Review: 2009 Nissan GT-R

2009 Nissan GT-R – Click above for high-res image gallery

Nissan recently granted Autoblog four fleeting days with a red 2009 Nissan GT-R. While it seems every major automotive outlet has tested "Godzilla" on the track (including our First Drive), we chose instead to keep it on the streets to see if one of the world's most powerful and fastest accelerating cars could be domesticated by stop-and-go traffic, family errands, and carpool duty. Of course, we only stuck to that routine for a day or two... the rest of the time was spent on the famed canyon roads of Southern California. Follow the jump to read about our 100-hour experience in the Nissan GT-R and don't miss what very well may be the most beautiful gallery of high-res images we've ever published courtesy of our own Drew Phillips and all ready to become your next desktop wallpaper.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

A light plane crash-landed a few hundred yards from our office within minutes after we took delivery of the GT-R. The injury-free emergency landing left the plane wrinkled and upside down in a big open field, easily viewed from the busy freeway. With emergency vehicles converging, conditions were perfect to draw a crowd of onlookers. Naturally, we jumped into the just-arrived GT-R for the drive down the block to check things out.

When we pulled up, the small crowd that had gathered to gawk at the wreck turned around and looked at us... Within minutes, we had a handful of people crawling all over the distinctive Datsun. An Infiniti G37 owner stopped and jumped out of his car. A Porsche GT2 driver did the same. Teenagers sent text messages to their friends and snapped pics on their mobiles, while others took their turn in the driver's seat pretending they were living their Gran Turismo dream. We stood there stupefied that people would choose to stare at, and photograph, a Nissan over the battered aircraft in the dusty field just yards away. Little did we realize that the attention the Nissan was drawing foreshadowed our instant celebrityhood now that we held the keys to the hot new GT-R.

Nissan's GT-R is about as physically discreet as a bikini-clad Pamela Anderson. Our particular GT-R, in "Solid Red" over black leather, damn-near stopped traffic. We've never piloted another car, not even a bright-red Ferrari, that mesmerized as many sets of eyes. Scores of adults and teenagers waved and gave us thumbs-up, while the smallest of children pointed in awe. Far from sleek and sexy, the angular GT-R evokes a Transformer-like aura that transcends ages. Muscular shoulder proportions, an angular greenhouse, and four exaggerated exhaust cannons in the rear forge a styling statement that screams "I'm going to kick ass" to anyone within view. Thankfully, the Nissan's bite is every bit as angry as its visual bark.

Under the aluminum hood sits a twin-turbocharged, 3.8-liter V6, reportedly making 480 hp. Power is sent though a rear-mounted six-speed dual-clutch transmission before being routed to all four wheels through Nissan's ATTESA ET-S all-wheel drive system. Even with a chunky curb weight of about 3,900 lbs, the GT-R rockets to 60 mph in about 3.4 seconds (leaving little doubt that Nissan is being very conservative with their power claims). In the real world, the dual-clutch transmission is jerky and cumbersome until you hit about 5 mph. At that point all the gears and clutches feel in sync, and the power at your right foot is just plain crazy. Indescribable neck-bending acceleration is but a half-inch press of the gas pedal away. The car is so bloody-fast that GT-R owners may never sit at a stoplight next to another vehicle that can out-accelerate them beyond legal speeds.

For all of its prodigious power, the engine is surprisingly muted. At idle or low speeds, you can hear the grumble from the exhaust pipe, but you'd swear the Infiniti G37 sounds throatier. As engine speed increases, the exhaust is overtaken by more mechanical sounds. At redline, any sound coming out of the four oversized exhaust pipes has been replaced by the wail of turbochargers, intake noises, transmission whine, differential whirring, and an odd aural assortment of mechanics. It's not F1-inspired like a Ferrari, intimidating like a Corvette, or silky like a BMW. The sound of a GT-R at full wail is vociferous. Hardly recognizable, but other drivers know they simply must get out of its way.

Feeling evil, we ran the GT-R on the same Southern California roads that hosted our Porsche Cayman S just weeks prior, fully expecting the very tight and technical corners to throw the heavyweight Nissan off balance. We couldn't have been more wrong. While the six-speed Porsche delicately sliced its way from corner to corner without breaking a sweat, the GT-R was much more brutal in its approach. The harder we pushed, the better it got. In full "R-mode" the GT-R would scream into corners carrying far too much momentum. Just when we thought it was too late, the massive brakes would bleed the speed so we could flick the steering wheel around the bend. Stabbing the throttle into the carpet, the rears would break free for just a few feet while the back end came around. Milliseconds later, the fronts would hook-up and drag all 3,900 pounds to the next corner in lightning speed. While most overpowered exotics never fail to remind the driver of their quirks (usually at the most inopportune times), the GT-R follows every request the driver commands. The Nissan quickly inspired the type of confidence that could make a poor driver look good, and a good driver look great.

