Godzilla Terrorizes Local Motorists: My Time in an R35 GT-R

2013 Nissan GT-R


The Porsche killer.

Few cars in recent memory have come out with such a legend already around them. The reputation of all GT-Rs has been monumental, but the the latest version, the R35, has finally carried the weight of that name all the way to our fair shores. To most Americans, the GT-R is something in Gran Turismo you used to cheat at every race. We’ve never gotten the earlier iterations, so this new one bears the burden of its own grandiose claims, as well as the mystique of the infamous R34.

(Full disclosure, Pure Pursuit Automotive in Kansas City was kind enough to let me spend some time in their 2013 Nissan GT-R, so go check them out at www.purepursuitauto.com)

2013 Nissan GT-R

So, first things first, does it live up to the hype? In a word: yes.

Last month, I drove a car with a twin-­turbocharged V12 engine (more on that coming soon). Well in excess of 600 horsepower. I was unimpressed by the acceleration of it. Sure, it made fantastic jet engine noises, but it wasn’t what I expected in terms of off-the-line torque. My point is, my brain is broken. I am jaded, and desensitized. The GT-R still astounded me. Even from the back seat, the acceleration was relentlessly violent. Once you’re in the driver’s seat however…wow.  It’s not a particularly luxurious car, or even all that comfortable, but good lord is it quick.

I’ll be honest, I had some apprehension about taking it for a spin. While I love outright speed as much as the next guy, I’m more about the physical sensations that come with driving. I love hearing the mechanical systems engage with each other. I love the little steering adjustments you have to make as bumps try to unsettle the car. I love trying to time the perfect heel­-to-toe downshift . So I was concerned that the GT-R might be too advanced . I was worried that it would feel numb or artificial. Really, I was afraid it wouldn’t just be…a car.

2013 Nissan GT-R

I shouldn’t have worried so much. You hear everything in this car. Firing it up sounds like starting a race car. You hear the fuel pump whine, and then the V6 barks itself awake, before settling into a grumbling idle. I’ll be honest, it’s not the most pleasant of exhaust notes, but it is full of purpose. There is no artificial sound generation here. It does not dump unburned fuel to create the exact degree of crackles and bangs that a committee had decreed the enthusiast likes (cough*AMG*­cough) . It sounds exactly like what it is: a relatively small engine with a whopping set of turbos on it.

The GT-R is an amazing collection of noises. You can hear stones rattle against the wheel wells and undercarriage as the sticky tires snatch them off the road. You can hear the rush of induction as the V6 winds itself up. Unlike any other dual clutch transmission I’ve ever driven, you even hear the gear changes. I don’t mean you hear the revs change, you hear a physical,
 metal-to-metal thunk as each gear is selected or deselected.  Upon rolling to a stop, it is distinctly noticeable. Ease to a stop, pause, then ka­chunk.

The dual clutch transmission is a bit frustrating at times in manual mode. Oh sure, it has blisteringly quick shifts, as all of them do, but there is almost no point to putting it in manual. At redline, the car will automatically shift, even if you never touch a paddle. Then on deceleration, the transmission will drop gears, all the way back into first, if need be. With all this, why even bother with it? You can leave it in full manual mode, and run through the gears from first through sixth, and back to first, without ever touching a shift paddle. If it shifts up and down on it’s own, that’s not much of a manual mode. The only real reason I used manual was to pick what gear I started an acceleration run in, to ensure I was in the meat of the powerband and didn’t need to downshift.

2013 Nissan GT-R

It is actually a bit difficult to accurately give an un­biased review, because that powertrain makes everything else insignificant.

Is it comfortable? Who cares?  It’s pretty fast.
Is it quiet? Who cares?  It’s fast.
Is it fully loaded with options? Who cares?  It’s shockingly fast.
Is it stunning to listen to? Who cares? It’s fast, honest.
Is it fuel efficient? Seriously, who cares? It’s really goddamn fast.

Everything else ceases to be a concern, and everything else is excusable. You do not buy a GT-R for the comfort. It is a $95,000 drivetrain with a Playstation screen and some seats. The Playstation screen is amusing by the way, but the majority of the modes are fairly pointless for the driver. If you’re trying to pull maximum Gs in a corner, or under braking, you probably shouldn’t be looking over at a screen to check your score. The temperature gauges are useful though.

2013 Nissan GT-R

The GT-R behaves like a turbo car from the old school. Nowadays, the objective is to have the turbos spool up seamlessly. You never want to notice the turbos, you want it to just feel like a large displacement naturally aspirated engine. That is not how the big Nissan behaves. Off boost, the power is usable, but nothing to take note of. But once you clear 4,000rpm, the power spikes dramatically. On more than one occasion, all four tires broke loose at the top of second gear when the power came on. This was with every electronic safety net still in place. Wheel spin at sixty miles an hour. It’s mind boggling for a stock, street car. It’s difficult to tell how much the various systems help in catching this. But either way, you feel like a hero when the car twitches sideways at highway speeds, and you catch it and power through. I honestly don’t even care if the computers are helping make that happen. It feels so seamless.

2013 Nissan GT-R

The computers are part of the car. There is no denying that. They are the key to the otherworldly performance of the GT-R. But in spite of that, the big Nissan still feels like a feat of mechanical ingenuity. I was worried that things would be artificial and polished. But that is not the case. The digital interference hides underneath a layer of sheer technical prowess. The performance feats that this car can pull off are just mind bending. Every single full throttle pull resulted in hysterical laughter. My skepticism was well and truly stomped, and left on the curb, choking on the GT-R’s dust.

Well done Nissan.

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