2009 Nissan GT-R

At first glance, the Nissan GT-R seems a totem for everything wrong with modern sports cars. It’s much too big, way too heavy, far too complex, and damnably too expensive for mere wage earners, especially after inevitable gouging precipitated by a global struggle for the annual production run of just 12,000. Were Colin Chapman alive, he’d be on YouTube maniacally machine-gunning a GT-R to “add lightness.”
The Nissan GT-R has been the dream car of many American enthusiasts since it was introduced in the Gran Turismo series of video games. A favorite among armchair racers, the digital GT-R was a cinch to drive, with impressive all-wheel-drive handling and plenty of power. Many longed to bring this video-game car to life, and now Nissan has done just that.

Much like the virtual machine, the new GT-R seems to defy the laws of physics. According to its stats, this is one of the fastest, best handling street-legal cars available. Based on our first drive in the new GT-R, we can tell you those stats don’t lie.
Now that we’re on our third or fourth glance, and we’ve been able to slap on testing gear and hit the track, the GT-R is earning our awe. In seeking to uphold all that is Godzilla, chief engineer Kazutoshi Mizuno and his crew have built a simply astonishing vehicle.

It’s still big, heavy, complex, and expensive, but it’s also a holy spitfire at the drag strip and a joy to drive in every way that a big, heavy, and complex car has no right to be unless it’s way more expensive than the GT-R’s advertised base price of $70,475.

This GT-R story is about performance numbers, so we won’t dillydally: 60 mph is barbecued in 3.3 seconds, the quarter-mile in 11.5 seconds at 124 mph. Braking from 70 mph takes 145 feet, and skidpad runs are 0.99 g.

Those are Olympic-qualifying stats. Indeed, with those results, the GT-R would have nuked our last $123,760 Porsche 911 Turbo and felled our last $404,410 Lamborghini LP640 roadster. Still think the GT-R is too expensive? We don’t.

If all production cars run like our 3529-mile engineering-mule tester, with its husky midrange torque and smooth ramp-ups to on-boost thrust, buyers will be getting way more than 480 horsepower for their dollars. The GT-R must have more to be haul-assing its 3908 pounds to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds. That’s what the $321,956 611-hp Ferrari 599GTB Fiorano runs on game day.

Unconfirmed reports out of Japan say production GT-Rs are cremating dynos with 480 horsepower at the wheels, which means the twin-turbo, twin-intercooler, twin-intake 3.8-liter V-6 is churning out well over 500 fillies.

And it all goes to ground so effortlessly. The GT-R’s launch control requires the dual-clutch auto-manual transmission and the shock absorbers be set to the max-performance “R” setting, the stability control to be off, and feet on both the brake and gas. Do that, and the V-6 leaps to 4500 rpm and dumps the clutch when you lift the brake. There’s a brief chirp from the rear rolling pins as they deposit barely an inch of rubber, and the GT-R is gone.

Upshifts with the leather-fringed paddles are rifle-round quick but free of shock. Nissan has sweated its first dual-clutch six-speed, and it shows in the seamless ratio changes and lurch-free clutching. We conducted 15 brutal launches, and the GT-R endured them with grace, sometimes posting 60-mph sprints just 0.01 second apart.

Heavy Yet Nimble

Having established that the GT-R is preposterously and reliably fast, we shall now recite what else we noticed in this brief visit with the car. Even at full war cry the engine is muted, just a mellow warble even under full throttle. The car is also comfortable, at least for those in front.

As mentioned, the GT-R has expansive dimensions. Our tape measure revealed front-seat space that totals 54 cubic feet within the lavish 109.5-inch wheelbase. Rear seaters get woeful head- and legroom but at least enjoy more torso space than in a 911.

Nissan fits U.S.-market GT-Rs with extra-wide front buckets of perforated leather and anti-slip fabric that support and comfort.

Elsewhere in the cockpit, Italian-looking finery is present in taut, top-stitched dash upholstery and a leather-swathed hand brake fit for a Ferrari. The dash design actually seems to be one of no design, characterized by basic rectangles, circles, and squares.

The dials, the air vents, the buttons (11 on the steering wheel alone), and the multicolor nav-and-info screen stack haphazardly up a hillside like shanties in a Brazilian favela. But they prove easy to use and will appeal to those who prefer a simple functionality over art-house flourish.

Many of the “gauges” on the 11 driver-selectable info screens are inane if not suicidal to watch while in motion, such as a lateral-g meter and a front-to-rear torque-split enumerator.

However, esoteric displays such as graphs showing brake-and-accelerator-pedal movements would be useful to those who in-car-video their lapping sessions.

Lapping? The GT-R’s specs describe a luxury grand tourer, and it is one, especially with its shock selector set on comfort and the pavement cracks rolling sedately underneath the huge tires. But turned loose on a track or mountain macaroni, the GT-R flouts its size and mass handicaps.

It cements itself to corner apexes and scribes perfect lines on exit with none of the steering numbness or front-end washout we’re trained to expect from all-wheel-drive supercars.

The obvious rear torque bias pays its dividends, as does a lightning-quick 15.1:1 rack ratio when it comes time to reel in the fat derrière from the inevitable, entertaining, easily controlled power slides.

Larger, heavier, and less costly than its competition, the GT-R also charges harder and dances with lighter soles. At least so says our experience so far. Comparison tests and dyno pulls to follow.

Scribbled on July 23rd 2008 in Nissan, Nissan GT-R
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