Nissan GT-R — Japanese thrill machine

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Any week spent with Godzilla is a good week. The excessively fast Nissan GT-R sports car — which earned its distinctive Japanese nickname years ago — has not been redesigned since it landed on American shores in 2008 and is now in its seventh model year. But continual improvements have kept the beast on even terms with the limited competition it faces.

Nissan likes to tinker with the car virtually every year creating small upgrades and design tweaks. For example, for 2015 the GT-R gets a new and somewhat softer suspension, restyled front and rear fascia, and active noise cancellation to make things quieter in the cabin.

The all-wheel drive GT-R, which has been in Nissan's Japanese stable for 45 years, is propelled by a 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6 making 545-horsepower and 463 pound-feet of torque running through a rear-mounted and somewhat audible dual-clutch 6-speed automated manual transmission that provides instantaneous shifts. The sophisticated all-wheel drive system allows for drama-free launches, cornering and handling that defies the laws of physics whether at the track or on winding rural roads, and massive Brembo brakes that bring the car down from speed in neck-wrenching time.

Inside there's a rather plain-Jane interior with aluminum accents highlighting a dashboard dressed in black. Don't associate plain for cheap. Materials are of excellent quality and fit and finish is first class.

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 and audio screen holds 11 different informational displays. Developed by Polyphony Digital, the screen can be dialed in to display everything from gear position, g-forces, throttle position, steering angle and lap times. Times can be derived through a stopwatch operated by buttons on the steering wheel.

The GT-R has always been easy to drive, but now it's significantly more refined for the daily commute. A less jarring ride and the quieter interior make the GT-R much more attractive as Godzilla works equally well as a grocery runner with its generous-sized trunk or as a race track demon with its amazing technological wizardry for anyone just back from a Bob Bondurant racing school.

We discovered that the GT-R, with a rather hefty 3,850-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. Its size didn't detract from its ability to devour our usual winding back road "test track" at breathtaking speeds that could be sustained for only short bursts to maintain control and for safety’s sake.

The GT-R cabin is comfortable although — even with the new sound-deadening enhancements — still nosier than such cars as the new Chevy Corvette or Porsche 911. The standard seats are well bolstered, but big enough for those of us who need a little more spread-out room. (Opting for the Recaro seats might be a different proposition, however). Although the GT-R is a four-seater, for all practical purposes forget the back seats; there is literally no legroom and the sloping roof eliminates any semblance of head room.

No argument that the GT-R is more than numbers, but the numbers verify its driving dynamics: Zero to 60 in 2.9 seconds as measured in several tests; a quarter mile in 11.2 seconds at 122.7 mph; a top speed of 193 mph according to Nissan; a stopping distance of 101 feet from 60 mph; and lateral acceleration measured at 1.05 g.

The price of admission has consistently escalated through the years. The 2009 version carried a base price of just under $70,000. Six years later, the base GT-R wears a bottom line of $103,365 including a rather steep $1,595 destination fee.

The standard GT-R comes in three trim levels, Premium, Black Edition, and Track Edition. And Nissan has upped the ante this year with the addition of a 600-horsepower Nismo edition, which commands a jaw-dropping $151,585 including destination charge. Virtually everything is standard in the base Premium with no need to tack on any of the limited list of options. Our test car included a "premium" paint which raised the bottom line to $106,650.

The Black Edition — with such add-ons as lightweight black alloy wheels, carbon-fiber rear spoiler, and Recaro front sports seats — carries a price tag of $113,105. The Track Edition, which includes competition-ready upgrades such as a firmer suspension and rear brake cooling ducts, goes out the door for $117,305.

Base price: $103,365; as driven, $106,650
Engine: 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6
Horsepower: 545 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 463 pound-feet @ 3,200 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automated manual
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 109.4 inches
Length: 183.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,851 pounds
Turning circle: 36.6 feet
Luggage capacity: 8.8 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 19.5 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 23 highway, 16 city, 19 combined
0-60: 2.9 seconds (Car and Driver)
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The Good
• Cutting-edge acceleration
• Cornering juggernaut
• Works well as a daily driver
• High-quality interior

The Bad
• No manual transmission available

The Ugly
• Aging platform