The Nissan GT-R is not warm and cuddly. Perhaps that’s to be expected of a car that is widely known as Godzilla. The GT-R’s fearsome legend grew during the years it was sequestered in far-off Japan, but its awesome prowess came to be known worldwide thanks to its long-running feature role in the Gran Turismo video game series. Finally, the GT-R’s international stardom proved so great that Nissan developed the sixth-generation model for a worldwide market, including North America.
Godzilla finally reached our shores in 2008. Once we tried it for ourselves, we couldn’t help but be impressed-very impressed. Maybe a little awestruck, even. After all, here was a car that could outrun Porsche’s mighty 911 Turbo and beat a 911 GT2 around the Nürburgring (where the GT-R’s development engineers admittedly spent a lot of time). In the somewhat less renowned environs of southern Ohio, at our annual Automobile of the Year testing, the GT-R easily walked away with our top award-in a rare unanimous decision.
Even so, as much as the GT-R blew our minds with its unbelievable performance, we didn’t so much embrace it as give it the kind of arm’s-length respect one might accord a steroidal friend given to snorting crystal meth and brandishing semiautomatic handguns. “You don’t have to like it,” we concluded in our 2009 Automobile of the Year story. “You just have to stay the hell out of its way.”
You might particularly want to stay out of its way when its accelerator pedal is mashed to the floor. The GT-R is just devastatingly, frighteningly fast. Try 0 to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds and 0 to 100 mph in 8.0 seconds. Top speed, not that we had much chance to explore it, is 193 mph. That’s true supercar territory.
As in its previous three generations, the GT-R’s motivating force is a six-cylinder engine bolstered by two turbochargers. The DOHC, 24-valve 3.8-liter V-6 is handbuilt and shares no major parts with the company’s mass-market VQ V-6. Our 2010 model’s output is a staggering 485 hp at 6400 rpm (five more ponies than the ’09-model GT-R) and 434 lb-ft of torque (up from 430 lb-ft) at 3200 rpm.
Would that there was a better sound to accompany the engine’s fury. One commenter thought it sounded “like a vacuum cleaner,” but mostly you can’t really hear it, because it’s drowned out by the racket from the tires and the transmission. Whereas the engine in an Audi R8 or a Chevrolet Corvette provides a stimulating sound track no matter what your speed, the lack of aural accompaniment from the GT-R’s V-6 lends a virtual-reality quality to the car’s quickness. Said senior Web editor Phil Floraday: “You can rocket up to speeds well into the triple digits and not realize it, because there’s no drama.”
After its overachieving, boosted six, the key component of the GT-R’s persona is its all-wheel-drive system. The hardware includes a rear-mounted transaxle (housing the transmission, torque splitter, and rear differential-the diff with an electronically controlled limited-slip device). Fully 100 percent of the torque heads straight for the rear wheels unless slip is detected, in which case a maximum of 50 percent is sent to the front. An unsung hero in the GT-R’s ability to post such astounding acceleration times, the all-wheel-drive system does a terrific job turning the engine’s prodigious power into forward thrust, no matter what the road conditions. “For a tremendously fine time, experience this wild animal on wet roads,” enthused technical editor Don Sherman, adding: “I finally get the point of all-wheel-drive propulsion systems.”
When our GT-R’s factory-fitted Bridgestone summer performance tires wore out (at 17,000 miles) right on the verge of snow season, we decided to put a set of Pirelli Sottozero winter tires on the car. They helped make the GT-R incredibly sure-footed in the snow. Best of all, though, the snow-covered roads provided a window into the car’s all-wheel-drive system. With some setups, it’s impossible to guess where the power will go, but the GT-R’s all-wheel-drive system is beautifully transparent. Switch off the stability control, and the GT-R drifts like a rear-wheel-drive car that’s impossible to spin. Add more throttle, and it will send the power directly to the rear, helping rotate the car. Stay constant on the gas pedal, and the power gradually is sent forward-but only enough to bring the back end in slowly.
The third element in the powertrain triumvirate is, of course, the transmission, and here the news was less rosy. Sure, the headline number of 0.2 second to execute a shift is impressive and, because this is a dual-clutch gearbox, shifting doesn’t interrupt power delivery, so you can bang off upshifts or downshifts in the middle of a curve without upsetting the chassis. Nonetheless, we couldn’t help but think that we’d enjoy this car so much more with a manual transmission. Alas, a stick shift is apparently too old-tech for the GT-R (and likely would be lost on its intended audience anyway) and is not offered. It would, however, add an element of driver involvement that the GT-R could sorely use. And even the most neophyte manual-transmission pilot would be smoother than this gearbox when pulling away from a stop. It’s also noisy and painfully slow to engage drive and reverse, particularly in cold weather.
