2009 Automobile of the Year: 2009 Nissan GT-R

John Roe

Angels don't start singing when you spot a Nissan GT-R. Inside and out, the car looks anything but heavenly. Even in the so-called Comfort mode, it rides like a New York City subway car, shuddering over bumps and clattering from station to station. The engine sounds like a demonically possessed household appliance. The car weighs a ton - nearly two tons, actually - and understeers accordingly. The video-game vibe is so pervasive that a conventional manual transmission isn't even offered.

And you know what? We're still naming the Nissan GT-R Automobile Magazine's 2009 Automobile of the year.

Nissan's newest dream machine is the first Japanese supercar to call out the opposition - we're talking to you, Porsche - and whip its butt on its home turf at the Nürurgring's Nordschleife. It's also the suddenly attainable object of desire for a generation of enthusiasts who drew up driving slammed Honda Civics, watching Video Option, and playing Grand Turismo 2/3/4/5. For decades, previous versions of the GT-R - sold as the Skyline GT-R but known for good reason as Godzilla - have been icons in Japan, but they were never exported to the United States. Now we know what we were missing, and man, are we happy that we've been invited to the party.

Check out these benchmarks: a conservatively rated 480 hp. 430 lb-ft of tire-smoking torque. Zero to 60 mph in a tick more than three seconds. A top speed of 193 mph. But numbers don't tell you how much fun the GT-R produces getting from point A to point B. We're talking about neck-snapping acceleration as you paddleshift through the brutally fast dual-clutch gearbox - buh-BANG, buh-BANG, bug-BANG, buh-BANG! The brakes are so good that a HANS device ought to be standard equipment. All-wheel drive translates into unparalleled traction. Oh, and you get all this for a mere $77,840, which is a fire-sale price by supercar standards.

Critics of the GT-R tend to be Eurocentric sports car fanatics who feel threatened by the brawny competence of this Japanese upstart, and they drone on and on about how the car feels clinical and detached. It's not a car, they say; it's a video game. It's no coincidence that the GT-R's debut at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2007 was scheduled to dovetail with its appearance in Gran Turismo 5 Prologue. Or that the GT5 designers helped create the slick graphical readouts featured on eleven screens of not especially useful but amazingly cool data ranging from lateral and longitudinal g's to front and rear torque distribution.

Outside the video game community and a handful of cultists, the GT-R scores a big, fat zero in terms of cachet, and it doesn't earn many points for sophistication and grace. But Nissan wasn't out to emulate the 911 Turbo, the GT-R's acknowledged bogey; it was out to emasculate it. As a Porsche-killer, the GT-R is all about in-your-face styling and take-no-prisoners performance, and the traditional rules don't apply.

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