2009 Nissan GT-R

Godzilla hits North America

2009 Nissan GT-R
Share this Article

It's immediately apparent when an automaker nails a car. Audi did it with the R8 and Nissan has done it with the 2009 GT-R. This fire-breathing four-wheel drive Godzilla is what enthusiasts the world over have been waiting for. If it's not car of the year material, what is?

As Japan's most powerful production touring car to date, the 2009 Nissan GT-R has roots dating back to the sixties and a successful R380 race car whose two-liter turbo straight-six was adopted for street use in the 1969 Nissan Skyline GT-R (the original), which went on to score 49 consecutive victories from '68 to '72 in the Japan Grand Prix series.

Over the years, GT-R became one of the nation's most successful racing platforms and a feared adversary on any road or track. No stranger to the fast and furious crowd, Skyline GT-Rs had amassed over 1,000 victories by the time Nismo (Nissan's motorsports arm) retired the last generation R34 race cars. They did so in favor of newer 350Z models to compete in 2002 Japanese Grand Touring Car championship. Now, it's back in action in Japan's 2008 Super GT racing series.

In the production sphere, this is actually the GT-R placard's second revival in its 40 year history. Though it won't have a Skyline badge, it does have traditional cues - like round taillights, for instance. This latest sixth-generation R35 interpretation will be the first production GT-R model to be sold outside Asia. It laughs in the face of today's modern domestic muscle cars like the Dodge Challenger SRT, Shelby Mustang GT500E and upcoming Chevrolet Camaro. In fact, engineers had one primary goal in mind – build a car that would knock the 911 Turbo off its high horse.

LIMITED PRODUCTION & DISTRIBUTION

Of the 12,000 Nissan planned to build this year, approximately 70 per cent of those bound for the States have already been sold. The first customer deliveries of the limited production Nissan GT-R supercar began on July 7, 2008; and, even after a recent price increase (apparently due to rising raw material costs), the GT-R's $76,840 starting price ($79,090 for the premium model) is a downright bargain if you can get your mitts on one. If you're among the lucky ones, destination and handling is another grand.

FAST FACTS

1. Sprints to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and stops in 110 feet.

2. Multi-function display tells you everything from throttle position to G-forces.

3. Switches on dash allow you to adjust suspension, shift-time and even shut off traction control. Oh… and they let you engage launch control.

The GT-R is only available through officially certified Nissan dealers that have met a number of strict sales, service and facility commitments, including dedicating a master technician to GT-R service. A searchable listing of the 663 certified Nissan dealers can be found at on nissanusa.com.

480 TWIN TURBO ALL-WHEEL-DRIVE HORSEPOWER

Power comes from an all-new twin turbocharged 3.8L V6 making 480 hp at 6400 rpm and 434 ft-lbs of torque between 3200 and 5200 rpm. Backed by an all-new, paddle-shifted, dual clutch rear transmission and a world first independent rear transaxle ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive system, this engine (codenamed VR38DETT) is a technological tour de force.

Performance-wise, the third-gen R32 GT-R was the first Japanese car to go under eight minutes on the Nordschleife (Nurburgring). Right out of the box, the new GT-R did it in seven minutes, 38 seconds and it can attack corners at well over 1G. Nissan claims it goes from zero-to-60 mph in 3.5 seconds and tops out at 193 mph. All in all, that's not too shabby for a 3,840 lb coupe. Possibly even more impressive is that the massive brakes can stop this monster in its tracks in just 110 from 60 mph.

Built on Nissan's new Premium Midship chassis, the GT-R's sculpted hybrid die-cast aluminum, steel and Carbon fiber body is as functional as they come. Thanks to two years of wind tunnel development with Lotus, the result is a very low 0.27 drag coefficient, while offering a ton of front and rear downforce at speed.

ON THE STREET: CONTROLABLE POWER

At the North American press launch in Nevada, I tucked the key fob in my pocket, hopped in the ultra comfortable sport seats and became the first in our group to fire up the beast. The GT-R is immediately easy to drive. Its telepathic steering, adjustable four-wheel independent suspension, torque-splitting tranny, potent engine and smart all-wheel drive system welcome my inputs and inspire confidence on the twisty Mount Rose pass leading into Reno. Power delivery is instantaneous and linear, and the wide 20-inch alloy wheels sheathed in Bridgestone RE070R run-flat tires grip the road like a chameleon does glass.

A driver change puts me in the passenger seat and I'm now fiddling with the GT-R's cutting edge multi-function display. Developed by Polyphony (the same company behind Sony's popular Gran Turismo driving simulator games), it gives me info like the current boost level, acceleration and cornering G's, torque split, temperatures of various components and plenty more.

Although more noticeable at slower speeds, the run-flats do emit a reasonable amount of noise when the vehicle's in motion. It's nothing the great-sounding 11-speaker Bose audio system can't remedy however. Plus, the security of being able to drive 50 miles at 50 mph after a puncture on expensive wheels is a decent trade-off.

ADJUSTABLE SUSPENSION AND SHIFT TIMES

Despite its hardcore appeal, the GT-R cruises without wind noise and is poised to spring into action in just two-tenths of a second (the amount of time it takes to upshift after the transmission has been put into R mode). In normal mode, shifts take half-a-second. A snow mode is also available.

Similarly, the advanced electronically-controlled Bilstein DampTronic suspension has three modes, including comfort to reduce freeway hop and improve ride quality on rough roads. R mode increases damping force for better cornering.

It's mid-day when we get to Reno-Fernley Raceway and, after a quick lunch, debriefing and orientation lap with Nissan guru Steve Millen (the winningest driver in IMSA GT history), it takes only few laps to get comfortable enough to flip the transmission and suspension switches to R mode; the VDC-R traction control quickly goes offline too.


TESTING THE LAUNCH CONTROL

I just had to experience the GT-Rs launch control feature. To do this, the brake and accelerator are held down simultaneously. This revs up and holds the engine at 4500 rpm and, when you let go of the brake, all hell breaks loose as the GT-R’s 53/47 weight distribution shifts closer to 50/50 and the Gs hit you. To prevent bogging, the rear tires spin momentarily while the front ones grip. Once they do, you'd better be ready to click the right steering-wheel mounted shift paddle!

THE COMPETITION

Compared to other vehicles of this ilk, the GT-R accelerates quicker and more eloquently than a Lamborghini Gallardo, shifts less harshly than a manual R8 and way faster than Audi's DSG transmission. One of my newer faves, the C63 AMG, even feels slow around a circuit and neither Aston Martin's V8 Vantage nor Jaguar's XKR are as nimble on their feet.

PLUS

Amazingly good brakes for such a heavy car
Launch control
Crisp handling and quick shifts

MINUS

Heafty curb weight
Loud and heavy run-flat tires
Difficult to get your hands on one

THE VERDICT

The 2009 Nissan GT-R is perhaps the best handling car I've driven. It has a neutral and supremely confident feel, and unless you're pushing the outermost edge of the envelope, there's virtually no understeer. It truly blurs the line between sports car and super car, offering performance on par with the latter, minus the huge price tag normally associated with them. Kudos for getting it right Nissan!

Get Autoguide.com in your Inbox