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How Is the Nissan GT-R So Fast?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro May 2016

Remember back in the days when we thought a car was fast if it could go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4-point-something seconds? The Nissan GT-R certainly changed our minds about that: Most magazines clock the ultra-high-performance coupe at 0-to-60 in less than 3 seconds.

Think about that: You could be sitting in a GT-R completely stopped one moment and moving at highways speeds as little as 2.5 seconds later. It's one of the fastest cars of our time, offering stronger acceleration than the majority of sports cars from traditionally fast brands such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Maserati and others.

So how do they do it? How exactly is the GT-R so fast when those cars -- many of which cost several multiples more -- still can't achieve the same impressive performance as this Nissan? We've wondered ourselves, so now we're taking a closer look at exactly how the GT-R manages to offer its famous neck-snapping acceleration.

The All-Wheel Drive

Although the primary factor motivating the Nissan GT-R's speed is, of course, its engine, the GT-R's all-wheel-drive system is one major distinction from its rivals. While most modern sports cars are rear-wheel-drive -- including virtually all models from Ferrari, Maserati, Aston Martin, Porsche and others -- the GT-R comes standard with all-wheel drive.

Here's why this is important: While rival models only have two wheels to propel them forward in a serious test of acceleration strength, the GT-R is able to put power to the ground using all four wheels. This obviously gives the GT-R an advantage over 2-wheel-drive rivals because more contact points with the ground help the Japanese speedster get going a lot more quickly.

For this reason, many other high-performance cars are also making the shift from rear-wheel to all-wheel drive. Most modern Mercedes-Benz AMG models have recently switched, while Lamborghini has gone from entirely rear-wheel-drive to a completely all-wheel-drive lineup within the last 15 years. Even Ferrari, notorious for its loyalty to rear-wheel drive, added an all-wheel-drive model -- the FF hatchback -- for the 2012 model year.

The Engine

But since several rivals offer all-wheel drive, that can't be the GT-R's only advantage -- and it isn't. You don't reach 60 mph from a standing stop in 2-point-something seconds with a mediocre engine, and indeed, the GT-R's powerplant is anything but middling. It's a 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V6 that offers 550 horsepower and 463 lb-ft of torque. Opt for the even higher-performance GT-R NISMO, and you'll get an amazing 600 hp and 481 lb-ft of torque.

Those numbers are impressive, especially when you consider the GT-R's fairly substantial curb weight. While some car enthusiasts have made fun of the GT-R for its portly size compared to other exotics, the truth is that the GT-R's 3,850-lb curb weight makes it only 400 pounds heavier than the Ferrari 458 Italia, which offers 562 hp and 2-wheel drive.

In other words, when you combine an incredible powertrain with amazing all-wheel drive, you're going to get truly one-of-a-kind acceleration.

The Transmission

But the GT-R's tricks don't end there. Maybe the GT-R's most important piece of ultra-quick acceleration gadgetry is its 6-speed automatic transmission. This isn't just any automatic: It's a dual-clutch automatic, which means there's a computer controlling two different clutches for lightning-fast shifts.

Although dual-clutch automatic transmissions are becoming more common today, the GT-R was one of the very first cars on the market that included the feature when it first came out, which was especially surprising considering the car's power level. Back then, a wide range of automakers that included Lamborghini, Porsche and Ferrari were still using single-clutch transmissions or even traditional automatics with torque converters, both of which are notoriously slower than a dual-clutch.

Even today, not every automaker has figured out how to perfect a dual-clutch automatic transmission, but the GT-R got it right way back in 2009. Audi only recently added the system to the R8 sports car, while the high-performance Lamborghini Aventador still only offers a single-clutch automatic despite its $400,000-plus price tag.

Our Take

The GT-R is a sports-car icon, and it was especially stunning when it debuted back in 2009, combining a sticker price of around $80,000 with performance that could topple a car worth four times as much.

These days, a few other automakers are onto the GT-R's tricks: The mid-engine Lamborghini Huracan employs not only a dual-clutch automatic transmission and all-wheel drive but also a 602-hp V10 engine -- and as a result, many tests say it's faster than the GT-R. It's the same story with the Audi R8 V10, which shares the Huracan's powertrain. And while Ferrari still hasn't adopted all-wheel drive as readily as rivals, the brand's new 488 GTB touts a lightning-quick dual-clutch transmission, along with 661 hp and a 0-to-60 time of around 3 seconds.

So the GT-R may no longer be king, but for many years, it was the sports car nobody could seem to beat. Even today, it retains one major advantage: While the 488 GTB starts around $245,000, the R8 V10 starts around $191,000 and the Huracan's base price is just over $200,000, you can still pick up a GT-R for just $103,000 with shipping -- and you'll have no trouble staying close with today's best performance cars on just about any race track or drag strip.

Find a Nissan GT-R for sale

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.
How Is the Nissan GT-R So Fast? - Autotrader