Supercars that push the performance envelope are normally limited in their use on the road – their wide tyres and ground hugging stances usually only permitting driving on the smoothest and driest asphalt. Nissan, however, is so confident in the ability of its flagship GT-R coupe, it decided to launch the 2014 Model Year edition in the decidedly traction-free environs of Val Thoren's ice-racing circuit deep in the French Alps. In this two-part special Daljinder Nagra gets acquainted with Nissan's giant-slayer, first on the road and then on the ice.
> At first glance, this new Nissan GT-R looks exactly the same as the one that was launched back in 2007. Under the skin, though, each successive year has brought about detail changes to keep the car at the top of its game and in the faces of Ferrari and Lamborghini. For 2014, Nissan has taken the decision to soften its unyielding coupe up a bit, in a bid to broaden its appeal as an everyday car. Fans of a broken coccyx needn't despair, though, as the brand has recently unveiled a more focussed Nismo version, sporting more power and even harder suspension for banzai track thrills.
Initial impressions upon collecting the car from a Geneva dealership and embarking on the 150-mile drive to Val Thorens would leave one wondering whether Nissan has done anything to calm the bone-shaking ride at all. Every ripple and imperfection in the tarmac makes itself felt in the cabin and over larger potholes there is a noticeable 'oomph' from my passenger, as the jolt shimmies its way up our spinal columns.
No noises from the car itself, though. Despite the firmness, there is nary a squeak or rattle from the suspension or cabin trim as the pounding continues. Switch the suspension setting to 'comfort' mode and things improve. It's in no way pillow-soft, but there is just enough compliance to remove the need to brace every time a road crater comes into view. Out of curiosity I switch the dampers to its hardest track mode, which – as my bruised buttocks will attest – was a quickly rectified mistake.
The long drive to the Alps gave a chance to reflect on the other modifications Nissan has bestowed upon the GT-R for 2014. Key highlights in the cabin include the introduction of active noise cancellation. By playing 'anti-phase' noises from the stereo's speakers, unwanted noise is effectively cancelled out, resulting in a more tranquil experience in the cabin.
Or at least in theory. In credit to Nissan, ambient noise has been noticeably reduced over previous iterations, but there is only so much that can be done to hush the roar of the GT-R's vast tyres and the wind noise rushing past the door mirrors.
Nissan has made available full leather interiors in both red and ivory colours. Their aim is to increase the cockpit's luxury ambience, but I can't help but feel the standard part cloth, part leather seats and the two-tone steering wheel better suits the car's uncompromising performance ethos.
The cabin also benefits from improved material quality, with the scratchy plastics that once adorned the centre-console and gear-leaver surrounds replaced with much sturdier materials.
Thankfully – particularly given the slow moving traffic on the narrow alpine roads – Nissan hasn't messed with GT-R's heart. Sat beneath the bonnet is a twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre V6 motor, developing 542bhp. Impressive enough on its own, but allied to a hi-tech four-wheel-drive system and one of the fastest twin-clutch gearboxes available, the GT-R is capable of getting to 62mph from rest in an unbelievable 2.6 seconds – enough to rival the Bugatti Veyron, which boasts nearly twice as much power and costs over ten times as much.
Unsurprisingly, with such thrust on tap, overtaking is laughably easy. Gaps that you simply wouldn't consider in other ostensibly fast cars are easy meat for the GT-R. Get too liberal with the throttle and the speedo arcs round to display velocities that'll see you behind bars in an instant, especially here in car-hating Switzerland.
Happily, you don't need to be travelling at warp speeds to revel in the way the GT-R simply demolishes a good road. On the alpine switchbacks, lined with endless hairpin bends, the pilot of a traditional rear-driven sports car would constantly be managing throttle inputs to prevent wheelspin out of the slow corners. GT-R drivers have no such worries – the car just grips and goes, with the traction control allowing a little wiggle from the hips if set to its most relaxed mode.
All of which sees us reach Val Thorens in record time, to observe the twisting slippery hell that we've yet to tackle. Tune in tomorrow to find out how we get on!