Long term tests

Nissan GT-R

The Nissan GT-R is a real Jekyll and Hyde. Usable in town, as long as you have petite rear passengers, and firey and communicative on track

Anyone, anytime, anywhere. No, not the cheesy ’70s Martini adverts misremembered, but Nissan’s mission statement for its new supercoupe. It’s certainly something I’ve been putting to the test since my GT-R arrived a month ago. Before the Nissan I ran a rather lovely Ferrari 456GT for a couple of years as a ‘family sports car’. The Ferrari was my dream car back when it was launched, but the reality of owning a 14-year-old classic with big running costs was more than I wanted to deal with for the long-term. Hence the GT-R, which with its two rear seats seemed to be the perfect, practical replacement. However, despite being much bigger than earlier GT-Rs, the R35 suffers, a bit like the BMW Mini, from ‘inverse Tardis syndrome’, i.e. it’s big on the outside, but smaller than you would believe on the inside. With the driver’s seat in my preferred position there is almost no rear legroom at all, even though at 5ft 10in tall I’m not exactly Stephen Merchant-esque. Fortunately The Brunette is rather more petite than I am, if heavily pregnant, and our daughter Angelina, aged three-and-a-half, fits behind her fine (an adult in the back would still find their head touching the sloping rear window, though). At least the boot is reasonably roomy, if awkward to access with the small aperture mandated by body stiffness. Ultimately, though, the GT-R is a perfectly useable everyday car, providing the occupants don’t mind a firm ride. The relatively high driving position means it never feels as wide as my Corvette Z06, and the super-smooth dual-clutch gearbox is perfectly acceptable as a full automatic. But, of course, practical as the GT-R is, its real purpose is supreme pace, and any sane (or even quite insane) road driving could not even scratch the surface of what the car is capable of. Thus, less than two weeks after picking mine up, I headed off to my favourite venue for testing out a new car: the Bedford Autodrome. I booked a place at a trackday there through the excellent trackdays.co.uk website, although the event itself was organised by Circuit Days (www.circuit-days.co.uk) and was run on the full GT circuit in an open pitlane format. As I set out on the very wet and greasy track, initial impressions were of a distinct lack of grip from the Dunlop run-flats specified by Nissan Europe instead of the Bridgestones used in Japan and the US. Entry speeds had to be brought right down before the heavy brute could be persuaded to turn into corners, but once vaguely on course, the rear could easily be encouraged to come out to play, with a full half-turn of opposite lock being permitted out of the hairpin with the ESP in Race mode. Eventually, I succumbed and pressed the single most controversial button in Nissan’s history: the GT-R’s ‘ESP OFF’ switch. If you believe some of the doom-mongers on the internet forums, the mere act of doing this triggers the launch of a Nissan HQ Predator drone armed with your warranty-invalidation papers, but it’s not quite like that. In reality, no, you won’t be covered by Nissan’s warranty while the ESP is turned off, but then you won’t be covered by it when you’re on track anyway (Nissan also advises that you get the car inspected at one of its High Performance Centres before and after each trackday if you want to be sure any warranty claims away from the track will be honoured). So if you’re going to press the button, on track is the place to do it. And I’m glad I did, because doing so saw the GT-R transform itself into a biddable, communicative, entertaining track car, and as the circuit dried, front-end grip appeared and apices could be hit at speed. Come in number Z06, your time could be up…

Running Costs

Date acquiredApril 2009
Total mileage921
Mileage this month645
MPG this month15.5
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