ESTORIL, Portugal -- With 13 corners wrapping over 2.6 miles of grade-changing asphalt convolutions, the Estoril circuit in Portugal fills the raked windshield of a GT-style supercar as we cinch the driver's seatbelt even tighter while waiting for a starter's signal to unleash the massive strength of a twin-turbo engine and allow this sleek composition of aluminum, steel and carbon fiber to fly around the track at triple-digit speeds on enormous forged aluminum wheels.
Our race car at Estoril is the all-wheel-drive GT-R by Nissan in a new iteration of a legendary vehicle which traces back in time to 1969 with the Skyline GT-R sedan. By 1989 Nissan created a GT-R edition for the Skyline coupe known as the R32 and it stocked a twin-turbo six-pack engine and a traction system which distributed the engine's output to all four wheels.
A subsequent version labeled R33 GT-R became the first production car to cover the 14-mile rollercoaster track of Germany's Nurburgring Nordschleife curcuit in less than eight minutes. And in recent times the R34 GT-R achieved cult status with American fans as Japan's iconic supercar through the video game "Gran Turismo" and street-racing movies like "The Fast and the Furious" series.
Consider now the all-new GT-R of 2009, which becomes the first in this line to land in North America -- albeit in limited numbers through 676 "GT-R Certified" Nissan outlets. It comes in the form of a wedge-shaped two-door and four-seat GT coupe constructed from carbon fiber, aluminum and steel with knife-edge keen fenders, massive speed-rated rubber rollers and a tail-deck spoiler wing.
This is one slick automotive package in clean Japanese style like a graceful yet oh-so lethal samurai sword. The face features a sculpted fascia and aerodynamic underbody diffuser with sharp blade-like fenders bulging over the big wheels and snake-eye clusters of HID (high intensity discharge) headlamps.
The flanks are smooth but also sculpted with big vents carved into the trailing edges of the forward fenders. These functional vents are designed to apply downforce air pressure on the front wheels when the car runs at high speed. The top of the GT-R is a thin canopy flowing downward from the windshield toward the stubby tail and seeming to float above a narrow wrap of darkly tinted window glass.
The tail is curt and simple in design with four round articulated LED (light-emitting diode) lamps and four big chrome-tipped exhaust pipes plus a functional carbon-fiber underbody diffuser. A new platform for GT-R -- labeled PM for "Premium Midship" -- mounts the motor up front but behind the front wheels and moves the transmission, transfer case and final drive mechanism to the back but ahead of the rear wheels.
The arrangement incorporates the world's first independent rear transaxle so each rear axle can manage tire grip without bias from the other. A sophisticated four-wheel independent suspension system uses tubular front and rear subframes for isolation with a double-wishbone design in front and a multi-link arrangement in the rear.
Added is the infinitely adjustable Bilstein DampTronic device to vary the damping forces due to wheel speed, pavement conditions and driving styles. The 20-inch wheels, with bead knurling on rims to prevent tire twisting, measure 9.5 inches wide in front and 10.5 inches wide in back. Tires are nitrogen-filled Dunlop or Bridgestone high-performance summer run-flat series itemized as 255/40ZRF20 (front) and 285/35ZRF20 (rear).
And the brakes are supercar stoppers -- all enormous discs, of course, with Brembo monoblock radial-mount calipers and 15-inch cross-drilled two-piece rotors. Heart of the GT-R has to be the VD38DETT, a new hand-built 3.8-liter V6 engine with symmetrical independent intake and exhaust manifold fitted with twin turbo-chargers. This is an awesome plant which produces 480 hp at 6400 rpm and 430 lb-ft of torque between 3200 and 5200 rpm.
The six-speed transmission in a dual-clutch gearbox uses a rear transaxle and AWD transfer case. GT-R's electronically controlled AWD equipment carries an obtuse moniker of "Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All Electronic Torque Split." It sounds better when crimped to the run-on acronym of ATTESA E-TS.
The smart equipment is able to distribute the engine's torque in amounts which vary with the pavement conditions (smooth or rough, wet or dry) and a particular driver's intensity. That torque division could be 50:50 (front/rear) to assure good tire grip on wet pavement or slippery snow, or a split of 0:100 (front/rear) for optimum acceleration on dry pavement from a standing start.
Now hang on as we push the go-pedal in Pit Lane at the Estoril circuit. It's supercar quick, zipping to 60 mph in an official measured time of 3.5 seconds, a mark that beats a $440,000 Porsche Carrera GT (3.6 seconds) or the $195,000 Ferrari F430 (4.0 seconds) and is surpassed only by a $345,000 Lamborghini Murcielago (3.4 seconds).
In the hands of a professional driver on the Nurburgring, a GT-R has set a new production-car lap record time at seven minutes and 29 seconds. In the hands of a not-so-professional driver such as this writer, a GT-R makes you think you're the track champion because there are so many sophisticated computers and controllers aboard working to deliver the right amount of throttle and traction and steering and suspension damping -- and keep you on course and out of trouble.
And when steered on public roads the GT-R seems downright compliant and as easy to drive as, say, a Nissan Maxima sports sedan. The cockpit is a cozy space with two bolstered bucket seats in front of two carved rear seats. Nissan constructs the GT-R in two trim levels -- base and Premium.
GT-R base edition provides a long list of stock equipment that includes the HID headlamps, Brembo brakes and Bilstein DampTronic adjustable suspension, plus leather upholstery in the cabin and power controls for the front bucket seats, aluminum pedals, a keyless entry device with push-button starter, automatic climate system, navigation system with 30-gig hard drive, a multi-function information display on the console and a six-speaker audio kit.
GT-R Premium edition upgrades to a Bose audio system, heated front seats, curtain-style side air bags and the Bridgestone tires. Nissan's new GT-R is without doubt a supercar although its MSRP figures fall way below supercar prices. The GT-R lists for $69,850, with GT-R Premium bumping to $71,900.