Nissan flexes muscle with 2009 GT-R


By Jim Meachen

RENO, Nev. — As we eased along at a sedate 60 miles per hour behind a line of traffic on a two-lane Nevada highway, the veteran automotive magazine writer behind the wheel of the Nissan GT-R noted how he could never use the car as a daily driver.

I was a bit stunned. “This thing is idling along like your neighbor’s Nissan Altima. My mother could drive this thing,” I offered. “How can you say it won’t work as a daily driver?”

”That’s the problem,” he explained, as we idled for what seemed like an eternity behind a line of cars driving the speed limit. After an exhilarating trip down the mountain, we were limited to a 60 mph crawl. In a leisurely gait the beast acts so normal, so docile — especially with the suspension dialed in for cruising — that you soon get the irresistible itch to put it at a full gallop even for a few seconds. If you have experienced the awesome forces that can instantly be brought to life, the temptation is just too great to keep them caged. “I’d get in trouble real fast,” he sighed, as he finally found the slightest of openings and rocketed past three cars.

The supercar indeed lives up to Nissan’s product concept, “anyone, anytime, anywhere.” 
In other words it will work equally well as a grocery runner for mom with its generous-sized trunk or as a race track demon with its amazing technological wizardry for the young guy just back from a Bob Bondurant racing school.

The demon inside a performance car was very succinctly explained to us year’s ago by an engineer who helped develop a turbocharged sports car we were flogging on some rural Georgia roads when he said, “you’ve just got to let the big dog eat every so often.” 
And this big dog will eat. And eat. And eat.

The 2009 all-wheel drive GT-R that will begin reaching select Nissan showrooms this month is a true supercar at the bargain-basement price of $70,000. In fact, as more and more tests are done on the GT-R it’s becoming apparent that it is among the quickest production cars in the world, quicker to 60 mph than the Corvette Z06, the Dodge Viper, the Porsche Carrera GT, the Lamborghini Murcielago, the Ford GT, the Ferrari F430. 
Well, you get the picture.

Perhaps the new 620-horsepower Corvette ZR1 will offer a North American answer to the GT-R when it arrives late this year. But that's another story for another time.

The GT-R is more than numbers, but the numbers verify its spectacular driving dynamics.

Chew on the following:

• Zero to 60 between 3.2 and 3.4 seconds as measured in several independent tests. Nissan apparently has gone the conservative route with a manufacturer’s time of 3.5 seconds.

• A quarter mile in 11.5 seconds at 124 mph as measured by Car and Driver magazine.

• A top speed of 193 mph according to Nissan. 

• The second-fastest lap time ever recorded at the famed Nurburgring testing facility in Germany, 7.38 minutes. Only the Porsche Carrera GT has a better time.

 • Stopping distance in a neck-wrenching 104 feet from 60 mph as measured by 

Perhaps the best number of them all – a price less than a $100,000.

With some of these statistics as discussion points, we wound through the mountains from Lake Tahoe to the Reno-Fernley Raceway, sometimes able to let the Japanese Godzilla leap to life and sometimes settling in behind slower-moving traffic. When there was even a sliver of an opening, the GT-R was ignited by the right foot for a quick passing maneuver.

But because this is an “anyone, anytime, anywhere” car, the GT-R — which begs to go to the nearest track or abandoned airport runway — will more likely be garage-bound except on those days when its owner wants to show off in the neighborhood.

I discovered that the GT-R with a rather hefty 3,900-pound curb weight is not a ballet dancer like some sports cars weighing a thousand pounds less, but more of a muscular linebacker who can run a four-second 40 while displaying the agility of an All-American running back.

So what makes this Japanese machine tick? It’s a combination of things including a 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6 generating 480 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque, a rear-mounted dual-clutch six-speed automated manual transmission that provide instantaneous shifts through paddles mounted on either side of the steering wheel, a sophisticated all-wheel drive system that allows for drama-free three-second launches and handling that defies the laws of physics at the track or on winding rural roads, and massive Brembo brakes that bring the car down from speed in neck-wrenching time.

Some writers have questioned the 480-horsepower figure, suggesting that Nissan may be fudging on the low side, surmising that it would take somewhere over 500 to achieve these world-class times.

Inside there’s a rather plain-Jane interior with aluminum accents highlighting a dashboard dressed in black. Please don’t associate plain for cheap. Materials are of good quality and fit neatly.

But you will surely overlook the trim on your first visit behind the wheel as you sort through the myriad of supercar features, controls and readouts. A center monitor that also doubles as the navigation screen holds 11 different informational displays. Developed by Polyphony Digital, the screen can be dialed in to display everything from g-forces, throttle position, steering angle to lap times. Times can be derived through a stopwatch operated by buttons on the steering wheel.

Three “set-up switches” located in the center console adjust the transmission, suspension and Dynamic Control. There are three settings per switch including full race mode.

The seats are well bolstered, but big enough for those of us who need a little more space.

The GT-R is a four-seater, but for all practical purposes forget the back seats. We discovered that even if you move the front passenger seat up enough to create a little leg room, the sloping roof eliminates any semblance of head room.

When I arrived at the race track, we had only 30 minutes for a familiarization run and a couple of laps before our airport shuttle arrived.

But when I discovered that retired IMSA race car champion Steve Millen was at the track to take writers on a few hot laps later in the day, I asked if Steve was available on short notice. Minutes later we were strapped in and watching a master road course driver wring every ounce of performance out of the GT-R. It was an exhilarating end to an entertaining day of driving in one of the world’s greatest cars.

For those ready to pony up 70 grand and change, be aware that Nissan is only bringing 1,500 copies a year for five years to the U.S.
I would be amazed if a big premium is not added to the sticker price at the outset. The best bet might be to exert some patience and wait it out a couple years for prices to more closely mimic the sticker.

But waiting for this exceptional performance machine is asking a lot of those with little patience – in traffic or in a buying line.


Base price: $69,850; as driven, $71,900
Engine: 3.8 liter twin turbo V-6
Horsepower: 480 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 434 pound-feet @ 3,200 rpm   
Transmission: 6-speed automated manual
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 109.4 inches
Length: 183.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,908 pounds
Turning circle: 37.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 11.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16.9 gallons (premium)
EPA mileage: NA
0-60: 3.3 seconds (Road and Track)
Also consider: Corvette Z06, Porsche 911 Turbo, Dodge Viper

The Good
• World-class performance and handling
• Easy to drive
• Amazing bang for the buck

The Bad
• Quirky exterior design could keep some potential buyers away

The Ugly
• The sticker price may only be the starting point for negotiating a purchase