A better everyday super car
It’s immediately apparent when an automaker nails a car. Audi did it with the R8. Nissan has just done it with the 2009 GT-R! This fire-breathing four-wheel drive Godzilla is what enthusiasts in Canada, the States and Europe have really 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-litre turbo straight-six was adopted for street use in the 1969 Nissan Skyline GT-R (the original) after 49 consecutive victories from ’65 to ’68 in the Japan Grand Prix series.
Over the years, GT-R became one 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 in favour of newer 350Z models to compete in 2002 Japanese Grand Touring Car championship.
Now back in action in Japan’s 2008 SUPER GT racing series, the #23 Xanavi Nismo GT-R GT500 class entry, co-driven by Benoit Treluyer and Satoshi Motoyama, won the season-opening race in mid-March at Suzuka. Just weeks later on April 13th he made it two in a row with a second straight victory at Fuji. I’m not suggesting they’ll have a perfect season (nine for nine), nevertheless the Xanavi Nismo Gran Turismo Racer will be tough to beat.
Back-to-back wins are extremely rare in the SUPER GT due to strict regulations that handicap winners with weights in the next race. As a result, consecutive victories have only been won three times since the competition began in 1994. The last time that a team won consecutive victories in the first two rounds of the season was a decade ago in 1998 (Skyline GT-R).
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, this latest sixth-generation R35 interpretation will be the first production GT-R model to be sold outside of Asia. This is highly significant because it laughs in the face of today’s modern domestic muscle cars like the Dodge Challenger SRT, Shelby Mustang GT500E and upcoming Chevrolet Camaro, for example.
With Corvette Z06s starting at $91,685, the Dodge Viper at $99,600 and Porsche 997 Turbos running $158,300 stickers, the GT-R’s $82,000 MSRP is a relative bargain if you can get you mitts on one. Of the 12,000 cars Nissan says it’ll build this year, only 150 are destined for Canada.
Power comes from an all-new twin turbocharged 3.8-litre vee-six making 480 metric hp at 6,400 rpm and 430 lb.-ft. of torque from 3,200 to 5,200 rpm. This engine (codenamed VR38DETT) is a technology tour de force with two large intercoolers and an oil cooler sitting behind the gaping front bumper, as well as dry and wet sump oil lubrication to keep engine bay temperatures down. Other highlights include plasma-coated cylinder bores to minimize internal friction, reduce weight and boost cooling efforts, and twin intakes atop the power-bulging hood that draw in atmosphere to help wind up the IHI turbos at 11 pounds of boost.
Earlier RB26DETT engines (in use from 1989 to 2002) made anywhere from 276 hp to over 350 hp depending on the trim. And, in tuner hands I’ve personally seen examples of this 2.6-litre powerplant putting out in excess of 1,000 hp at the wheels. So, it’s probably a good thing Nissan went with a tamper proof ECU on this rendition.
Performance-wise, the third-gen R32 GT-R was the first Japanese car to go under eight minutes on the Nordschleife, but just barely. Nissan’s top test driver and this vehicle’s chief engineer, Kazutoshi Mizuno, did it in seven minutes 38 seconds in the new GT-R. This is quicker than a 997 Turbo, Z06, Murciélago, Ferrari F430 and the list goes on.
Not impressed? The new GT-R attacks corners at over 1G and Nissan claims it goes from zero-to-60 mph in 3.5 sec. – not too shabby for a 1,740 kilogram (3,840 pounds) coupe. In fact, testers have already shaved that down to 3.2 seconds by using the car’s launch control system. More on that in a sec. Stopping from this speed requires 110 feet of road and top speed is said to be 311 km/h.
Built on Nissan’s new Premium Midship chassis, the R35 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.
An unmistakable Japanese flavour comes from chiseled triple-stamped body panels,an “aero blade canopy” roofline and “aero blade” front fenders, underbody diffusers, a medium-sized rear spoiler and more that returns a very low 0.27 drag coefficient, yet offers a ton of front and rear downforce at speed. Adequate cooling for the massive 15-inch Brembo brakes (in the front and rear), the world’s first rear transaxle and powerful engine are also byproducts of the GT-R’s aggressive design.
Last week I was in Nevada for the North American press launch of this incredible car. Once given the key fob, I tuck it in my pocket, hop in the ultra comfortable sport seats and become the first in our group to fire up the beast. Tapping the throttle a couple of times to listen to the harmonics, I glance to my right and say to my co-driver/navigator, “This is gonna be fun!” He agreeably nods and we’re off.
A few miles removed from our hotel parking lot on the northeastern shore of Lake Tahoe, I turn onto scenic highway 431 and begin the climb from about 6,400 to 8,600 feet near the summit of Mount Rose. The GT-R replies unflinchingly on a rare clear run to the top and bottom.
The GT-R is immediately easy to drive. On this first of four legs en route to Reno-Fernley Raceway, I’m just getting acquainted with the car. 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 mountain pass leading into Reno. Power delivery is instantaneous, 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 about 45 km into the drive puts me in the passenger seat for leg two where 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.
Between browsing screens, I’m admiring the athletic hindquarters of another GT-R while my chauffeur plays cat and mouse through more twisty sections. I can’t help but see the connection to older Skylines in the four-ring LED taillights, but the resemblance ends there as the four large exhaust tips poking out from the ground-sucking rear body work are new.
Although its 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 80 km at 80 km/h after a puncture on expensive wheels is a decent trade-off.
The final 60 kilometres of two-lane highway reaffirms the notion that the GT-R is the new benchmark for everyday super cars if such a thing even exists.
Despite its hardcore appeal, it cruises promiscuously with no wind noise to be heard 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 the raceway and, after a quick lunch, debriefing and orientation lap with Nissan guru Steve Millen, the winningest driver in IMSA GT history, famous for his #75 IMSA GTS 300ZX, it takes a only few laps to get comfortable enough to flip the transmission and suspension switches to R mode. The whole way to the track we tried hard not to be greedy, so the VDC-R traction control quickly went offline too.
Using the setup described above, I just had to experience the GT-Rs launch control feature during one of my three-lap sessions. To do this, the brake and accelerator are held down simultaneously. This revs up and holds the engine at 4,500 rpm and, when you let go of the brake, all hell breaks loose as the GT-Rs 53/47 weight distribution shifts closer to 50/50 and the G’s hit you. To prevent bogging, the rear tires spin momentarily while the can fronts find full grip. Once they do you’d better be ready to click the right paddle! Nissan admits it’s really tough on the drivetrain, but it sure was fun! Since I was the first to try this, I found it a bit funny the rest of my group was asked not to repeat it.
Compared to other vehicles of this ilk I’ve tested, the GT-R accelerates quicker and more eloquently than a Gallardo. Shifts are less harsh 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 Martins V8 Vantage nor Jaguars XKR are as nimble on their feet as this Nissan is.
The 2009 Nissan GT-R is perhaps the best handling cars 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. After 18 laps on my own, Mr. Millen made it 21 to end my day with a smile. We drove the same general line, but it was soon brutally evident I’d been nowhere near this car’s limits.
The 2009 Nissan GT-R 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. If you haven’t already yet staked a claim for one at an official GT-R dealer (only 20 have been approved by the way) it could be 2010 before you get another crack at it. I think it’s worth it because when you’re behind the wheel of the 2009 GT-R, you are truly in the belly of a beast! Kudos for getting it right Nissan!