The Japanese can seem like a strange bunch at times. Theirs is a nation that likes its fish raw, its alphabets plentiful and its used underwear dispensed from public vending machines. Most baffling to us, however, is the fact that this delightfully odd nation loves its 200mph supercars dirt-cheap and dripping with absurd but loveable technology.
We can't claim to agree with Japan's ways all the time, but we're more than happy to test the Nissan GT-R, a sports car that offers all the thrills of a Ferrari for a mere £62,550. The model reviewed here is the top-of-the-range Black Edition, which is available with optional black paintwork, darker alloy wheels, a black ceiling and one-off black and red seats.
The GT-R is as unconventional a supercar as it's possible to find, particularly where looks are concerned. It's an angular, vent-ridden beast, and its designers seem to have drawn inspiration from American muscle cars, European thoroughbreds and mud-churning rally cars all at once.
Nissan employed its American design team to craft the car's rear and Nissan Europe to sculpt its roof line. These western influences haven't robbed the GT-R of its crazy Japanese sensibilities, though. The rest of the car's bodywork is a beautiful hotchpotch of square lines and vents, apparently inspired by the giant armoured robots from the Gundam anime series.
The little engine that could (rip your face off)
The GT-R sports a rather unusual choice of engine. Rather than opt for a large 12- or eight-cylinder V12 or V8 as found in most supercars, Nissan's fitted its offering with a comparatively petite, 3.8-litre V6 engine, of the sort usually found in weedy mid-sized saloons.
But don't be fooled by this apparently miserly decision. In typical Japanese fashion, Nissan's chosen the path of the mentalist and bolted on a pair of parallel Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries turbochargers. If these sound crazy, that's because they are. They compress and force additional air into the engine so more fuel can be added, leading to bigger, more powerful explosions in each of the engine's six cylinders. The end result is a quite impressive 485hp at 6,400rpm.
Four by four
The GT-R again sidesteps the supercar norms where its drivetrain is concerned. Unlike most high-performance models, which are driven by the rear wheels, this plucky Japanese upstart utilises an all-wheel-drive system that turns all four wheels at once.
This provides a number of benefits, most notably prodigious grip when launching the car from a standstill. With all four wheels clutching the tarmac, the GT-R achieves a 0-60mph sprint time of 3.5 seconds, which is a couple of hundredths of a second quicker than most supercars -- the Ferrari 458 Italia included.
Numbers will never quite do justice to the sheer brutality of the GT-R's acceleration. In the 3.5 seconds that it takes to reach 60mph, your facial expression will have changed half a dozen times, from smile to grimace to slack-jawed disbelief and back again. The colour of your underwear, it must be noted, may also change.
Don't bend it like Beckham
Driving the GT-R is exhilarating, but, unlike with many supercars, unleashing the full might of its engine rarely leads to thoughts of meeting your maker. The car's four-wheel-drive system vastly reduces the risk of sudden, unintended oversteer on slick roads, which is the bane of many high-performance sports cars. That means there's a far smaller chance of wrapping the GT-R around a tree. You will, inevitably find the car moving sideways, but the resulting four-wheel drifts are easier to control than the two-wheel powerslides common with the GT-R's rear-wheel-drive counterparts.
The four-wheel-drive system helps the GT-R stay rooted on twisty roads too -- even in slippery conditions. The wheels of our test car were shod with Bridgestone Potenza RE070R RFT semi-slick tyres, which aren't best suited to greasy English roads. But it's nigh on impossible to bend the GT-R out of shape on public roads, unless you're being a total hooligan.
When you venture onto a track, where there's far more potential to push the car beyond its limits, the GT-R does a fabulous job of warning when it's about to break traction. There's plenty of feedback in the steering wheel, so you're always aware of just how much grip is available in high-speed corners, when you've begun to slide, and what sort of steering, throttle or brake input is required to correct your mistake.
The car also communicates a startling amount of data via digital means. In the centre of the dashboard, you'll find a 7-inch display known as the multi-function meter. This acts as an interface for the car's integrated satellite-navigation system, telephone and audio systems, but hit the 'function' button to the right of the screen and it also displays a dizzying array of virtual gauges and graphs, highlighting the status of the GT-R's many vehicle systems.
The multi-function meter -- designed, amazingly enough, by Polyphony Digital of Gran Turismo fame -- allows drivers to keep abreast of common readings, such as engine oil temperature, turbo boost pressure and engine water temperature, as well as more obscure measurements, such as the amount of fuel being pumped through the car, the amount of pressure you're exerting on the accelerator or brake pedals, and the angle of the steering wheel.
For those who wish to analyse their driving performance in the GT-R, the multi-function meter displays the amount of g-force generated under acceleration, braking and turning -- all in real-time. Having this information available on a track could, in theory, help you find the limits of the GT-R and your limits as a driver. For example, this information is potentially very useful for discovering where you might be losing time by not applying enough brake pressure on the approach to a corner.
Sadly, the usefulness of the system is rather limited, as it's only possible to look at the majority of the data in real-time, and not in the safety of the pits or at home after you've completed a track session. It's possible to record lap times on the car's built-in hard drive and then transfer this data to a USB key in CSV format for later analysis on a spreadsheet, but all that lovely telemetry data can only be viewed while you're generating it behind the wheel.
One of the disadvantages of the GT-R's comparatively small V6 engine is that the sound from the engine bay and exhausts isn't as raucous as one might expect from a supercar. Fortunately, the car comes with a fantastic Bose audio system, which makes up for this to some extent. The stereo consists of 11 speakers dotted around the cabin, including a pair of purposeful-looking subwoofers located between the rear seats. These fire directly into the cabin, creating a thunderous wave of sound that never failed to put a smile on our chops.
The audio quality is by no means as refined as the high-end Bowers & Wilkins stereo found in the Jaguar XKR, or the Bang & Olufsen system in the Aston Martin V12 Vantage -- it's a little bass-heavy -- but the sheer power of the system makes it well-suited to fast, take-no-prisoners driving. Audio can be enjoyed via USB, iPod, CD, AM/FM radio and an integrated 9.3GB hard drive, onto which you can rip audio CDs.
The Nissan GT-R Black Edition is one of the best sports cars we've ever driven. It's ludicrously quick in a straight line and around corners, it's attractive, it's packed with technology and -- despite its low cost -- it manages to compete with supercars that cost three or four times its asking price. We can't recommend it enough.
Edited by Charles Kloet