaded sides. R mode for the suspension is the remedy, but we aren’t allowed to pop that pill – crazy how the thing is so composed under the standard settings. Shooting into the famous parabola, all geared to kiss the double apex, I am constantly working the steering probably a wee bit more than I’d have liked. That wheel has a want for constant, teeny corrections while keeping the racing line. It’s full of feedback and utterly involving, very earthy and tactile, not insulated and disconnected like a whole bunch of other cars.
A full ‘sighting’ lap later, I see the entry to the pit lane to the right and the gates to heaven to the left. ‘Go’ is the word from my co-passenger, who has an encouraging smile on his face. I’m hard on the brakes right now, going downhill; a correction of the line and I enter the start finish straight with a wailing set of wheels. No amount of tyre width, no traction control and no AWD tech offers enough grip to stop the rubber from catching fire, if you have a virile heart thumping under that bonnet, and a fanatic behind the wheels.
The next lap drenched me in a shower of adrenaline. The visceral GT-R encompassing me in an involving bout of madness. Even with all that polish, the GT-R throats those utterly unmissable metallic sounds. It may have humiliated a generation of modern-day machines with its blistering pace, but to a purist, it still has that greasy, garagy appeal. No wonder, it’s fresh meat to the tuning wolves.
Built with the singular aim of going faster, the hardware under that body has been generously over engineered, and that’s how you see those 1600 hp GT-Rs demolishing Italian metal every time they meet on the drag strip. It’s a bloodthirsty savage, kept on a leash with enormous help from modern-day electronics and top-drawer 4WD trickery. At its heart, though, it’s capable of much, much, more if someone is ready to put his blood on the line.
It’s a one of a kind machine, the GT-R. It’ll call you out loud, and would then hold its colossally mighty punch as you bludgeon it to pulp in the ring. The GT-R is one benevolent brute of a car.
The third lap saw the transmission fluid heating up way above the limit. I did, in the end drive the GT-R the way it’s meant to be driven!
Price: To be announced
Tech specs (click to expand)
Nissan GT-R image gallery