Friday, May 09, 2008

2009 Nissan GTR Full Review and Test Drive

For a few seconds, you give in to the spectacle of driving a 2009 Nissan GT-R. This car attracts its own entourage and then takes you along for the ride. It's not just the Skyline mystique, either. It's the fact that even in production sheet metal, the R35 GT-R looks like a one-off concept stolen from a Southern California design studio. It has as many hard contours as a Porsche 911 has soft curves. You have the key fob, and still you ogle it.
Soon, though, you point the GT-R down an on-ramp and plant the throttle. The effortless brutality with which the 2009 Nissan GT-R gathers speed is what you'll describe to your friends — once everyone's tired of talking about the styling, that is.
What you won't tell them is that you suspect your supercar might be a sociopath. It doesn't flow around corners like your E46 BMW M3 did, nor does it transmit feedback through the steering wheel for the sheer pleasure of it.
Instead, the 2009 Nissan GT-R bends asphalt to its will. When it talks to you about tire grip, you get the feeling it's only bothering because you're part of its great plan to break free of the Earth's orbit. Should it ever achieve this, you imagine that its conversation will cease and it will simply expel you into the airless void. Until then, though, you have the conn.
Old Friends
We already know something of the 2009 Nissan GT-R's character. We've lapped Japan's Sendai Highland Circuit in a production Japanese-spec model, tested a second JDM-spec GT-R with full instrumentation on an airstrip outside Tokyo, and strapped the first R35 GT-R to reach American shores to a dynamometer. Then we lived out your ultimate automotive fantasy by driving a U.S.-spec GT-R from L.A. to Reno, with stops at a dry lake, a drag strip and Utah's Miller Motorsports Park during a 2,000-mile adventure.
So there's a sense of familiarity as we slide into this full-production, U.S.-spec Nissan GT-R. The suede seating surface grabs hold of our jeans and cinches us down into the proper driving position. These seats with their prominent bolsters haven't gotten any wider over the months, so if you're much past 200 pounds, it might be time to go back on Atkins. And although it's assembled with care, the R35 hasn't gotten any more opulent, either. If you want leather or wood, you're better off loading up the options on a base-model Porsche 911.
At nearly $76,000, our test car is the most expensive Skyline GT-R you can buy, thanks to its $3,000 Super Silver paint, which is applied in seven coats, baked five times and then polished by a real human being at Nissan's assembly plant in Tochigi, Japan. It's also a Premium model, which means it has heated seats, Bose speakers and side airbags, not to mention 255/40ZRF20 front and 285/35ZRF20 rear Bridgestone Potenza RE070A run-flat summer tires (in lieu of the Dunlop summer run-flats on the base model, which are not quite as sticky).
My Finger Is on the Button
We reach for the red ignition button and find the initial startup tumult worthy of the twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V6, rated (at last) by the factory at 480 horsepower at 6,800 rpm and 430 pound-feet of torque from 3,200 to 5,200 rpm. But the engine settles into a low-frequency dirge that's nowhere near loud enough. There's no choice, so we shut the V6 off and start it a couple more times just to hear the engine come to life until our friend in the passenger seat (who owns an Evolution IX) is ready to kill us.
We drive slowly at first, letting everything warm up, and notice that the Nissan GT-R's six-speed, dual-clutch transmission is smoother than most automated manual gearboxes. It's one of the few that actually feels normal in automatic mode.
That's not to say it's completely without side effects. You can't really creep at low speeds amid all the automated clutching and declutching, so forget about multiple tries at parallel parking.
Also, the transmission tends to bang off upshifts like it just don't care, even when you're going easy. Car-guy friends comment on the positive shift quality, but the uninitiated ask, "What's that thud coming from the back of the car?"
The Whole Point
Before you can answer, you're deep into throttle, looking at triple digits on the auxiliary digital speedo, and then hauling down for the stop sign 500 feet ahead. Your passenger breaks into a light sweat. Only a few seconds have gone by.
You never feel turbo lag or even a power peak. You never even hear an exhaust note, just a lot of intake whoosh instead. And though you take the trouble to work the shift paddles, it all happens so quickly that you struggle to remember it later.
On a warm, sunny day at our Southern California testing facility, our Super Silver Nissan GT-R finds a little more traction than the Solid Red JDM-spec car we tested on the bumpy airstrip in Japan. With launch control engaged, it hits 60 mph in 3.5 seconds (or 3.2 seconds with one foot of rollout like on an NHRA drag strip), while the Japanese GT-R needed 3.6 seconds (or 3.3 seconds with rollout).
