Friday, 8 February 2008

Nissan GT-R

My friends and I have a generationally-unique affliction whereby the thumb knuckles click and are sinewy beyond their years. This condition is known as ‘PlayStation Thumb’ and, in my case at least, is chiefly attributable to the Gran Turismo series. When the game was first launched in Europe back in ‘98 it changed my life irrevocably. Whereas racing games had previously involved unachievable track cars or bizarre fictional machines, suddenly I was able to race a Mazda MX-5 or a Peugeot 206, or indeed anything else I might be able to spot in Sainsbury’s car park. It was a revelation.

There were certain cars that came to define the game, and subsequently to define the aspirations of a petrolhead generation. Suddenly everybody on the school bus could list the principal differences between an R32 Skyline GT-S and an R32 Skyline GT-R; we all knew the bhp/weight ratio of an AE86 Corolla (and you weren’t worth talking to if you didn’t have a white one in your garage); even the stupidest kids could competently adjust the yaw control on an Evo VI. A wealth of knowledge swamped us as if from nowhere.

It’s a Japanese game, so it’s inevitable that there would be a strong bias toward Japanese cars. It was kind of hard to escape the feeling that in the early days the programmers were trying to tip the results, nationally speaking, in their favour – none of the British or American cars could go around corners at all (fair point for the latter, you might say), and it just wasn’t possible to tune a Beemer or a Merc up to the absurdly stratospheric power levels of the behemoths from the east. This was symbolic of a Nippon obsession with efficient and superior tuning which, it seems, has led to a race between car designers and video game designers to see who can stay in the techie lead.

This over-engineered competitiveness is showcased perfectly in the Nissan GT-R. The new car is a Skyline in all but name – the bloodline can be traced back to the Prince Skyline of 1957, with the moniker only being dropped on the 50th anniversary year. It is a Skyline though, let’s be honest; you can see the evolution of the quad tail-lights, the techfest chassis, the fact that it’s slotting into the gaping hole in the lineup left by the Skyline’s absence…

…this time, however, Nissan have pulled out the big guns. Before, the tactic was to take their mainstream family saloon, bolt in a bombproof and perpetually tuneable turbo’d straight-six and glue a couple of million megs of RAM to the chassis. Which worked brilliantly. Now though, it seems that somebody at Nissan HQ has cottoned onto the idea that maybe supercar-chasing is the order of the day.

You can be a badge-snob if you wish, but the interesting truth about the GT-R is that it’s got one or two 911 drivers more than a little worried. You see, this thing has been developed from the ground up to lap the Nürburgring faster than a Porsche 911 Turbo, yet also provide a serene enough environment for normal conversation at over 180mph. And it’ll get to 60mph in a tenth of a second less than the Turbo. Oh, and it’s half the price… The Stuttgartites aren’t just worried, they’re pissed off.

Let’s look at the technology for a moment. It has the ATTESSA ET-S all-wheel-drive system that delivers rear-drive thrills until you need the benefits of 4WD under cornering or, er, driving across ploughed fields. Flicking a paddle-shifter will see you swapping cogs in two-tenths of a second, which is pretty swift. The cylinders are plasma-coated to improve cooling and increase efficiency. Vehicle Dynamic Control looks after torque-biasing and yaw angles and other clever stuff to stop you stuffing into a tree like a tit. The telemetry screen offers g-meters, lap timers, pressure graphs… it’s a very long list of electrickery. Basically, this car is far cleverer than you are.

Enough time has passed between the launch of the original GT platform and the present day that the designers of the GT-R were almost certainly raised on a diet of virtual Imprezas and NS-Xs; nowadays they get to play with the real thing but the principal is the same. Upgrade everything, make it faster. Simple. The GT-R is a true gamer’s car. It’ll never share the kudos of the 911 that so neatly dissolves in its crosshairs, but that’s definitely the point. If you’re a Porsche person, you’ll buy a Porsche and are pretty unlikely to be tempted over to the Nissan side (gosh, what would the neighbours think?), but Skylines appeal to a different mindset entirely – drivers of everything from FTOs to Type-R Integras will be giving you a thumbs-up.

And it’ll be a wonky, disjointed thumb too.

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