Of course, Michigan’s nasty winters flatter few cars, but the GT-R seemed to suffer more than most. Not only did the gearbox hate the cold, the suspension couldn’t come to terms with the winter-ravaged pavement. The comfort mode was small comfort, as the GT-R slammed into every pothole. Nissan apparently agrees that, even for an extreme machine, the GT-R’s ride is overly stiff, as the company has retuned the rear suspension for better ride quality in 2011 models.
Next, the chassis engineers might want to address the tramlining. “The GT-R takes every bump, rut, and pothole as a direct steering input,” said associate editor Eric Tingwall, in one of many logbook comments on the subject. The issue is likely made worse by the GT-R’s ultrawide tires and hyperquick steering, although the latter helps make the car so responsive in turns. The steering is also very precise at the straight-ahead position but not very communicative.
As much as the ride wasn’t comfortable, the cabin itself actually was. The rear seats are small but they add a worthwhile measure of practicality, allowing you to wow two more passengers with the GT-R’s performance, at least for short rides. The dashboard is a phantasmagoria of geek delights, its multifunction display screen able to show lap times, g-forces (for acceleration, braking, and cornering), torque distribution, turbo boost pressure, and so on. Some of us grumbled about this high-tech machine’s basic Bluetooth interface and the lack of an auxiliary audio input in our car, but both of those issues have been addressed for 2011 with the addition of an iPod/USB input, Bluetooth streaming audio, plus XM traffic and weather info for the standard nav system (along with automatic headlights and speed-sensitive wipers). There was nothing disappointing about the interior’s premium materials and high-quality finishes, which assistant editor David Zenlea took as proof “that a mainline manufacturer can craft a unique, appealing cabin.”
While Nissan may be a mainline manufacturer, the GT-R certainly exists at the tippy top of its price ladder. Our Premium model (which adds heated seats, an eleven-speaker Bose stereo, darker-colored wheels, and Bridgestone summer tires to the base spec) started at $84,040 including destination. To that we added super silver paint and floor mats, the only two extracost options available, bringing the total to $87,320. For 2011, the base trim is gone, and the Premium version’s price has crept up to $85,060.
And yet the GT-R can slay pedigreed European sports cars costing tens of thousands more, so the car’s sticker price may still be a relative bargain. However, we found that when it comes to maintenance, the GT-R is a much closer kin to its supercar competitors than to other Nissans. Oh, sure, it started out acting very much like a Nissan, trouble-free and inexpensive to maintain, at least until the 18,000-mile service-the one that requires fluid changes for both differentials and the transmission, ballooning the tab to $1900. We had also by this time used up the brake pads (all four), which necessitated changing the rotors as well. Total cost: $7705.94. Luckily, there was no charge to fix the driveline vibration that was occurring between 2200 and 2700 rpm; it was caused by an errant bearing inside the bellhousing, a known issue with some GT-Rs. The fix required removing the engine and kept the car sidelined for a few weeks.
Supercar performance, though, never comes cheap. And when it comes to going and turning and stopping, the GT-R is absolutely a supercar-as it proved again just last month, when it set the benchmark lap time against a Porsche 911 Carrera S, a Chevrolet Corvette Z06, and a Lotus Evora. But what we found with the GT-R is that in lesser situations, it’s less than thrilling. “Some cars are fun to drive even when you’re just plodding along,” said Zenlea. “Not the GT-R. Drive it reasonably, and it just feels big and heavy and loud.”
There is no denying the GT-R’s abilities, but there’s also no denying that this car is off-putting in many ways-the brutal ride, the tiresome tramlining, the cacophonous sound track, the trust-the-chips computer-controlled demeanor. As Floraday put it, “It’s tough to find a car that’s faster than the GT-R, but it’s very easy to find cars that are more fun and engaging to drive.” For Godzilla’s legions of fans, such esoteric considerations may not register, but that’s the difference between experiencing this superstar on an electronic screen-or on a racetrack-and living with it in the real world.
Pros & Cons:
+ Blistering performance
+ Magnetic roadholding
+ Nicely finished cabin
– Stiff ride
– Tire and transmission noise
– Light on driver involvement
The GT-R legend was born in 1969, when Nissan created a special, high-performance version of its range-topping Skyline sedan. That first Skyline GT-R had a DOHC 2.0-liter engine, mated to a five-speed manual transmission that drove the rear wheels. Output was 160 hp and 131 lb-ft of torque. A two-door hardtop was added in 1970. The first-generation GT-R, code-named C10, racked up fifty race wins in less than three years.
