WORDS: ROGER BURGESS
So, here it is, the definitive (in my mind) guide to 18 months of GT-R ownership and the slippery slope that is “do I, don’t I?”.
Everyone has their own tuner and preferred method and this is designed as my personal opinion of what many owners go through from the first Y Pipe to the guys trying to reach (and breach the limits).
To set the scene – I picked up Natalie’s Dirty Sister (the 350z was ‘Natalie the Nissan’ and hence the GT-R was her filthy sister – seemed natural to me) from WLMG on September 1st 2010 and took her straight to Valet Magic for a front wrap which saved the paintwork no end. Within a few weeks, having run her in to the absolute letter, I got her back and was able to revel in the amazing experience we all had when we first got it. Discussions on the forum in those days were basically ‘If I get a Y Pipe will the world explode’ and, after Nissan’s excellent approach at honouring warranty on anything breaking which was not a result of tuning, more and more people took the plunge including me.
Going to GTC and Ben Linney to get a GTC Titan Titanium Y Pipe and then the full exhaust made the car sound incredible and more like the performance but a rolling road day at TRL showed big fuel spiking and the inference that actually the next step, the dreaded stage 2 tune, beckoned and promised to sort the soot issue and make the car a whole heap faster and extract more drivability. So I called Ben again, having had great experience with the exhaust service and noise, to get a Cobb NIS005 which was the de facto tuning solution at the time.
I don’t honestly recall considering ECUTek and with Iain being circa 500 mile round trip the remote option seemed a sensible way to go. Service from Ben was, again, excellent and advice was quick and response via email and phone day and night or weekend. The Cobb arrived with 99 Stock tune and then Ben looked at logs I had created while doing logging runs and actually it was running so sweetly on the stock map we didn’t bother tweaking for custom as I wanted to be conservative. The car was then running approx. 595 BHP (W8PMC figures with an identical car at TRL a few weeks before).
So…the Cobb. I was extremely happy for 9 months of running and this took me to the gearbox issue which, frankly, had gone from poor to borderline insane when cold and with no other options I spoke to Iain about the ECUTek software. The timing is interesting for the purposes of this review as at the time I made the decision the NIS006 over the web update was not available so it made sense to sell the Cobb to a new home and get matching tune with ECUTek. Firstly to test out for all you lucky members how they compared and secondly because I couldn’t be bothered to send it back to the states! Obviously this now less of an issue with the NIS006 update over the net and the release last week of the LC4 function. So that sets the scene for the full week test this would consist of:
• Final blast on NIS005 99RON Tune – uninstall Cobb and send to new home
• Send to WLMG for 18 Month Service (Gearbox Fluid had been changed 4,000 miles earlier with Arcam and FFL4)
• Drive to Litchfields (luckily on sunny dry morning) on stock map
• Gearbox Upgrade to MY11 ECUTek and Custom Litchfield Stage 2 Tune with High Flow K and N Filters
• Drive back to London, through centre on busy Saturday afternoon, and then Miss Banzai Tunnel run
Luckily on my final run out at home the roads were dry, sun was out and a chav (well his girlfriend was but still kinda hot) in an obviously heavily tweaked Orange RS (massive off boost pops and smoke) was on the same road and the final run was as immense as it always was. Pulling onto dual carriageway alongside, him giving it rock all and having 50% of throttle travel to go demonstrated just what a league above this car is over truly fast other metal.
The Cobb released that slightly ‘retarded’ feel at the top end and last inch of throttle travel I remembered from the OEM map and pulls beautifully hard from 3,500 RPM all the way through before dropping you into another swell of torque and grins on upshift. You find yourself using the red line rather than short shifting at 6K. The noise was as epic as always and, on country roads with rubber warm, you slingshot out of corners in almost ludicrous acceleration and it is almost (almost) too fast for country roads as 2-3 seconds on the throttle and I was thanking the APs all round with XP8 to keep me alive.
Conclusion on the Cobb is it takes the car from being the ‘safe’ all round driven by anyone on supermarket junk 95 RON fuel and never serviced stock vehicle which the manufacturers are always hamstrung by to a proper monster. OEM, well what can I say, it is a very, very fast car. Service and fresh oil meant running out of Central London early Saturday morning was smooth and round town there is no noticeable difference between Stage 2 and OEM and you are too busy swearing at the pull away from lights from the gearbox. Not long now…… Put your foot flat once she is warmed through and you still get that big grin moment – rest assured this is a very, very fast car stock but it doesn’t quite pull right to the top as I was used to and seemed to ‘run out of puff’. Off roundabouts she still pulled very hard and the brand new white Aston Virage (stunning to hear) rolling start was interesting and I was concerned at first without my map to take it up to 11. It is an amazing feeling amazing when you drive passed a £150K car (I was having to try hard try hard I admit) and keep pulling away. I think he was surprised too but a thumbs up at the next lights and a bit of banter about his sounding better was a nice touch. That, I think, is the key problem with the GT-R. What to compare it with? In stock mode I was worried I wouldn’t have quite as much power to destroy other supercars. Yet with nothing to worry about in essence I got to thinking on the M4 (not much else to do really other than boggle at how bad the fuel economy is on a none tuned car at steady 80 MPH – at least 3/4 MPG down on my usual 24MPG on motorway).
