Cars > Encounter

The Nissan GT-R made me realize that it’s time to grow up

The author’s dream car gave him a huge dose of reality

The author gets excited each time he sees a Nissan GT-R. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

We all have our dream cars. While I currently yearn for the latest Lexus IS, there’s no denying that my childhood dream machine is the Nissan GT-R R35. From all the time I’ve spent gawking at it in real life (whether abroad, at an auto show, or even at a parking lot) to driving it in video games, you could tell that I thought the GT-R was the next best thing to sliced bread.

Bayside Blue is a popular color for the R34 Skyline GT-R. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

When I was told that I would be tagging along with a colleague to spend a day with the GT-R, you can only imagine how excited I was. I was restless. But at the back of my mind, I was also thinking about the saying “never meet your heroes,” preparing myself for the possible disappointment to come.

And as I’ve learned the hard way, putting people or things on a pedestal can often result in less-than-ideal outcomes.

The GT-R's signature styling cues are the circular taillights. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

The day came, and when I arrived at where the GT-R was parked, I ran toward it like a little kid, emitting little oohs and aahs as I walked around the car. The design may be old, but it’s one that has aged rather gracefully. This Bayside Blue example commands a lot of attention even when it was staying still at the side of the road. After preparing for the journey to Batangas Racing Circuit, I rode shotgun so I could experience the car from a passenger’s perspective.

The first thing I noticed was that the cabin was pretty nice, especially in its white-and-black color scheme. But upon closer inspection, the car’s age started to show in several places. The analog gauge cluster has a monochrome LCD, and there are tons of physical controls for almost everything on the center console (thankfully). Oddly enough, even if this model year of the R35 is supposed to come with Apple CarPlay, the infotainment system did not support it.

It’s not the most comfortable or serene driving experience, to put it bluntly. Our horrible roads and the run-flat tires might have made the journey harsher than usual, but there’s no getting around the stiff suspension even in comfort mode. Going over rumble strips would violently shake the entire cabin, with the occasional pothole feeling like a sudden jolt. As supportive as the seat bolsters were on the track, they were not particularly comfortable for my slightly above-average frame.

Stepping out left me shaken. I don’t drink, but this is probably what people feel like after downing a few shots of strong liquor. My lower body felt numb from all of the vibrations and harshness transmitted into the cabin.

Each VR38DETT engine is built by specialist craftsmen. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

At this point, you might be inclined to say “well, the GT-R is a sports car.” And you’re right. But the reason why it’s my dream car is that I saw it as a “practical” supercar, with the notion of being able to live with one on a daily basis. Driving it did validate some of my expectations, thankfully.

It’s the most mechanical-feeling modern car I have driven so far. Even if many people do tout the R35 to be like a computer on wheels, it’s a very contradictory experience. I can hear all the mechanical noises like the turbo, the exhaust system, and the transmission.

The steering is a bit on the heavy side yet very communicative, allowing me to feel everything on the road. The dual-clutch gearbox, while not the smoothest or fastest-shifting transmission nowadays, is surprisingly manageable in city traffic. Overtaking is a breeze, but just be sure to watch your speed as you can accidentally find yourself zooming past 120km/h too easily.

The GT-R's forte is rocketing out of corners with its AWD system. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA AND HANS BOSSHARD

We did encounter a bit of an issue trying to find 100-octane gas outside of Metro Manila and the expressways. But surprisingly, the car managed to do the entire trip on a single tank, netting a decent mixed average fuel economy of 8.2km/L.

The car’s driving position felt like I was piloting a regular sedan, unlike the low-slung position in most sports cars. I tried the rear seats and found that the sloping glass not only eats into a lot of headroom, but it also cooks your head. You can probably fit a small child or people you don’t really like back there, but it’s definitely a lot more usable than those in something like a Subaru BRZ.

Couple that with a large boot and impressive visibility, and the GT-R is almost there as a viable daily commuter. It even has some niceties like heated seats, cold aircon (because Nissan), an 11-speaker Bose sound system, and a camera and sensors to make parking the car very easy.

This isn't a cabin that is geared for long road trips. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

But of course, the itinerary wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the GT-R’s capabilities on the track. I rode shotgun for several hot laps, because the VR38DETT 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6’s output of 562hp and 633Nm is no laughing matter. One wrong move, and one would have had a lot of explaining to do.

The GT-R’s strengths lie in the straight line. The way the boost kicks in is just visceral, and we slingshot past several cars on the main straight of BRC with relative ease. The exhaust note has so much theater to it (including some goosebump-inducing pops and crackles) that I couldn’t help but crack a massive smile.

But there’s no getting around how heavy the GT-R is. I felt the car’s weight shift around while going around corners, but the four-wheel-drive system allows it to turn in like it has no business doing so. The G forces I experienced during those few laps were enough to make me nauseous.

The nerd in me enjoyed watching the GT-R’s info display update in real time, showing many things like the Gs we pulled in that last corner, the turbo pressure, and how much throttle and brakes were being used, making me feel like I was playing Gran Turismo. That’s funny, because the gauges were designed in collaboration with Polyphony Digital, the developer of the game.

The center information display was engineered by Gran Turismo's developer. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA AND HANS BOSSHARD

Sure, given the chance, I would love to own a GT-R, but the hard truth is that unless I suddenly had enough money to comfortably afford and maintain one, there are better options out there. To get the chance to spend the day with one is more than enough, and I’m extremely grateful that I was able to do so.

This experience, in a way, was the fulfillment of a childhood dream. Not exactly in the way I had envisioned it, but this encounter has given me a healthy dose of reality, which we all need every now and then. Like how the R35 GT-R is slowly winding down with minor updates, it’s about time that I moved on as the next greatest thing may be around the corner. Maybe the R36 will blow my mind? I can only hope.

Sam Surla

Sam is the youngest member of our editorial team. He specializes in photography and videography, but he also happens to like writing about cars a lot.