On the PlayStation

Posted on March 22, 2017

For a car that needs no introduction, it gets sent on activities meant to prove its mettle quite regularly. The reason for this is simple; its mix of computerized geekery and good old analog athleticism never fails to amaze those fortunate enough to experience it from the best spot possible -- the driver’s seat. Its builder, then, consistently pounces on the chance to show this off.

On March 16-17 such a chance presented itself as the latest version of the Nissan GT-R -- or Godzilla, as it has been called by car nuts for decades, largely because the car is feared and adored in equal measure -- was brought by Nissan Philippines, Inc. (NPI) to the Clark International Speedway. There, the car allowed drivers a glimpse of its talent honed at the famed Nurburgring. But preceding the racetrack sessions was a drive around Clark Field, intended to show the car’s genteel side as opposed to its innate ability to hurtle through space. After all, the “R” in its name, which stands for Racing, is prefixed by GT, meaning Grand Touring.

Adding significance to the activity was that the GT-R was presented by one of its designers, Hiroshi Tamura, who presently serves as the model’s chief product specialist.

In 2017 form the GT-R has turned cushier than at any other time during its nearly five-decade history (Nissan has used the GT-R nameplate since 1969; the present-gen model is about to count its 10th birthday later this year). Where a certain PlayStation console vibe courtesy of carbon-fiber pieces and enough buttons, switches, knobs and other electronic gizmos for a CES edition ruled in the cabin of the present model’s earlier versions, the 2017 rendition is defined by vast patches of leather and suede craft, including on the multi-configurable front seats, as well as on the rear perches that sandwich a pair of huge subwoofers. Nine more speakers are then spread throughout the cabin, tasked to pump out tunes coming from a premium-brand multimedia player that expectedly can connect to any techie device and which comes with an eight-inch touch screen panel. Plus, there’s plush carpeting and headlining. There’s trick active noise cancellation and sound enhancement. Yes, dark carbon-fiber trim still abounds, but the sundry changes have turned the GT-R’s cabin into a genuine rival to the car’s snooty European ilk.

As a result of this, during instances when the GT-R’s throttle isn’t mashed to the carpet (even on cool-down runs in between hot laps), the GT-R turns into a mild-mannered, virtual executive mobile whose tire noise, engine note and all forms of unwanted racket are filtered before entering the cabin. The car’s steering feels about as hefty as that found on any proper and upscale Euro ride. Its climate control is unimpeachable even amid the notorious noonday heat of the Clark track. Its engine, gearbox and tires delivered what’s expected of them without throwing a tantrum -- or overheating. It is not difficult to tell that the GT-R is capable of touring in a grand way.

But turning all cushy did not come at the expense of performance. For starters, the GT-R is rushed along by a 3.8-liter V6, twin-turbo engine that makes 565hp and 632Nm -- astounding output for a car that’s legal to wear a license plate anywhere on the planet. Harnessing this grunt is a six-speed dual-clutch transmission -- well, a transaxle, really -- that can be shifted via the traditional lever or by paddles, or left completely in automatic mode if so desired. From the gearbox, the grunt goes to both the front and rear axles, bolted to the respective ends of which are massive but light 20-inch forged alloy wheels wrapped with equally meaty staggered-width rubbers. As large as these are the ventilated brake discs, which in turn are grabbed by six-piston calipers. Aluminum double wishbones and multi-links prop up the suspension. This is serious hardware.

And then there is the software to consider, a collection of clever electronic managers that command all the mechanical components to work as best as they could even if the human on the driver’s seat is ham-fisted and, frankly, clumsy when it comes to matters on the racetrack. The PhD-level traction and vehicle dynamics control and speed-sensitive power steering assist and limited-slip differential all pitch in to help guarantee in the strongest sense possible that the GT-R stay on its shiny side up. What more, anybody with an understanding of vehicle dynamics -- or an aptitude at navigating through any Gran Turismo setting on the PlayStation console -- can tune the GT-R to his liking.

Once you plant the GT-R’s throttle to the floor, from a dead stop, all such geekery becomes a blur. Because then 100kph arrives in around three seconds (even less if you’re good), and acceleration does not let up until... well, until you have had enough.

The Clark sessions began with such an acceleration run, which was followed immediately by a full-on brake test. Then it’s on to the throttle again until it’s time to brake for the track’s uphill sweeping Turn One, by which point you’ve misjudged how much speed you were already carrying and so the car squirms a little. Which was not a comforting feeling to have when you’ve started to turn left, hunting for the apex, and trying to get the car set up for the approach to the steep downhill “corkscrew” turn. The succeeding couple of sweeping corners may be less technical, but these were also quicker. Exiting these, on the truncated course designed for the event, the next pass through the speedway’s main straight meant reaching velocities of 195-210kph by the time one needs to brake for Turn One.

Through all this though, and even amid much electronic wizardry, somehow the GT-R felt analog, remaining as a car to be steered, coaxed and managed rather than just an inanimate, self-driving computer with wheels beneath it. The GT-R struggled to scrub off speed when entering corners, leaned to one side while going around them -- guess there was just no getting around all the mass the car carries -- and could slide its tail exiting those bends. Simply, it is a thing to be driven.

And as Mr. Tamura put it, the GT-R can be enjoyed regardless of a driver’s skill level. “Someone who is not so good will still like it, someone who is better will also like it. But it will reward a really good driver,” he said.

Godzilla should be adored. -- Brian M. Afuang