Developed and proven at the track, the GT-R can be tamed. Late one afternoon, we sat through 85 miles of Los Angeles traffic with the transmission in "Auto" and the suspension on "Comfort". With the exception of the clunky gearbox at low speeds, the GT-R was as docile as an Altima. If we didn't acknowledge the throngs of passers-by who were taking pictures of the car, it was easy to forget about the twin-turbochargers, sophisticated AWD powertrain, and launch control. That was reassuring, but it also made us a bit uneasy. In a Ferrari, or Porsche for that matter, the harsh ride and idiosyncrasies always remind the driver of the mission. The GT-R, so brilliantly engineered to drive 10/10ths, was a soft-spoken pussycat.

Sitting behind the wheel of the split-personality beast, even the tallest drivers will feel comfortable. While most vehicles of this performance level require driver compromise (most often at the expense of left leg position), our six-foot two-inch frame found the GT-R amazingly roomy. We put one, two, and three passengers into the GT-R. With the exception of one crazy six-footer who found himself in the token back seats (hey, he offered to sit anywhere for a ride), adults will not find the rear seats accommodating. A jaunt to the neighborhood pre-school proved forward facing child seats will fit back there – and it established that the GT-R will draw stares from diaper-clad three-year-old toddlers as well.

In typical Nissan fashion, the driver and passenger seats are not identical. The driver gets an amazingly comfortable, yet incredibly supportive, multi-position bucket, while the passenger receives a similar seat with fewer adjustments. Visibility out of the GT-R can be an issue. Anything behind the driver's left ear is hidden by the thick B- and C-pillar (that tiny window is useless). Thankfully, the exterior mirrors are large and offer a generous view of the outside world. Backing up is downright dangerous -- we often feared flattening one of the numerous GT-R groupies checking out the tail end. A reverse camera with parking sensors would be a prudent option.

Of course we tried "Launch Control." Flip a few switches and slide a few levers, all in perfect sequence, and a fully depressed gas pedal will bring the engine to a steady 4,500 rpm. Side-step the brake and a second goes by... tic... and then... BAAAAAM! The rear tires spin a bit while the fronts just cleanly hook up. Your neck snaps back as the car rips, claws, and tears at the pavement. Don't forget to shift, about once per second, as the GT-R screams to part the atmosphere. When the time comes to reign in the gargoyle, massive Brembo brakes – 15-inch rotors in the front chomped by 6-piston calipers – bring nearly two tons of steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber to a stop without any drama. It goes brutally fast. It stops just as violently. It is so much fun.

Now, in the real world, all of this excitement will cost you more than just the $71,000 MSRP -- plus the almost inevitable dealer mark-up. The GT-R has an insatiable appetite for refined liquid dinosaur (we don't know what type of pussy-footed pansy squeezed out the EPA's fuel efficiency numbers of 16 city/21 highway), so for the record, this glorious red GT-R drank three tanks of high-test gasoline and a quart of synthetic oil under our watch. The first two tanks were consumed at the rate of 11.68 mpg and 11.71 mpg. The last went down at a more leisurely 16.42 mpg. Yeah, that was mostly highway driving. Obviously, brutal does not equate to frugal.

Four days with the GT-R did reveal a few irritants, but none are difficult fixes. The steering ratio is about perfect, but we frequently found ourselves (mid-corner!) removing a hand to find the transmission paddle to grab the next gear. The shift paddles need to be yanked off the tree and affixed to the wheel (like Ferrari does it) and the exhaust note could use some serious attention. Countless onlookers asked us to "rev the engine" as they eagerly anticipated a noise that would send chills up their spine. Their hopes were shattered as the bright red GT-R could only whimper like an asthmatic Maxima.

On day four, when Nissan arrived to recover their GT-R, we had mixed emotions. Part of us would miss the celebrity-like allure that drew crowds each time we ventured out of the driveway (the next time Britney Spears wants to drive unnoticed down Pacific Coast Highway, she only needs to hire a red GT-R to run in the next lane), the other half looked forward to welcoming back our real-life anonymity.

Nissan engineers have successfully delivered a nauseatingly fast vehicle that devours acceleration and track records. Its handling belies its weight, and its cabin is deceptively comfortable. Yet, however absurdly amazing the Nissan was, we found ourselves continuously looking for its soul. We wanted to find a bad habit, an ill mannerism, a vulnerability that would prove the car was mortal. Instead, we were met with methodical and highly accurate electronic systems that double-checked our every move to deliver exactly what our human inputs were requesting. Curiously, each time the push-button starter would fire the engine, the incessant feedback the GT-R offered to us was robot-like mechanized perfection.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

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