The second-generation Skyline GT-R, a.k.a. C110, used the same powertrain as its predecessor and was produced in a single body style-a two-door fastback-for just one model year, 1973. Only 197 C110s were built before rising oil prices killed the market for high-performance cars.
Sixteen years later, Nissan resurrected the GT-R nameplate, but this time on a very different Skyline. Code-named R32, this GT-R set the template with a twin-turbocharged six-cylinder driving all four wheels. Other advanced features included four-wheel steering and four disc brakes. The 2.6-liter straight six produced 280 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, good for a 0-to-60-mph time as low as 4.9 seconds. The R32 GT-R would prove far more successful than the previous cars, selling 43,934 copies during its six-year production run and posting twenty-nine straight touring-car race wins.
The follow-up R33 model appeared in 1995, with essentially the same mechanical layout, although an active limited-slip rear differential was offered for the first time. The 2.6-liter had a bit more torque, and improved aerodynamics helped the car’s top speed climb significantly. The R33 GT-R set an unofficial Nürburgring lap time of less than eight minutes.
The R34 model GT-R ran from 1999 to 2002. Although its running gear largely remained the same, this GT-R upped the tech factor with the introduction of an in-dash display that could monitor various performance stats.
Five long years after the departure of the R34, the current GT-R (R35) made its debut at the 2007 Tokyo auto show. The first to drop the Skyline name, this GT-R also broke with recent tradition by switching from a straight six
to a V-6 and by ditching four-wheel steering. Engine output, however, climbed massively (to 480 hp and
430 lb-ft of torque). The even better news for American car enthusiasts was that the R35 GT-R would come to the United States, which it did in July 2008.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Body style : 2-door coupe
Accommodation: 2+2 passengers
Construction: Steel unibody
Engine: 24-valve DOHC twin-turbo V-6
Displacement: 3.8 liters (232 cu in)
Horsepower: 485 HP @ 6400 RPM
Torque: 434 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
Steering: Hydraulically assisted
Lock-to-lock : 2.4 turns
Turning circle: 36.6 ft
Suspension, front: Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, rear: Multilink, coil springs
Brakes : Vented discs, ABS
Tires : Bridgestone RE070R
Tire size f, r: 255/40YR-20, 285/35YR-20
Headroom f/r: 38.1/33.5 in
Legroom f/r : 44.6/26.4 in
Shoulder room f/r: 54.3/50.0 in
Hip Room F/R: 54.7/44.9 IN
L x W x H : 183.1 x 74.9 x 54.0 in
Wheelbase : 109.4 in
Track f/r: 109.4 in
Weight: 3882 lb
Weight Dist. f/r : 55.2/44.8%
Cargo Capacity: 8.8 cu ft
Fuel Capacity: 19.5 gallons
Est. Fuel Range: 350 miles
Fuel Grade: 91 Octane
Our Test Results
0-60 mph: 3.4 sec
0-100 mph: 8.0 sec
1/4-mile: 11.6 sec @ 122 mph
30-70 mph passing: 4.6 sec
Peak Acceleration: 0.88 g
Speed In Gears: 1) 38; 2) 66; 3) 96; 4) 123;
5) 154; 6) 193 mph
Cornering: L/R: 0.99/0.99 G
70-0 mph Braking: 149 ft
Peak Braking: 1.16 g
Prices & Equipment
Base price: $84,040
Price as tested: $87,320
Trade-in value*: $60,000
Traction and stability control
Dual-zone automatic climate control
Power windows, mirrors, locks, and heated front seats
AM/FM/XM/CD eleven-speaker Bose audio system with hard drive
front, side, and side curtain air bags
Super silver paint, $3000
carpeted logo floor mats, $280
*Estimate based on info from www.intellichoice.com
“Anyone who stretches his budget to buy a GT-R is going to be mighty shocked by its sky-high ownership costs.” – copy editor Rusty Blackwell
5-yr/60,000-mile roadside assistance
1393 mi: $0
6834 mi: $132.38
14,562 mi: $103.55
17,095 mi: $110.63
22,872 mi: $1926.27
22,872 mi: Replace bellhousing unit due to bearing failure
17,443 mi: Purchase, mount, and balance four Pirelli Winter 240 Sottozero Series II winter tires, $2024.42
22,872 mi: Purchase and install new brake pads, rotors, and fluid, $7705.94
EPA city/hwy/combined 15/21/17 mpg
Observed 18 mpg
Cost Per Mile:
(Fuel, service, winter tires) $0.62 ($1.70 including depreciation)