So why do we tune the car at all when it is obviously so damn fast standard? I think that the only comparison with the GT-R is, the GT-R and with the MY11 and 12 stretching the older owners with £30K cost to change and additional £15K immediate depreciation hit in year one a cost of £45K in year one is simply not something I at least wish to consider.
So with better than stock MY12 suspension at £3.6K and Stage Four at around £4.3K from Litchfield you can take the MY08-10 car beyond MY12 for a fraction of the cost. Food for thought as I stopped for coffee (long day ahead). So with this in mind I arrive at Mr Litchfield’s domain for the first time. Obviously knowing Iain a little from GTROC events and conversations it wasn’t a totally first impression but even if you were brand new to the scene you couldn’t help but be impressed. Service is exceptional – a team of enthusiasts and a bevvy of GT-Rs and Scoobys and some other shiny metal in a really pleasant rural setting.
So after a quick catch up and meeting a fellow GT-R owner Iain updated the gearbox software (direct laptop connection for the ECUTek cable rather than device and laptop sync) and reset clutch points (none really needed as fresh from service) and then loaded the stock ECUTek software up. This is the key departure from the remote tuning methods as we then went out on a jolly fine piece of road to tune the car in real time. Hanging on to the laptop as Iain drove (the only person ever other than me to be allowed to drive the car) so he could feel how it responded and talked me through every element, what he was doing and why. Once we did a few runs in different gears and boost levels we pulled over and he tweaked timing, fuelling and boost levels. I don’t pretend to have understood a thing he said although I nodded and agreed with it all.
The one thing that is striking is the instant ability to graphically map the runs and then click into the reporting per fraction of a second to see precisely what was going on. So with no knock at all and fuelling being spot Iain tweaked a whole host of elements in a spread sheet which then transposed onto the map curve. Even to a layman you could see how the torque curve and boost retention were being smoothed and massaged while making sure injectors were not running at 100% duty cycle (97% tops if I remember correctly). This tweak was then uploaded and another run with Iain. After he was happy we went back out for me to test and my goodness me.
The gearbox is a revelation. Nissan really did crack it with MY11 and the pull away (as those who have the later cars know) is more like a proper auto and shifts are quick but smooth and it drops to first rather than jerking you away in second. Job done well thus far…… What can I say about the acceleration – I don’t know what it was but it just seemed faster. Pulling harder right across the rev range so solidly on boost I got to clip the limiter as it didn’t feel like it was running out of steam. Whether the comparison with the OEM clouded my judgement (which is pretty hazy at the best of times having seen some of my dating choices) but it seemed a good 5% more rapid than Cobb and much more drivable right through the rev range.
I have to balance this with the fact that I am certain if a Cobb tune was done on road/dyno it would offer a much closer comparison but watching the personal touch of someone doing it in front of you really seemed to make a difference and makes the tune feel more ‘special’ somehow. Not that important in mechanical terms but it does add to the experience. Seriously I cannot see how anything could actually run much faster on the road, certainly any more than 620 ish BHP is just not needed (but then when has that ever stopped anyone!).
The drive back to London was epic sunny and warm – every roundabout taken at max attack and then, after getting more fuel, settle down in the new Save/Road Mode – well that was interesting! I was showing 27 MPG rather than my usual 24/25MPG at my steady 80 MPH cruise over 50 miles which I use as a test. It also felt less ‘flat’ than the Cobb Save mode when pulling out to overtake.
My conclusions? If I had kept the Cobb I would be completely happy with it, as I had been for a year, and having not trialled the NIS006 gearbox upgrade I can’t compare the two directly. With the new cable coming for ECUTek (matter of weeks I believe) to extend the capabilities to remote tweaking/error code clearance etc, the service and the personal tune of the car on the road really made a difference and made me feel the car is special and even more ‘mine’. This might sound odd but I think we are all die hard petrol heads who own the cars, whether Stagea right through to R32-R35, it is really important and allows us to stamp our own small piece of personality on the car.
I am very happy – the car is still terrific and has a new lease of life again. Stage 4 has been delayed to next service (6 months) to give me something to look forward to but I expect that won’t give quite the same increase in performance (unless I do downpipes too mmmmmmmm). That ‘Fizz’ that James May talks about is there no matter what people say about ‘computer games’ it is a stunning machine and makes me smile like an idiot every time I get a clear piece of road.
Off now to run through some tunnels for the Miss Banzai Charity run. Can’t think of a better car to do it in – Thanks Iain!