Nissan’s 480-hp supercar, set to finally arrive in June 2008, promises 3.5 seconds to 60 and at least 185 mph flat-out.
Your recognition of this car might be more vivid if you wedge the word “Skyline” in there somewhere, because that’s what it was called when it first began to register on the radar screens of American speed freaks along about 1989: the Skyline GT-R. This is true even though the Skyline name actually goes back much farther, to distant 1957, when it was first applied to an eminently forgettable little Prince sedan, predating Nissan’s 1966 absorption of that company.
Prince fielded a competition version of the Skyline in 1964—the 2000GT—but the GT-R suffix (for “gran turismo racer”) didn’t appear until 1969, when Nissan made it the centerpiece of a successful racing program over the next couple of years.
But in 1973 the Skyline GT-R disappeared, yielding the limelight to the new Datsun 240Z (a.k.a. Fairlady). The GT-R badge gathered dust until its 1989 revival with the advent of the R32 chassis, earmarked as the foundation for an FIA Group A racing effort, as well as a production sports coupe. The R33 followed the R32 in 1995, and the R33 gave way to the R34 in 1999, each generation a little hotter, each providing an improved basis for race cars, as well as various limited-edition street versions from NISMO, Nissan’s in-house performance division.
Inevitably, these slightly fabulous cars attracted media attention, and awareness grew in markets outside Japan. Including the U.S.—particularly after our March 1991 test of a modestly tweaked gray-market car. With 350 horsepower on tap, that R32 Skyline whooshed to 60 in 4.2 seconds and covered the quarter in 12.9 seconds at 105 mph, acceleration that would have smoked such glamorous contemporaries as the Acura NSX, Corvette ZR-1, Lotus Esprit Turbo, and Ferrari 348ts. Awareness begat gotta-have-it, which begat a growing ground swell of clamor for Skylines in American showrooms.
Over the years a few enterprising individuals figured out ways to get Skylines past the unwinking eye of the government and into American garages. But for most, the Skyline GT-R was an exotic temptation, like Jessica Simpson wriggling around in something slinky. Delicious, and exactly as accessible to everyday guys as the dark side of the moon, making the desire for possession all the more intense.
Well, the waiting is over, or will be come June. And Yankee go-faster junkies who have been salivating over this fabled speed merchant will finally be able to find out if the reality measures up to their fantasies, simply by signing a contract at a friendly Nissan dealer.
And what will they get? Here’s what we know. Uh-oh, check that. Make it: Here’s what we can tell you. See, we’ve already driven a preproduction car, on condition of silence until next month regarding our driving impressions. But the vow of silence regarding mechanical particulars expires now.
Basics. The foundation for the new GT-R will be a chassis dedicated to this application—no commonality, according to Nissan, with the corporate FM architecture, the structure that made a grand entrance on the revived Z car in 2002.
Okay, but there are strong similarities. For one, Kazutoshi Mizuno, the chief vehicle engineer, was the man who also oversaw development of the FM platform. For another, almost all the engine’s mass resides aft of the front-axle center line, just like the FM, for 50/50 weight distribution—although Nissan sources tell us it’s going to be more like 52/48. The unibody is exceptionally sturdy, because the GT-R’s performance capabilities will go well beyond those of any production 350Z, and also because the structure will be handling thrust from all four corners via Nissan’s ATTESA E-TS all-wheel-drive system. Unlike versions of this system in other Nissan vehicles—the Infiniti G35x, for example—the GT-R setup employs a yaw sensor and is capable of instantly transferring torque from side to side, as well as fore-and-aft, as conditions dictate.In normal running, the fore-and-aft power split is mostly toward the rear. In hard acceleration at low speed, the split is 50/50, but beyond that, power delivery to the front wheels doesn’t exceed 30 percent. Grip, delivered by a set of newly developed Bridgestone Potenza RE run-flat tires (255/40R-20 front, 285/35R-20 rear), figures to be exceptional. An intriguing touch with these tires is the pressure medium. Nissan prescribes nitrogen, an old racing trick that stabilizes pressures in hard use.
The GT-R is a two-plus-two design, which adds up to a car of substantial dimensions for this class. Its 109.4-inch wheelbase is 16.9 inches longer than that of the Porsche 911 Turbo, a key development target, and at 183.1 inches, it’s 6.8 inches longer than the Stuttgart rocket, as well as 1.7 inches wider (at 74.6 inches) and 2.8 inches taller (54.0 inches). The BMW 650i and M6 and the Jag XKR are a little bigger, but not much. Nissan calls the car a four-passenger coupe, but the rear-seat accommodations are suited for little kids on short hauls, or for adult people you don’t really like on longer voyages.
