Those who are familiar with GT-R history won't be surprised to learn that Nissan decided to stick with a boost-fed six-cylinder engine for the new GT-R, but this time it's a twin-turbocharged V-6 rather than an in-line six. Displacement is up from the R34's 2.6 liters to 3.8 liters, and power rises dramatically, by about 200 hp, from 276 hp (which admittedly was a conservative figure). The V-6 is mated only to the paddleshift automatic; a manual gearbox is not offered, which is sure to disappoint some GT-R fans.
The V-6, code-named VR38, was specifically developed for the GT-R. Unlike the flat six in the 911 Turbo, the car that Nissan unabashedly claims as its performance target, the GT-R's engine doesn't wear its turbochargers on its sleeve, preferring a more linear power output to the Porsche's sudden kick in the pants. The V-6 will perhaps be too subdued for some, as we noted no outstanding characteristic to its tonal quality. That might have changed for the production car, though, and there's no question that the turbos help deliver a bountiful seam of torque in the usable midrange, from 3200 to 5200 rpm. During our brief run on the autobahn, the twin-turbo V-6 easily propelled the GT-R to an indicated 280 kph (174 mph) repeatedly, in addition to the aforementioned 300 kph. (We later learned that the speedometer error was as high as ten percent, but you get the picture: this is a fast car.)
The transmission is actually the more viscerally appealing part of the powertrain. It offers three settings: A for fully automatic mode; M for manual mode; and R for race, the sportiest mode. In R, shifting becomes almost violent, and you feel and hear the transaxle--whomp, whomp, whomp--handing off each gear behind you, sounding a lot like Ferrari's F1-Superfast gearbox. After a few perfectly blipped downshifts, you might forget you ever wanted a manual in the first place.
During his technical briefing, chief engineer Kazutoshi Mizuno presented numerous EKG-style graphs showing that the GT-R's acceleration, speed, steering, braking, longitudinal g's, and other dynamic parameters were on par with those of the Porsche 911 Turbo. "Around the Nürburgring," he pointed out, "the cars are mostly similar, but the GT-R is a bit better on steering and acceleration, because it allows the driver to make smoother inputs." As he said this, he grinned and mimed grasping a steering wheel, moving his hands back and forth.
That image came to mind later, when we had a chance to drive a 911 Turbo that Nissan provided for a back-to-back comparison with the GT-R prototype. The Nissan's steering, believe it or not, is better than the Porsche Turbo's. The 911's steering has great feel and communication but utterly lacks the precision of the GT-R's. Just as Mizuno-san claimed, the GT-R required far fewer minute corrections to the steering wheel to maintain the intended path through a twisty stretch of narrow, German country road. The 911 Turbo felt a little sloppy compared with the Nissan, quite frankly. The Porsche gets the nod in ride quality, though, as the Nissan was a bit stiff-legged, even when the suspension was set to comfort mode.
During two brief laps of the Nürburgring Grand Prix circuit (not the Nordschleife), the GT-R felt like a thoroughbred, but it didn't inspire any particularly heroic driving. Still, the Nissan prototype was stable, predictable, and quite poised, with excellent body control and strong, fade-free braking from the fifteen-inch front, fifteen-inch rear Brembo rotors.