Our U.S.-spec R35 loses its edge over the JDM GT-R by the quarter-mile mark, though. It runs an 11.7-second quarter-mile at 116.8 mph, while the Japanese car goes through in 11.6 seconds at 120.9 mph. Note that these latest numbers reflect our transition to reporting NHRA-style trap speed, which is the average of a car's speed over the last 66 feet of the quarter-mile. (The idea behind the switch in our testing protocol is that you can take your car to any drag strip and directly compare your time slip with our numbers; look for a feature story in the next couple of weeks on how we do our instrumented testing.)
Even if you look at the U.S.-spec GT-R's instantaneous quarter-mile speed of 117.7 mph, there's no denying it's slower than the JDM GT-R. The reason is, it's making fewer horsepower while running on our inferior 91-octane gasoline. The red GT-R benefited from the 94-to-95-octane fuel that's readily available in Japan.
So on this day, the 2009 Nissan GT-R does not beat the Porsche 911 Turbo, which recorded an 11.6-second quarter-mile at 118.5 mph during an '07 test. But it's still faster than every other production car on the planet.
Other Records Will Be BrokenThe R35 GT-R stops shorter than any other car, too. Think about a 60-mph-to-0 braking distance in the double-digits.
Really. Ninety-eight feet. On the eighth run. That's a new Inside Line record, a title previously held by the 2008 BMW M3, which stops in 100 feet.
And yet the GT-R is not a lightweight car. Our Super Silver GT-R Premium weighs in at 3,900 pounds. Its 15-inch rotors are steel, not lightweight carbon ceramic. At the test track, everyone's asking, "What happened to the laws of physics?"
Even in normal traffic, you can tell these brakes are something special. The bite is immediate and powerful, yet response never feels too aggressive.
And Still Others Threatened
As you turn onto your favorite back road, the Nissan GT-R shrinks around you, leaving you just enough air to breathe. You're cornering faster than you usually do, even through the tight stuff that shouldn't be suitable for a car of such girth.
You feel the seriousness with which the R35 GT-R approaches the mission. It doesn't roll. It doesn't fumble over midcorner bumps. And its steering, which is quick and loaded with feel, is also quite heavy. Hope you like it heavy.
We also hope you like cars with four driven wheels, because the GT-R's ATTESA E-TS all-wheel-drive system exerts huge authority over this car's cornering behavior.
Sometimes the 2009 Nissan GT-R acts like it's a rear-wheel-drive car, but more often, the AWD system is moving power between the wheels (up to an even split of 50 percent front/50 percent rear) to keep the R35 on the proper line. The system even determines a target yaw rate based on steering input and makes adjustments in the torque split using actual real-time data from the car's yaw and lateral-g sensors.
There's similar technology featured by the Mitsubishi Evo X, but the GT-R's execution feels very different, and not just because it's built from rear-drive platform architecture and aimed at a more elite crowd. It doesn't really give its driver a chance to make mistakes. It finds the fastest way through a corner no matter what.
Of course there's a flip side to this sophistication. The GT-R doesn't play. If you revel in the way a 911 can be tossed into a corner, or the way a Corvette Z06 loves a powerslide, or the way a CLK63 Black Series abuses corners of all persuasions, the R35 GT-R can seem cold, perhaps even too narrowly focused on the efficient physics of performance.
Then you watch the GT-R go through the slalom at 74 mph (1 mph faster than the JDM-spec car thanks to better surface conditions) and wonder how you could think such a thing. This is only 0.2 mph slower than the '08 Dodge Viper and that car wears ridiculously huge 345/30ZR19 rear meats.
Only on the skid pad do the 2009 Nissan GT-R's considerable mass and slight stubbornness become liabilities — and only if the goal is 1.0g. The GT-R pulls 0.96g, just the same as the 2,000-pound Lotus Exige S.
Best Car Ever?
Depending on your drive to work, you might have some words for Nissan about the GT-R's ride quality. There's a center-stack switch for adjusting the Bilstein adaptive dampers, and after bludgeoning our first expansion joint, we waste no time selecting "Comf." But comf never comes. We can't detect any change in the damping at all.
Maybe this means we're not hard-core enough to drive a 2009 Nissan GT-R. Or maybe it means a grand-touring suspension package will turn up in a few years. But there's an easier solution if you want in on the R35 Skyline GT-R experience. Don't take the freeway to work. Use the back roads instead.
You'll drive them faster than you ever have before. Maybe you'll never know exactly what the GT-R is up to behind the scenes, but when you can out-accelerate, out-handle and out-brake anything short of a Formula 1 car, do you really care?

No comments: