Autoweek First Drive - 2009 GT-R


Yes, it lives up to all the hype!

The coming Nissan GT-R is a world-class supercar: Top speed of 193 mph, 0-60 in 3.5 seconds, a 473 hp, 433 lb ft twin-turbo V6 mounted in the front and driving all four wheels through a rear-mounted transaxle. Take a breath. Okay, continue. And a dual-clutch six-speed automatic you can operate via paddles on the steering wheel.

After a full day driving it on the Nurburgring, the Autobahn and up and over numerous little German country roads we can easily say this is one car that was not over hyped. It is truly a world-class supercar on par with, if not just ahead of, the iconic Porsche Turbo. (They had a Porsche Turbo on hand, too, and we thought the GT-R felt better tied down.)

But it's one thing to put a license plate on a race car and call it streetable. Chief engineer Kazutoshi Mizuno said the new GT-R was designed and engineered as an all-around, all-season, all-weather car that is comfortable to drive every day, even at normal speeds on a normal day.

During the few minutes we drove at what could be called a "normal pace" that day we'd have to say we agree with him. But given only a few hours at the wheel of this, the most highly anticipated supercar in years, we were only in "normal" mode for very brief spurts. The rest of the time we were at some level between "pushing it" and "hammering on the mutha'."

Our first time behind the wheel was on the A48 autobahn in Germany somewhere out around Koblenz or Koln or some other K-town where the German socialist government had not yet succeeded in adding those awful 120-km-hr speed limits. It was like Bonneville with elevation changes and guardrails. The only limitation out here was aerodynamic. Hence, we were obliged to go all-out whompin' fast the whole time.

Rolling right out of the autobahn rest stop where we rendezvoused with the Japanese engineering support crew, we nailed the throttle to the floor and man did the throttle respond. The 3.8-liter VR38 V6 is "an evolution" of the award-winning VQ engine family. It sits up front, with two of its six cylinders forward of the front axle and four aft. Two bagel-sized IHI turbos sit right at the exhaust manifold for quick response. The 433 lb ft of torque rails across the tach from 3200 to 5200 rpm. Peak 473 hp comes at 6400 revs.

A carbon fiber prop shaft ("Good damping and stiffness") runs back to the transaxle, incorporating the clutch, transmission and transaxle altogether. The shifting is done via a direct, twin-clutch system. One clutch handles the odd gears and another clutch handles the even ones. Shifts take 0.2 seconds. There are BorgWarner triple-cone synchronizers for all gears. Another shaft runs forward from that transaxle to send power to the front wheels. Below 25 mph the torque split is 50/50, above that, under normal driving, the split is 40/60. But it can split up to 2/98 under hard acceleration, which was what we were giving it.

Our car rode on 20-inch wheels wrapped by Bridgestone Potenza RE070s, 255/40 in front and 285/35 rears. Front suspension was upper and lower A-arms and the rear was a five-link.

It's always fun to go from zero to warp factor in a right hand-drive car using a jet-lagged left hand-drive brain, trying not to turn on the windshield wipers when you think you're hitting the turn signal.

The GT-R lists quarter-mile time at 11.7 seconds and entering the Autobahn we had no reason to doubt that. The turbo boost was, as promised, very progressive, with little or no discernable lag, just smooth, even power delivery.

Despite the late-morning hour and the mid-week day, there were still a few cars in the way. When we eased onto the 15.2-inch ventilated cross-drilled Brembo brakes from well into triple-digit speeds the car slowed without drama. But then traffic would clear out and the GT-R resumed its high velocity chase with ease.

There are three settings for the Bilstein Damptronic shocks: R, Sports and Comfort. We went out in Sports.

Top speed is listed at 193 mph but with traffic the best we could do was 176. You wouldn't try that in any country but Germany, where you can usually assume everyone else is paying attention. There was a Japanese engineer riding shotgun over on the left whom we dubbed "Bushido engineer-o" or brave engineer. He thought that was pretty funny.

While the coefficient of drag is an impressive 0.27, more than almost any production car, the GT-R also produces downforce at each axle, something very few production cars can claim.

"Cd is more important than downforce on a G35," said chief designer Hiroshi Hasegawa. "But in the case of the GT-R we have to make downforce."

At 193 mph you might appreciate that philosophy.

The first time we went out, the right front wheel felt just a little out of balance, so we came back in and they changed all four wheels. They're efficient, these guys. After that the car was smooth as well as stable and safe, due in equal parts to the German roadway and the Japanese engineering.

