So Mike Schmidt, vehicle testing manager, is driving along in our Chevy Silverado long-term test truck somewhere in Sonoma, California. It's February 14, 2007. He turns away from the rolling hills and vineyards, tilts down his wire-rim sunglasses, and says, "Happy Valentine's Day." His passenger, a photographer, laughs and rolls down the window to spit out some sunflower seeds, his main food source these past few days.
Just a couple of spies out to shoot secret test sessions of what will become the 2009 Nissan GT-R.
Yes, we've been on the GT-R's case for some time. Before massive repair costs. Before voided warranties and midyear price hikes. Before the launch control controversy. Before we flew to Tennessee to buy a 2009 Nissan GT-R as a long-term test car. Before we flew to Japan to test a J-spec Nissan GT-R. Before Nürburgring lap times. Before we knew it was going to be a Nissan and not a top-trim Infiniti. Before we even knew for certain that the U.S.-bound Nissan supercar was going to drop the Skyline moniker. Before any of this, we sent two dudes to patrol the American Southwest and Northern California in search of Godzilla. For four weeks and 7,500 miles we hunted the elusive monster.
From the first, the Nissan GT-R was big news. And we knew it.
Why We Bought It
The release of the 2009 Nissan GT-R in the U.S. could go down as the most significant moment in this country's history of sports car introductions. Well, maybe we're young and have a short memory. Nevertheless, new BMWs, Corvettes, Ferraris and Mustangs come along every few years, but this was different.
The Nissan Skyline GT-R had been terrorizing the streets of Japan for decades. Later models like the R33 and R34 GT-Rs taunted Americans, gaining fame in video games (Gran Turismo), anime (Initial D), and movies (The Fast and the Furious). An all-wheel-drive, hyper-tech Nissan that could run with a Porsche 911 Turbo? And we didn't get one in America? It hardly seemed fair. Americans couldn't have it, so Americans wanted it bad.
As it turned out, the purchase of this GT-R from Alexander Nissan of Cool Springs in Franklin, Tennessee, was one of the easiest capital expenditures we've ever had to justify. We would have a 2009 Nissan GT-R, the hottest car of the times, on hand not only for real-world impressions and service reports (not to mention daily driving), but also we'd have the mighty 480-horsepower Nissan to test against whatever the automotive world might throw at us.
"I want Comf, you stupid car." -- Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief
Comfort was a common theme in our conversations throughout the year we had our 2009 Nissan GT-R. Some (well, most) people complained that the GT-R, even in its selectable comfort mode, was too harsh. "Plenty of R, not much GT," said Automotive Editor John DiPietro. Plenty of road noise came through into the cabin, while the transmission made sounds like the factory it was made in. Complaints were frequent, but at the same time no fewer than five people took the GT-R on road trips to Vegas. Deputy Managing Editor Caroline Pardilla even admitted that the Nissan was her "dream road trip car."
Our transmission never failed. It was replaced at Nissan's request for inspection. We never had a problem.
This could explain why at 16,389 miles, we spent $853.90 on new front tires. Such is life with a wheel alignment meant for peak performance on the track and high-performance Bridgestone RE070R tires. We repeated this act at 27,780 miles, but the price of rubber had increased, so we paid Stokes Tire Pros $877.96 for the 285/35R20 RE070Rs plus another $30 for a patch on the worn-but-still-good rears.
Once Senior Editor Erin Riches had driven the GT-R back from its purchase at Nissan of Cool Springs, its odometer said 3,903 miles, so we took it to its first service appointment at Nissan of Santa Monica. We were taken with the professionalism and attention the GT-R-trained service manager gave our car. It was, and still is, the best service we've ever received, and this includes what we got from the high-end, small-volume Ferrari shop that worked on our 1984 Ferrari 308 GTSi Quattrovalvole. This 2009 Nissan GT-R was the first example the dealership had ever serviced, and in fact it didn't even have a pricing schedule for the GT-R. The dealership pulled a couple numbers out of the air and charged us $179.58 for a change of engine oil. This was to be the least we ever paid for a basic service on our GT-R.
