Nothing shakes off transatlantic jet lag like jumping into an unfamiliar sports car, merging onto an unrestricted section of German autobahn, and accelerating across the flawless tarmac until reaching an indicated 300 kph (186 mph). This is especially true if the car is right-hand drive and has most of its gauges draped in cheap, black vinyl--and there's a Nissan engineer riding shotgun while monitoring test instruments and, most likely, wondering whether this will be the journalist who ruins his day by heading off into the trees. Still settling into the car, we discover that the steering-column stalk we just engaged controls the windshield wipers, not the turn signals, as we merge into the passing lane at 100 mph. Quickly, very quickly, the mind focuses, senses go on high alert, and palms go damp as the German landscape, luxuriant in the textures of spring, goes by in a green blur.
Yes, we were in Germany to sample one of the year's most anticipated vehicles. The GT-R we drove there was a semidisguised preproduction car, but Nissan claims that, in dynamic terms, it was very close to production-spec. Our brief drive left us panting for more. (Go to automobilemag.com to read about our drive of the production version shown here).
We were in Nürburg, where GT-R development engineers have spent months--and more than 3000 miles--on the Nordschleife, or north loop, of the original Nürburgring racetrack. Nissan has a rich history at the 'Ring, since the last-generation GT-R, the R34-series, held the production-car lap record (eight minutes, twenty-eight seconds) in the late 1990s.
When we arrived, back in April, Nissan reported that its new GT-R had achieved a time of 7:44 around the 12.9-mile track, but by September, it had been reduced to 7:38, beating the Porsche 911 Turbo's 7:40 and coming dangerously close to even the Porsche Carrera GT supercar's record of 7:32.
As soon as we climbed into the GT-R prototype, it was clear that this is a serious sports car, not simply a gussied-up 350Z trying to cash in on GT-R heritage. The well-bolstered seats are covered in black Alcantara fabric with a special antislip finish to keep your body in place during hard cornering. The steering wheel is small, like a racing car's, feels good in your hands, and is decorated with the famous GT-R logo. Our right-hand-drive car had a sizable dead pedal. The paddles for the six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox are fixed to the steering column rather than to the steering wheel, just like they are in a Ferrari. Naturally, you start the GT-R with a red button that sits in the center console just behind the gearshift lever--no self-respecting performance car can be started with the simple twist of a key these days.
It's also immediately evident that technology is an important part of this car's package, as the center stack is a tech geek's dream. The large, multifunction display was designed in collaboration with Polyphony Digital, the company behind the Gran Turismo video games for Sony's PlayStation. The system, which has nine modes, can be accessed either by touching the screen or by twisting a knob. It will track speed; acceleration, cornering, and braking g-forces; steering angles; and lap times for two different drivers. It also shows the standard all-wheel-drive system's front-to-rear torque distribution, oil pressure, turbo boost, and the like, all in an intuitive and easy-to-use display. Three rocker switches in the center stack allow the driver to control the transmission's shift characteristics; adjust the suspension's dampers to Comfort, Sport, or Race mode; and turn off stability control.