The whole car sits on the new PM platform, PM meaning Prime Midship. It's an evolution of the ubiquitous FM platform that sits underneath everything from 350Zs to crossover SUVs. The PM incorporates what Mizuno-san called a "hybrid superstructure body." There is carbon-injected material in the front end and carbon composite material underneath for aerodynamic downforce. There's even some polypropylene in the body, too. In any case, it's not just another FM variant.

We truly enjoyed the Autobahn experience. This is the perfect car for such a top-speed run-it gives such a sense of control at those speeds that you feel like you could do anything.

Next on our agenda of "anything" were some miles of country road. We were able to drive the GT-R back-to-back with a Porsche Turbo.

"Okay now, please enjoy," said the Nissan technician as we exited the company compound down the street from the Nurburgring.

After "much spirited driving," we can say the Turbo had a good deal more lag and more dive and squat than the GT-R. But once the Porsche got spooled up, achtung, baby. It felt lighter and the steering felt quicker, too. The biggest difference between the two was that the Turbo demanded more of its driver while the GT-R was easier to handle, flatter and more stable. We'd be happy with either one, if you're considering a birthday present or anything.

Next up on this Disneyland of a day was Der Nurburgring. This is what all those teenagers whose parents have not taken away their Playstation access really want to do: drive an actual GT-R around the actual Nurburgring as fast as grip, guts and gasoline allow.

Man-oh-flippin'-man. The real deal is about 100 times more thrilling than any computer simulation, even those with the little plastic steering wheel and feet pedals attached.

This was the new Nurburgring, too. Nissan wasn't foolish enough to turn this small squadron of car writer hacks loose on the narrow, blind, crazy-dangerous Nordschliefe. At the time of our drive there were only three prototype GT-Rs extant in the world, and all the apologizing on Earth wouldn't bring one back if you crunched it.

The new Nurburgring is faster, with wide, sweeping turns bordered by runoff areas so huge that even the most no-talent buffoon could likely stay on the pavement. So we did.

All the Japanese engineers and executives had been telling everyone that there was a 35-mph speed limit in the pits, but in all the excitement we kind of forgot about it and nailed the throttle right out of the parking spot right there in pit lane. The wide, low, squealing run-flat tires laid down long patches of black rubber as we launched past the closed garages, pulling back on the right paddle to shift the rear-mounted dual-clutch six-speed transaxle every time the engine got close to its 7000-rpm redline.

In no time at all we were roaring onto pit-out near the end of the straight and directly into the low, evening sun. By the time we got fully out on the front straight and were shifting up from four to five or so, the sun was directly in front of the GT-R and streaming into the windshield; we were trying to remember if that first right-hander came at this rise or just past it. It was just past it, but we'd already started braking and downshifting, the GR6's "synchro-rev control," which perfectly matched each downshift with a throttle blip much better than we'd ever have been able to match it.

Tiptoeing through the first couple turns to avoid the infamy of the run-off gravel, the car felt perfectly safe and willing. So we hammered it up through the gears down the hill and to the far 180-degree turn and started to feel more confident. By the end of the first lap we were flat out on the front straight, roaring up through all six gears for all it was worth.

Nissan lists lateral g's at 0.99, and we certainly bumped up against that in many a Nurburgring corner.

We only got three full laps and no one was timing us, so you'll just have to assume we set the lap record. Earlier, Mizuno-san had offered some lap times from the Nordschliefe for various cars driven by the German magazine SportAuto. Those times are driver-dependent, track-knowledge-dependent, weather-, traffic- and bunny-crossing-the-track dependent. But Mizuno suggested the GT-R could get anywhere from 7:44 on up, with most laps coming in between 7:55 and 7:58. So he suggested the GT-R's strong suit was that it offered "the best cost per lap time." For whatever that's worth.

The GT-R will be worth somewhere in the low-$70,000 range, which does make it perhaps the best cost per lap. We'll know for sure when it enters U.S. showrooms in May or June. Japan will get first crack at it, we get second and the Europeans, who did such a great job of getting out of our way during our Autobahn drive, will have to get it third.

SPECS: 2009 Nissan GT-R
On Sale: May/June

Base Price: Low 70s

Drivetrain: 3.8-liter, 473-hp, 433-lb-ft twin turbocharged V6; awd, six-speed automatic

Curb Weight: 3792 pounds

0-60: 3.5 seconds

Fuel Economy (EPA Combined): 21 mpg (mfg. target)

No comments:

Item Reviewed: Autoweek First Drive - 2009 GT-R Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Sean Morris