The 2009 Nissan GT-R is utterly unlike any other car in the Japanese automaker's lineup. With its scaldingly powerful twin-turbo V-6 engine, all-wheel drive, and automated manual transmission, it's a supercar in all but price tag--a bargain Bugatti Veyron at less than one-tenth the price, though admittedly without all the cachet to spare.
The GT-R descends from a long line of Japanese Skyline sportscars. It's one of the best-looking versions yet; the rakish roofline cuts into the rear end with tomahawk clarity, while the arching, reaching front fenders imply animalistic urges under the hood. It's completely unlike the sensuous Italian offerings and the all-business German exoticars--an Ultraman among ultra-sportscars.
In its latest iteration, the four-seater brings with it a twin-turbo, 3.8-liter V-6 that pumps out 473 horsepower. That's if you listen to Nissan's official estimates; enthusiast magazines have tested the GT-R on a dynamometer, which measures horsepower, and come up with figures far higher. Coupling that amazing power to a stout paddle-shifted automated manual transmission (no clutch pedal here) and a variable-power-split, all-wheel-drive system, the GT-R achieves the unthinkable: It outraces the likes of Porsche 911 Turbos and Chevrolet Corvette Z06s, while ringing in at a price tag in the low-$70,000 range.
Its handling is brilliant, and its adjustability gives the GT-R something of a cushion on public roads--but you'll never mistake it for an Infiniti G37. The GT-R's somewhat punishing ride and noisy transmission remind you constantly that you're in charge of a machine that can rocket to 60 mph in about 3.3 seconds and spin around the world's most difficult racetracks faster than any other car ever has.
There are some compromises to the GT-R package to make it usable on the street. You'll find two real rear seats, though adults won't be happy to be scuttled in back. Some interior materials are merely acceptable--there are none of the exotic woods and swirled-aluminum finishes of the truly upper-crust sportscars. However, having a backseat at all is a bonus for drivers, even if those passengers end up at the wrong end of an airsick bag.
The 2009 GT-R hasn't been crash-tested, and it almost seems a blasphemy to even contemplate the tests. Nevertheless, the Premium versions come with every safety device imaginable. You can even shut off the traction and stability control for track-time fun. However, be warned that base versions do not offer side and curtain airbags, likely to make them less costly for drivers who might use them exclusively as race cars.
Nissan has set an impossibly tough price-to-power ratio with the new GT-R. It's the performance equal of cars costing twice as much. And though there's a bit of detachment from its driving experience--its capabilities are so awesome and user-friendly, it's a bit like driving a video game car--it's absolutely stunning to be at the helm of such mechanical magnificence.
The Bottom Line:
You could pilot the Space Shuttle with a PlayStation controller--or you could just sample the 2009 Nissan GT-R, one hellish lightsaber of a supercar.