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Review: 2009 Nissan GT-R

Nissan creates the perfect blend of performance and drivability.

See all Nissan GT-R articles
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author photo by Perry Stern April 2009

The Nissan GT-R has been the dream car of many American enthusiasts since it was introduced in the Gran Turismo series of video games.  A favorite among armchair racers, the digital GT-R was a cinch to drive, with impressive all-wheel-drive handling and plenty of power. Many longed to bring this video-game car to life, and now Nissan has done just that.

Much like the virtual machine, the new Nissan GT-R seems to defy the laws of physics. According to its stats, this is one of the fastest, best handling street-legal cars available. Based on our first drive in the new GT-R, we can tell you those stats don’t lie.

Exotic Performance, Common Looks
Take a look at the performance numbers of the new GT-R and you’d swear they belong to a European exotic with a triple-digit price tag. Sixty mph is reached in less than 3.5 seconds, top speed just shy of 200 mph, cornering in excess of 1g and braking from 60 to a standstill in less than 110 feet.

We didn’t try to prove the top speed stat, but the acceleration figures seem about right to us. With the transmission in automatic mode you just floor the accelerator. The GT-R takes off like a shot without any wheelspin. A multifunction screen provides a number of telemetry figures. According to the readout, the GT-R pulled 1.3 Gs on the track. Without question, this car is the real deal.

From a styling standpoint, the new-to-our shores GT-R is considerably understated. We barely noticed one of our colleagues in a dark gray version, since the GT-R tends to blend in with other traffic. We drew few stares from other drivers, although those who knew what it was were impressed. Cars with similar performance such as the Porsche 911 Turbo or a Dodge Viper will attract considerably more attention.

It may not have lines like an Italian exotic, but almost everything about the GT-R’s design is functional. Vents in the hood provide cooling, while the "aero blades" around the front fenders help with air flow. A rear spoiler and under-body diffuser help give the GT-R a low .27 coefficient of drag while at the same time providing downforce at all four corners.

Also rather un-exotic about the GT-R is its sound — or lack thereof. At idle there’s hardly any noise at all, and even full-throttle inside the car is a non-event from an acoustic standpoint. There may be some buyers who wish to stand out more, but there are obvious advantages to not drawing a lot of attention in a car this fast.

The best part of the GT-R story: It’s comfortable and usable enough to drive every day. The suspension can be adjusted to smooth bumps in the road, the seats are supportive, and while a louder exhaust would be nice, the quiet interior is welcome for long road trips. The trunk is quite deep, and capable of handling the requisite two golf bags. The rear seat actually has decent legroom, but at 5’8" my chin was in my chest to keep my head from hitting the rear window.

Handmade Powertrain
Unlike previous generations (which were not sold in the U.S.), the newest GT-R rides on a unique platform. Underhood is a hand-built 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6 engine that produces a claimed 480 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque. The sequential 6-speed dual-clutch gearbox is also hand built, and can be operated in automatic mode or shifted via paddles on the steering column.

There are three driver-selectable transmission modes, with R-Mode providing the fastest shifts — just 0.2 seconds. We left the gearbox in automatic mode for most of our drive, and downshifts and upshifts seemed to occur at just the right time. Unlike some other automatically shifting manual transmissions on the market, the GT-R’s gearbox is incredibly smooth, and even at full throttle shifts are barely noticed.

Traction Action
Of course none of this matters if you can’t get power to the pavement, and the GT-R provides little drama in this respect. Traction is handled by a sophisticated, electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system routed through a 4-wheel independent suspension. The setup typically sends 100 percent of the power to the rear wheels, but, depending on conditions, the front-rear torque split can vary up to 50-50.

With triple-digit speeds mere seconds away, suitable brakes become a high priority. The GT-R gets its stopping power from Brembo, with mono-block calipers (six-piston up front and four-piston rears) gripping cross-drilled 15-inch rotors. After several hours at the track, braking was as consistent as when we started the day.

Bang for Your Buck
Even when driven hard at the track, the GT-R is very forgiving. The coupe’s handling is so neutral that it’s easy to get the feeling you can do no wrong in this car. But what makes the GT-R truly amazing is the price, which starts at $69,850. For about $2,000 more you can add an upgraded Bose audio system, heated front seats and side-curtain airbags. A Dunlop all-season tire is also available, as is a hand-polished Super Silver Paint.

One of the few downsides to the GT-R is availability: Only 1,500 are expected to come stateside each year, so most GT-R fans will have to continue to experience this impressive machine via their game consoles.

Perry Stern's automotive career began 17 years ago as an advisor at a vehicle consulting firm. One of the original staff members of CarPoint, Microsoft's automotive Web site that launched in 1995, he became editor of the site in 2002, which is now known as MSN Autos. Stern has also contributed to MSNBC and various MSN properties in Canada, Japan and Europe.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Review: 2009 Nissan GT-R - Autotrader