We had the car serviced at 5,979 and then 12,072 miles, and while both bills were expensive, they were within reason. At 18,913 miles, however, things got crazy, as in $2,009.67 crazy. As in so crazy that we paid $114 per quart of transmission fluid. Two more services followed, at 24,900 and 31,067 miles.
But these were the expected services, the ones that are in the maintenance book. What we didn't count on were the surprise services. At 5,400 miles we had to replace the vent control valve, which is responsible for releasing excess pressure from the fuel tanks. Without this, the car wouldn't accept fuel and gave us a warning light. In the end, Nissan replaced the fuel tank, the filler tube and the valve under warranty. Nissan also noticed a spot of moisture on one of the seals for the transmission case, and since this was about the time that launch control issues were popping up (more on that later), Nissan asked if it could take a look at our car's transaxle. We agreed and a new one was sent to Santa Monica in its stead.
Let's repeat that: Our transmission never failed. It was replaced after Nissan asked to inspect it. We never had a problem. We did, however, have another problem with the vent control valve at 27,170 miles. By this time, Nissan had a new fix that was guaranteed to last.
We also got rear-ended by a wide-eyed onlooker. No one was hurt, and 3,500 of the other guy's insurance dollars and just about 30 days later we were back in business.
Tires, transmissions, oil changes, a windshield, two vent control valve issues, a transmission reprogram and a steering lock assembly all conspired to keep our 2009 Nissan GT-R out of service for a staggering 67 days. If we subtract the time idly spent waiting for an insurance check and a new bumper, the number drops to 37 days out of service, which is 12 days more than our 1984 Ferrari 308 spent idle because of service issues. Although, in all fairness to the GT-R, it did cover nearly double the mileage than the Ferrari did during its long-term test.
Total Body Repair Costs: $3,500 (paid by at-fault driver's insurance)
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 15 months): $3,953.58
Additional Maintenance Costs: $4,334.56
Warranty Repairs: 6
Non-Warranty Repairs: 5 -- windshield, three sets of tires, body damage
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 6
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 10
Days Out of Service: 67 (37 + 30 for body damage estimate/repair)
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: 0
Performance and Fuel Economy
The first time we tested our 2009 Nissan GT-R, we lined it up, flicked all of the calibration levers on the center stack into the down position, as in suspension (Race mode), transmission (Race mode) and stability control (off). We stood on the brake, stood on the throttle and then, when we were ready, let off the brake and held on for the ride. The rear tires spun, the front tires spun and the engine stayed in the sweet spot of its power band. The GT-R got to 60 mph from a standstill in 3.8 seconds (3.5 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) on its way to a quarter-mile pass in 11.8 seconds at 118.6 mph. It was easy, fun, fast and really, really fun.
But we don't test on a drag strip. A drag strip has jacked-up pavement covered in traction goo and leftover rubber transferred from the tires of those who have gone before. This means if you can hook it up without blowing up, a drag strip is a fast place to launch. Hooking up, however, has some drawbacks, such as massive driveline stress. Driveshafts snap, diffs blow and every so often a transmission will grenade itself. Rocketing a 3,858-pound car to 60 mph in under 4 seconds takes a lot of power and if all doesn't go smoothly, well, it's going to get expensive. And if a carmaker happens to have a built-in launch-control system that enables the car to do such things, well, it's going to get really expensive.
After a few GT-Rs blew their transmissions while being launched with heedless abuse by amateur goons (we launched like professional goons), Nissan backtracked, cited a technicality in the owner's manual that says all events while traction control is off are not covered by the warranty, and turned the supercar into an Internet meme of lolcat proportions.