With size and all-wheel drive comes mass. Nissan expects the GT-R to weigh about 3800 pounds, 280 heavier than the last 911 Turbo we tested [“Everyday Supercars,” July 2007]. Nevertheless, performance expectations for the GT-R are ambitious: 0-to-60 mph in 3.5 seconds, the quarter-mile in 11.7, top speed north of 185 mph. Those are serious numbers. For contrast, that 911 Turbo did the same sprints in 3.8 and 12.2 seconds, respectively (although an earlier 911 Turbo we tested hit 60 mph in 3.4 seconds).
Propelling almost two tons that quickly requires muscle, and the GT-R has plenty: 480 horsepower at 6400 rpm, 434 pound-feet of torque from 3200 to 5200 rpm—not quite as much torque as Porsche’s 3.6-liter flat-six, but abundant nonetheless and available across a broad range.
The source for all this thrust is a twin-turbo 3.8-liter DOHC 24-valve 60-degree oversquare aluminum V-6 (VR38) with variable valve timing on both cams and plasma-applied coating on the cylinder walls rather than steel liners. Nissan insists this engine is all-new and unrelated to the VQ sixes that propel the Z car, Infiniti Gs, and others, which is interesting since the bore (95.5 millimeters) is exactly the same. The new six is force-fed by a pair of IHI turbos via an air-to-air intercooler. Max boost is 10.2 psi.
This is the first V-6 in the modern GT-R series (the three preceding cars employed inline-sixes), and we think it won’t disappoint anyone except maybe tuners. We say that because the Nissan development team proudly claims it has made the car’s ECU tamper-proof. The objective seems to be to portray the engine as environmentally friendly. Yeah, right. And with a little training, tigers make terrific house pets. But tuners always manage to crack the codes, so for those GT-R owners who will inevitably want more, hang in there.
Power finds its way to the ground via a rear-mounted Aichi Kikai six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transaxle with triple cone synchros. The rear diff is a mechanical limited slip; the front is operated by an electronically controlled clutch. Stability- and traction-control systems are, predictably, standard equipment. The transmission has full automatic and manual modes, and the paddle shifters operate in both, a difference being that in manual mode the selected gear remains engaged until the driver selects another.
Multimode also applies to the suspension, which features monotube Bilstein DampTronic shocks at all four corners that automatically vary damping across three presets—Comfort, for around town driving; Sports, the default setting, a little firmer for daily use; and R, for track use. Front camber and caster are adjustable, but not from the cockpit; you’ll need a shop for that.
Braking, by Brembo, promises to be formidable: 15-inch rotors all around, vented and cross-drilled, with six-piston calipers up front, four-piston calipers at the rear.
Credit for the body design goes to Hiroshi Hasegawa, operating under the watchful eye of Mizuno, who is not only the chief vehicle engineer but chief product specialist as well, the only guy in Nissan product development to hold both titles. Although it’s hard to view this car as beautiful, there’s lots of wind-tunnel work in the design, which pays off with high-speed downforce at both ends as well as a 0.27 Cd, an impressive—and rare—double achievement in the aero arena.
So how much will all this wonderfulness cost? Right now, we don’t know, and neither does Nissan in North America. The current WAG is a base price of about $85,000. That’s rare air, and Nissan insiders admit they’re not sure who’s going to step up, a concern when you’re hoping to sell a thousand a month. They don’t expect to convert Porsche intenders. Rather, the hope is that the GT-R will expand the everyday-supercar market.
Is that a realistic business plan? Time will tell. But the core of the plan is the idea that the GT-R represents 911 Turbo (2007 base price, $123,760) performance at a big discount. To this concept we say—at the risk of stretching our vow of silence a little—amen.
2009 Nissan Skyline GT-R - Specs
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 2+2-passenger, 2-door coupe
ESTIMATED BASE PRICE: $85,000
ENGINE TYPE: twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection
Displacement: 232 cu in, 3799cc
Power (SAE net): 480 bhp @ 6400 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 434 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual with automated shifting and clutch
Wheelbase: 109.4 in Length: 183.1 in Width: 74.6 in Height: 54.0 in
Curb weight: 3800 lb
PERFORMANCE (MFR’S EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 3.5 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 11.7 sec
PROJECTED FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST):
EPA city driving: 15 mpg
EPA highway driving: 22 mpg
by TONY SWAN