2009 Automobile of the Year: 2009 Nissan GT-R

John Roe
2009 Automobile of the Year: 2009 Nissan GT-R

Going fast in the Nissan requires you to relearn the lessons taught in Race Driving 101. GT-R protocol calls for hammering the brakes and hurling the car into corners to cancel out its inherent understeer. Then, before reaching the apex, plant the throttle and let the computer figure out how to keep the car on the road by apportioning power among the four wheels. And while a 911 is teetering on the verge of slewing sideways and down a ravine, the GT-R is clawing ferociously out of the corner and rocketing down the next straightaway.

In the States, Nissan's sports car heritage rests primarily on the Datsun 240Z and its follow-ons. But in Japan, Z-Cars are sold as Fairladies, and the GT-R has been the premier high-performance totem since 1969, although it disappeared between 1973 and '89 and again went away in 2002. The top-of-the-line versions of the R32, R33, and R34 Skylines of the '90s showcased twin-turbo six-cylinder engines with all-wheel drive and two-plus-two seating. It was only natural that Nissan chose to follow this template with the sixth-generation GT-R. But CEO Carlos Ghosn wanted to make a global statement with the new car, so he gave chief engineer Kazutoshi Mizuno a clean sheet of paper and told him to go crazy.

Like its predecessors, the GT-R is a techno-geek's fantasy sprung to life. The handcrafted 3.8-liter V-6 benefits from variable intake valve timing and twin turbochargers mounted to the exhaust manifolds to help tame turbo lag. (It also manages a respectable 16 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway in EPA tests.) The dual-clutch transmission swaps gears with no interruption in torque delivery. The ATTESA E-TS all-wheel-drive system can route up to 100 percent of the torque to the rear wheels or up to 50 percent to the front wheels. Although the body looks like a blunt instrument, it has a remarkably low 0.27 coefficient of drag.

The GT-R is built on Nissan's new Premium Midship platform with lots of carbon-fiber and forged-aluminum components to minimize weight. The car is big enough to hold two full-size adults and two munchkins. Factor in the Comfort mode, a fully automatic shift setting, and a legitimate trunk, and you might reasonably conclude that the GT-R could be used as an everyday driver. True, but would you hire Pablo Picasso to paint your house? Our position is that every trip to the supermarket ought to be a pretext for imagining that you're making a Time Attack run on the Tsukuba Circuit. That's what the GT-R was built for, and that's when it really shines, and that's why it's our Automobile of the Year.

All cars are compromises-between comfort and speed, between price and performance, between engineering and marketing. What we love about the GT-R is that it refuses to compromise where it really matters. It's not pretty. It's not comfy. It's not trying to make friends and influence people. It's not out to change the world. It exists for one reason and one reason only-to kick holy ass. And kick ass it does. You don't have to like it. You just have to stay the hell out of its way.

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