Nissan offered a fix, though. A reprogramming of the launch control logic that it said wouldn't require any fiddling with a new driving protocol or the traction control. You would just get in, hit the gas and wait until you're tired of accelerating. We had the service done a few days before it was widely available and the results were surprising. The 60-mph mark came up faster, just 3.6 seconds (3.4 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and the quarter-mile passed at 11.7 seconds at 118.5 mph. Monkey as we might, we couldn't beat the time the launch control put down with our own seat-of-the-pants efforts. This time could've been done by a trained ape -- mash the gas and hold on. That guy in the cubicle next to you, you know, the one with the runny nose and dry skin, yeah, he can do 11s run after run. It's almost too easy.
Fuel economy was what you'd expect from an all-wheel-drive car with 480 hp that weighs 3,858 pounds, an average of 16.4 mpg with a best tank of 21.8 mpg. The low mark of 11.5 mpg wasn't the only entry in the mid-11s, so it was no fluke.
Best Fuel Economy: 21.8 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 11.5 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 16.4 mpg
The Nissan GT-R's vital statistics might be well known, yet they remain highly impressive. It's priced some $50,000 less than its chief rival, the Porsche 911 Turbo. It's got an iPod hookup ($360), an excellent navigation system, pearl-white paint and needlessly expensive floor mats ($280). It also goes stupid fast and has more computers than Alabama.
At the same time, there was no data going into our test about the way an $80,000 Nissan would depreciate. We were, once again, breaking new ground. Its value might hold up due to high demand. It could increase in value due to extremely high demand. Or it could, as we found out, plummet in value due to 30,000 miles on the odometer, a decimated economy, reliability concerns and, probably, the Nissan badge.
When we put up our 2009 Nissan GT-R for sale, informal betting pools sprung up all over the office. "Someone will steal it for $66K," said one. "No way. $70K. This car's a monster!" But others had been following, via eBay and the North American GT-R Owners Club, the sale prices of GT-Rs across the country, and so Vehicle Testing Assistant Mike Magrath (your obedient servant) said, "It'll be $55K max. And then only if someone really needs a white one." No one else thought it would be so low.
We headed to CarMax, our default pricing agent and backup sale spot. After a thorough walkaround and some finagling with his computer system, the CarMax agent came back with an offer of $50,000. Convinced we could do better, we passed and headed for the Internet. We tried Mota, which sells across a number of Internet outlets. Finally we just went to eBay.
The reserve was set to $53,000, and then reduced to $52,000. Bidding was steady if not frenzied. The final two bidders had solid histories and were making smart moves. If the reserve line was crossed, this looked promising.
On the last day of bidding, the price barely moved. As the clock clicked to zero, the winning bid stood at $52,600. The bidder sent us a deposit and flew in just days later. We picked him up at the airport, finished the paperwork and watched him drive away, en route to his home in Atlanta, in our -- no, his -- 2009 Nissan GT-R. Everyone was happy with the way things turned out. Except Magrath, of course, as he lost his $1 bet.
Combine the depreciation and the $8,288.14 we spent in repairs, then divide by the 15 months we had the car and it turns out we spent $1,683.54 per month, excluding insurance and fuel, on this car.
True Market Value at service end: $62,828
What it sold for: $52,600
Depreciation: $16,965 or 23% of original paid price
Final Odometer Reading: 31,067
What It all Means
Last year the 2009 Nissan GT-R made our list to purchase for the long-term fleet and your list as a Readers' Most Wanted. Now, thousands of dollars later, our camp is split about the whole experience. Half are screaming mad at the cost, reliability issues and now the low resale value. The other half are still impressed with how much car this is for under $80 grand. Even including our repairs, this exercise still cost $40,000 less than the purchase of a 2010 911 Turbo, which carries an MSRP of $133,775.
While it was certainly a test of metal, this was also a test of perception and patience. The combination of mechanical failures and a high level of required attention is not a good one, especially from a nameplate like Nissan, from which U.S. consumers expect trouble-free performance in a way that they don't demand of an exotic nameplate like Porsche. But at the end of the day, you get what you pay for. As long as you don't expect the GT-R to be as reliable or cheap as your Altima just because it wears a Nissan badge, the GT-R is a solid buy. Daily driver? Probably not. 4/7? Absolutely.
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.