Nissan's GT-R on Ice

Britain’s famous automotive journalists at Top Gear recently tested three all-wheel-drive supercars on a frozen lake. The test was to compare the AWD systems of the Jaguar F-Type, Porsche 911 Turbo, and Nissan GT-R. I won’t spoil the article for you, as it’s a pretty good read (Check it out here). I will comment on the Nissan GT-R’s AWD system. I’ve spent plenty of time behind the wheel of a GT-R here in the Seattle, Washington area and have had the chance to drive and compare other supercars.

To start the GT-R’s all-wheel-drive system is amazing. It just goes and puts down power like nothing else. It’s like magic; or should we say magic on ice given Top Gear’s article?  Stomp on the gas and expect Nissan’s sophisticated AWD to figure out how to get you from 0-60 mph in less than 3 seconds. 2.7 seconds to 60-mph is Nissan’s fastest time in a stock 2013 GT-R with launch control.

The AWD system that allows the Nissan GT-R to be so quick is called the Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All-terrain with Electronic Torque Split. Luckily the Nissan engineers shortened it to the acronym ATTESA ET-S so we didn’t run out of air after saying it to fans at the gas station. Unfortunately they still may look at us dumbfounded until we explain how it works. Luckily that’s the point of this article.

The way it works is a front-mounted twin-turbo V6 engine sends power through a carbon fiber drive shaft to the rear-mounted transaxle. There is then another drive-shaft running parallel to the main shaft that sends power back up to the front wheels. The result is a car that runs primarily in rear-wheel drive (98% of power to the rear and 2% to the front), but can shift to a 50/50 split when slippage is detected.

The Nissan GT-R's AWD System

Image by Nissan

Image by Nissan

To detect and prevent slippage there are a multitude of sensors and systems. There is a three-axis G sensor, gearbox and engine ECU sensors to control power, and 4 ABS sensors.   There is also a mechanical limited-slip differential and Nissan’s vehicle dynamics control system (VCR-R).

To simplify things, the way it works is the engine is going to send 98% of its power to the rear wheels. As soon as those wheels start to slip it diverts up to 50% of the power to the front wheels. If one of the front wheels start to slip by spinning faster than the other the ABS brakes are applied to that individual wheel until it slows down to match the speed that’s needed. If one of the rear wheels start to slip the mechanical limited-slip differential kicks in. If the engine is putting down too much power, say on a frozen lake, the engine will cut power until just the right amount is found. All of this is happening and being reevaluated in milliseconds.

The result of all this technology is perfect acceleration. The GT-R’s technology routes the exact amount of power to each wheel at the exact moment it’s needed. It allows for amazing launches, even on frozen lakes. It’s also why the numbers the GT-R puts out are so impressive.

Having driven a GT-R in various driving conditions I can attest to all of this. Tires still matter, but the stock tires are pretty good for every day driving here in Seattle. Mostly what I’ve driven the GT-R in is rain, and the GT-R is honestly unaffected.  

When I used to drive a C6 Corvette ZR1 it would slip all the time in the rain. Too much power and torque for rainy conditions. Of course this made it fun as I enjoyed drifting around a corner or having the rear end fishtail a bit. The 2013 Dodge Viper was the same way. To me this was a lot of fun, but it slowed the car down. The GT-R doesn’t have this problem. Hit the gas and get thrown in your seat as maximum power is applied.

To me the GT-R is an engineering masterpiece. The interior is starting to get outdated in comparison to newer supercars, but it’s still better than what most people are driving daily. The interior beats the inside of a Toyota Prius or Honda Accords after all. It’s rumored that the next Nissan GT-R will not show its face until at least 2018. I hope that’s not true, but if it is I’m sure it will be worth the wait. I’m sure Nissan’s team has something special in mind for us fans. I willing to bet the next GT-R will once again set the standard for a quick, relatively affordable, and roomy supercar.  I can’t wait.


If you would like to experience the amazing AWD system of the Nissan GT-R yourself book one for a weekend rental. One day rentals start at $600 and a two-day rental is only $1,000. It’s a pretty amazing value on a $100K+ car, and the performance is truly mind blowing for the value.

Read Top Gear's GT-R vs 911 Turbo vs Jag F-Typeon ice (external link)

The Nissan GT-R Hits the White Powder

Nissan's Official Video of testing the GT-R in adverse weather conditions (snow). The video is in Japanese with subtitles.