The Nissan GT-R is not warm and cuddly. Perhaps that’s to be expected of a car 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.
This story originally appeared in the August 2010 issue of AUTOMOBILE. With the arrival of the 2017 Nissan GT-R fresh on our minds, we decided to take a look back at the original version of Godzilla.
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 6,400 rpm (five more ponies than the ’09-model GT-R) and 434 lb-ft of torque (up from 430 lb-ft) at 3,200 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 made by 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 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 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 11-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 extra cost 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.
The GT-R can slay pedigreed European sports cars costing tens of thousands more, however, 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 $1,900. We had also by this time used up the brake pads (all four), which necessitated changing the rotors as well. Total cost: $7,705.94. Luckily, there was no charge to fix the driveline vibration occurring between 2,200 and 2,700 rpm; it was caused by an errant bearing inside the bell housing, 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 not so 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
2010 Nissan GT-R Running Costs
5-yr/60,000-mile roadside assistance
1,393 mi: $0
6,834 mi: $132.38
14,562 mi: $103.55
17,095 mi: $110.63
22,872 mi: $1926.27
22,872 mi: Replace bell-housing unit due to bearing failure
17,443 mi: Purchase, mount, and balance four Pirelli Winter 240 Sottozero Series II winter tires, $2,024.42
22,872 mi: Purchase and install new brake pads, rotors, and fluid, $7,705.94
Observed: 18 mpg
Cost Per Mile
(Fuel, service, winter tires) $0.62
($1.70 including depreciation)
*Estimate based on information from Intellichoice
|Our Test Results|
|0–60 mph||3.4 sec|
|70-0 mph||149 ft|
|1/4–mile||11.6 sec @ 122 mph|
- Body style 2-door coupe
- Accommodation 2+2 passengers
- Construction Steel unibody
- Base price (with dest.) $84,040
- As tested $47,290$87,320
- Engine 24-valve DOHC twin-turbo V-6
- Displacement 3.8 liters (232 cu in)
- Horsepower 485 hp @ 6,400 rpm
- Torque 434 lb-ft @ 3,200 rpm
- Transmission 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Drive 4-wheel
- 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: 255/40R-20 / 285/35R-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 62.6/63.0 in
- Weight 3,882 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
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
options for this vehicle:
Super silver paint $3,000
Carpeted logo floor mats $280