This is a road test two decades in the making.
Since 1991, in fact, when I first laid eyes on this car being driven by a young, upcoming racing driver called Mark Skaife and a decorated veteran named Jim Richards, who steered it to victory in the fabled Bathurst 1000.
Back then, the Nissan Skyline GT-R earned the nickname “Godzilla” because of its twin turbo-charged engine, its awesome all-wheel-drive grip and, most of all, because of the way it made Australia’s best V8 race cars of the time look like pedal cars. The crowd booed that day – and “Gentleman Jim” famously called them a “pack of arseholes”.
A lot has changed since then, but the Godzilla nickname still fits.
The Nissan GT-R (they’ve since dropped the Skyline reference) has evolved into one of the most celebrated performance machines on the planet. A technological tour-de-force that has rewritten many of the conventional rules about supercars, most particularly about who should make them.
Before the GT-R, the world’s most exotic and powerful machines came almost exclusively from Europe – with the odd few from the United States.
Even now, when we think of supercars we think of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches and Mercedes-Benz AMGs.
Yet this Japanese juggernaut has muscled its way into a place at the supercar table, insolently carving its name on the honour board at Germany’s fabled Nurburgring, where it holds the benchmark lap time on the treacherous Nordschleife circuit ahead of the best Europe has to offer.
With that in mind, it was with some anticipation that we recently collected the keys to the latest version of the GT-R to arrive in Australia – known as the Black Edition.
It didn’t take long to see what the fuss was about. Just 2.7 seconds, in fact.
That’s how long the GT-R takes to reach the Aussie speed limit.
Yep. Two. Point. Seven. From zero to 100 in roughly the time it takes to say zero to 100.
To stay close to the GT-R it you’d need a Porsche 911 Turbo S – costing more than $400-grand. To beat it, try a Bugatti Veyron ($1.3 million, 1000-horsepower, 16-cylinder quad-turbo engine).
The Nissan, by comparison, has just six cylinders and costs less than $200,000. Drive away.
Not that everybody will be rushing out to buy one. It’s not exactly comfortable, nor particularly practical.
So what’s the GT-R ‘s appeal?
Well, it certainly draws more than its share of attention, for a start. Low and sleek, it might lack the dazzling design of an Audi R8 or Ferrari 458 Italia, yet we had a stream of admiring glances and “thumbs up” from blokes in Subaru Imprezas and, ironically, V8 Commodores. This car is, after all, king of the Grand Theft Auto video game fraternity.
As blindingly fast as it is, it’s not as untamed as you might expect. It has an automatic gearbox, can be driven in city traffic without fuss and, on the highway, it even delivers decent fuel economy.
Not roomy, mind you, and not exactly soft-riding, although Nissan claims the latest model is the most comfortable yet.
Truth is, there’s nothing refined about the GT-R. The twin-turbo engine ignites with a whir, then a cough and a gravelly, rasping rumble. At slow speeds, the transmission and the all-wheel-drive traction system grind and growl noticeably beneath the floor.
At anything above an idle, the quad exhausts – which are the size and shape of trumpets – let out a bark that can be heard in the next suburb. It’s fun to drive through tunnels.
And while the GT-R can, in theory, be driven relatively sedately, there are really only two basic settings. Firstly, there’s full-on attack mode. And then there’s a much sportier, more aggressive setting. A button on the dash allows you to select between the two. There’s even a sophisticated launch control system we were too afraid to use.
The GT-R is utterly intimidating. Put your foot down and the sensation is like nothing I’ve ever felt.
It doesn’t so much accelerate as explode. Nothing – well, nothing short of a space shuttle launch – can prepare you for the way this machine fires itself at the horizon. So quickly does it gather pace, so violently does it throw you back in your seat, it’s hard to take it all in at first.
I’ve driven my share of quick cars but the GT-R is almost otherworldly.
It’s interesting to examine why. For sheer power, its 405 kilowatts (and 637Nm) are impressive but not earth-shattering.
Rather, it’s the way the Nissan puts all this power to the ground – through its all-wheel grip, high-tech centre differential and electronic traction control systems – that underpins such blinding acceleration.
In many uber-powerful machines, the engine’s output is somewhat blunted by the ability of the tyres to remain in contact with the road. The GT-R, by contrast, puts every available kilowatt to the ground – a feat of engineering only the Japanese could truly achieve. So ingenious is the 4WD system, and rear-mounted transmission, Nissan has patented it.
Yet while Nissan’s band of evil engineers have concocted all the sound and fury of this machine, the Japanese looked beyond their borders for many of the components.
Those leather-clad, wrap-around seats, for instance, are Recaros – made by a company founded in Stuttgart, Germany.
The brakes are provided by Brembo, from Bergamo, Italy.
The sublime 15-speaker audio system comes from Bose – an American company based in Massachusetts.
The banzai personality, though, is absolutely home-grown.
It’s not just a straight-line rocket, of course. That all-wheel-drive grip, combined with electronically-controlled shock absorbers and the latest sticky Dunlop low-profile tyres, mean it corners with awesome, unrelenting grip. And a car this fast, naturally, has to have equally stunning stopping power. Those Brembos oblige.
Enhancements in this latest version of the GT-R include multi-LED headlights with adaptive front lighting system, increased use of lightweight steels and carbon fibre body panels and 20-inch six-spoke alloy wheels (part of the Black Edition package). It also gets a carbon fibre rear spoiler and boot lid.
It’s a car that is constantly evolving – something of an obsessive quest for the Nissan engineers.
It’s certainly come a long way in the quarter of a century since this vehicle first shook the motor sport world to its foundations.
Mark Skaife has, in the years since, enjoyed a hall-of-fame career and shuffled off happily into retirement. Jim Richards, of course, still seems able to drive as quickly as ever despite being well into his twilight years.
And Godzilla is bigger, badder and scarier than ever.
NISSAN GT-R BLACK EDITION
DETAILS: Two-door, two-plus-two hyper performance coupe with twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine and dual-clutch automatic transmission.
TECH STUFF: 3.8-litre, twin turbo-charged 24-valve V6 engine with dual overhead camshafts, variable valve timing, aluminum cylinder block and pistons, direct ignition system produces [email protected], [email protected]; six-speed dual-clutch transmission with three driver-selected modes, paddle shifters; all-wheel-drive with patented independent rear trans-axle integrating transmission, AWD system and differential.
FEATURES: Six airbags, advanced Vehicle Dynamic Control, electric windows, seats and mirrors; leather Brembo sports seats; high-performance Brembo brakes with brakeforce distribution and brake assist; Bose 15-speaker audio with iPod connectivity, Bluetooth streaming, colour display screen with satellite navigation; reversing camera with predictive path technology; multi-function display with 10 driver data options.
PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h in 2.7 seconds.
THIRST: 11.7L/100km (official combined figure).
VERDICT: A drive worth waiting half a lifetime for.
BOTTOM LINE: $182,500 ($199,900 drive-away).