James Riswick, New and Used Car Editor
You're going to giggle. Or yell "Woo hoo!" or "Holy (preferred expletive)!" There's just no other way to react when you lay into the 2009 Nissan GT-R for the first time. Cars don't behave like this; airplanes do. And it's not just the intense acceleration that's more in line with aeronautics than automobiles. The engine and muted exhaust are so effortlessly smooth you'd swear the lustworthy noises infiltrating the cabin were emanating from a jet rather than six turbocharged cylinders. We always heard the mythical Skyline GT-R from Japan was incredible, but now we know for sure.
And yet, you probably knew that already if you've ever heard the name Skyline or read anything about this automotive legend-in-the-making aptly nicknamed Godzilla. This is a car with a 473-horsepower twin-turbo V6 (485 hp for 2010), all-wheel drive and enough performance to give Porsche 911 drivers nightmares. But the real question is, what's it like to live with Godzilla? Can you drive a GT-R every day, or does its max-attack attitude turn it into nothing more than a weekend plaything?
Rather conveniently, these questions can be answered. We bought a 2009 Nissan GT-R for our long-term vehicle program to see what it's really like to live with on a long-term basis. Turns out, you can live with this Japanese monster. Just be prepared to get knocked around a bit.
Despite focusing on real-world driving here, we can't ignore the eye-popping numbers generated by our Nissan GT-R at the test track — although those numbers seem to differ depending on the test car itself. The 0-60-mph sprint disappeared in 3.9 seconds, while the quarter-mile went by in 12 seconds at 114.7 mph. That's quicker than an Audi R8 and only a hair slower than a Porsche 911 Turbo. However, given that each GT-R engine is hand-built and therefore slightly different, it's not surprising that we've generated lower numbers with other GT-R testers. We've also discovered from talking with Nissan engineers that after such constant use/abuse, special tune-ups are required to maintain the GT-R's performance potential. When it comes time to stop, our long-term GT-R went from 60 to zero in 108 feet, although another GT-R we tested previously stopped in 98 feet, which is remarkable.
On our favorite mountain roads, the 2009 Nissan GT-R was a ceaselessly capable car that seemed to reach only about 65 percent of its capabilities. For a majority of drivers, it's going to be far more car than they'll ever be able to experience fully — particularly if they never take it to such circuitous roads or a track.
But at least the GT-R makes it easy. Its all-wheel-drive system constantly moves power between front and rear, distributing torque based on steering input, and yaw and lateral G sensors. What the heck does that mean? Well, the GT-R behaves like a machine with a mind of its own — but like a well-meaning Commander Data, not a crazed HAL 9000. Going around a tight corner, you can give it more throttle than you normally would and it'll take care of the rest, sending you around said corner in the fastest way possible without letting you fuss things up. It's not idiot-proof, and it can get you in trouble should you disrespect its massive power potential. However, as long as you're not a complete fool, the GT-R makes things almost so easy that it can get boring.
The GT-R is likewise easy to drive on a daily basis. Around town, you'll find the steering that's so quick and communicative when going fast is pleasantly light in traffic. And with all the jetlike thrust at its disposal, passing on the highway is not only easy, you'll look forward to slow-moving vehicles so you can slingshot past them. Forget merging onto the highway; the GT-R feels as if it could merge into orbit.
Although the six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission provides lightning-quick shifts with rapid response from paddle-shifter inputs, we actually found ourselves letting the car do its own thing in automatic mode. It, too, snaps through gears with seamless precision and with none of the herky-jerky motions sometimes associated with other automated manual transmissions. Under light acceleration, it has a tendency to shift up to 6th gear as quickly as possible to maximize fuel economy, but with so much engine torque and an eagerness to downshift quickly, this never proves to be a problem. And it's effective, since the GT-R manages 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined — pretty darn good for a car this blindingly fast.
There's actually a Comfort button in the GT-R, but it's more ironic than descriptive. This toggle switch selects among the car's three suspension modes: Normal, Comfort and R (for track use only). The default mode is Normal, but even the most pristinely new asphalt will jiggle and shake your midsection. Flicking that switch to "Comf," therefore, becomes a habitual action after firing up the GT-R, but you'll still feel every bump, and harsh pavement is greeted with equally harsh crashing that's sent through your backside. (For 2011, the suspension was retuned for greater comfort.)
Once inside the 2009 Nissan GT-R, you'll be struck by the generous amount of leg- and headroom for front occupants, along with a good driving position even for tall drivers. Sadly, the GT-R lacks the adjustable side bolsters and extending thigh support found on the Infiniti G37, and larger drivers will find the seats a tad pinchy in the behind and upper torso. However, if you fit right, the GT-R seats tend to get more comfortable with every passing mile.
The backseat is the losing end of a 2+2 affair with very little leg- and headroom. It's best suited for kids, and we found that two child seats will fit back there?albeit with great effort.
We'd love to report on wind noise inside the GT-R, but there's too much roaring road noise to notice. On that aforementioned gnarled pavement, casual conversations can result in hoarse throats.
The beauty of the GT-R is that its controls are virtually identical to the excellent climate and audio controls found in the Infiniti G37. In fact, they are better placed — located high, slanted upward and canted toward the driver. A large LCD screen displays everything you'll need to know and is controlled redundantly by a touchscreen, physical buttons and a small multipurpose control knob. The iPod integration is one of the best on the market, while the navigation system is easy to program and features real-time traffic.
Unlike some other supercars, the GT-R features a rather sizable trunk that can fit two sets of golf clubs and a standard carry-on roller suitcase. The lift-over is very high, though, and the rear transaxle and gas tank underneath can heat up your groceries.
Design/Fit and Finish
The GT-R's cabin is filled with the same high-quality, soft-touch materials found in Nissan's more expensive offerings, while adding more leather surfaces, alloy trim and Alcantara faux suede seating inserts. It's not luxurious, but it's not cheap either. Some may expect more luxury for this sort of money, but keep in mind, more luxury will come with either a massive performance drop or a massive price increase.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2009 Nissan GT-R is best for car nuts and power junkies who want exotic supercar thrills for half the price. Living in an area with pristine pavement or having a high tolerance for suspension crashing is a must.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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