Technically, the 2009 Nissan GT-R isn't a Skyline -- that distinction now belongs to what we know as the Infiniti G series, which is marketed as the Nissan Skyline in Japan. But don't let the official nomenclature fool you. From its familiar twin-turbocharged engine and all-wheel-drive layout to its telltale circular taillights, there's no mistaking the new Nissan for anything but a modern-day Skyline GT-R.
The big deal for Americans is that the 2009 GT-R marks the first time this legendary performance car will be officially sold stateside. We also happen to be getting the most ambitious version yet. The great-granddaddy of the new GT-R, the "Godzilla" R32 Skyline GT-R produced from 1989-'93, was designed to equal the performance of the iconic Porsche 959. Nissan's benchmark for the 2009 GT-R? The mighty Porsche 997-series 911 Turbo.
That's a tall order under any circumstances, but Nissan's President and CEO, Carlos Ghosn, sent the degree of difficulty skyrocketing when he agreed to green-light the GT-R project on two conditions: first, the base price had to be about $70,000; and second, the car had to be profitable, i.e., not merely an image-boosting "halo car" that would be sold at a loss. Improbably, the GT-R has succeeded on all counts. Ghosn's conditions have been met, and we can confirm that the 2009 Nissan GT-R is indeed a match for its Bavarian benchmark at the track. Never before has such stratospheric factory performance been available at such a reasonable price; in fact, you'd have to look long and hard to match the GT-R's performance at any price.
How does the GT-R do it? As far as that bargain-basement price tag is concerned, we'd put it down to a mixture of modern mass-production techniques and magic. Performance-wise, the gnarly Nissan has a long list of co-conspirators to thank, among them a 473-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6, a thoroughly revised version of the previous GT-R's ATTESA ET-S all-wheel-drive system, a trick suspension with adjustable dampers and a dual-clutch transmission that ranks right up there with the best in the business.
Credit also goes to the GT-R's all-new PM ("Premium Midship") chassis, as distinguished from the FM platform that underpins the 350Z and the Infiniti G35. The GT-R's 53/47 weight distribution (50/50 under full acceleration, Nissan says) is due in part to the PM chassis' rear-mounted transmission, unusual in any case for a front-engine design -- only the Corvette and a few other high-end performance cars have one -- but unprecedented for one with all-wheel drive. What's more, to guard against inconsistencies from one GT-R to the next, the car's suspension and body are assembled on a jig, racecar style. The result is an honest-to-goodness supercar -- except for the bottom line.
Demerits are few and mostly insignificant next to the GT-R's colossal capabilities. First off, the car is a bit heavy given its sporting mission, tipping the scales at 3,800-plus pounds -- but in light of the GT-R's physics-defying cornering ability, who cares? Probably the only time owners will really notice the extra weight is at the pump, and folks who buy 473-hp sports cars aren't likely to lose sleep over a few miles per gallon. Likewise, the angular exterior styling isn't for everyone -- but then, when a $70,000 car can get you to 60 mph faster than any Ferrari or Lamborghini currently in production, does it really matter how it looks? At the end of the day, the only unequivocal complaint we can lodge against the GT-R is that it lacks a manual transmission option. As good as the GT-R's exclusive clutchless manual is, you can still shift many competing models the old-fashioned way if you want, and we wish the same were true of the GT-R.
But that's the biggest nit we can find to pick, which is a good indication of just how special the 2009 Nissan GT-R is. The Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is the only other sports car at this price point that offers remotely comparable bang for the buck, and its performance numbers are yesterday's news compared to the GT-R's. Provided that you can live without a stick, have more than $70K to play with and can find one (it's said that only 1,500 are being allotted for the United States market, and those will no doubt command a hefty premium), the GT-R should be at the top of your sports car shopping list. For the time being, it's probably the most thrilling ride for the money that the automotive marketplace has to offer.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Nissan GT-R is a high-performance sports car available only in coupe form with a 2+2 seating layout. Two trim levels are offered: base and Premium. The base model comes standard with 20-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, Brembo brakes, a rear spoiler, an electronically adjustable suspension, leather upholstery, power front seats, aluminum-trimmed pedals, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, Bluetooth, keyless entry/start, automatic climate control, a six-speaker sound system, XM Satellite Radio, a multifunction driver-configurable information monitor, an in-dash Compact Flash card reader and a navigation system with a 30-gigabyte hard drive, 9.4 gigabytes of which can be used for audio storage.
The Premium model adds higher-performance tires, an 11-speaker Bose audio system with two subwoofers, heated front seats, front passenger side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Notably, side and side curtain airbags are not available on the base model.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2009 Nissan GT-R is powered by a 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V6 engine that generates 473 hp and 434 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission routes this prodigious power to the ground via an advanced all-wheel-drive system.
In our instrumented testing, the 3,836-pound GT-R teleported to 60 mph in a drama-free 3.3 seconds, thanks to its launch control function, and turned in a blistering 11.6-second quarter-mile at nearly 121 mph.
Standard safety features on the 2009 Nissan GT-R include massive Brembo brakes with antilock capability, stability control and traction control. Front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are standard on GT-R Premiums but unavailable on the base model.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2009 Nissan GT-R's interior is a somber but appropriately driver-centric environment in which to make haste. Snug sport buckets and a high center console envelop the driver and front passenger, and rear passengers won't complain as long as their legs aren't long enough to dangle off the seat cushions -- which is to say, as long as they're under the age of 3. Ingress and egress -- for the front passengers, at least -- is a piece of cake by exotic-car standards.
The GT-R also boasts a trick multifunction performance monitor that features 11 different informational displays. The monitor was developed in consultation with Polyphony Digital, which created the Gran Turismo video game franchise.
Nissan enthusiasts were dismayed when the company revealed that the new GT-R would employ a V6 in place of the iconic inline-6 from previous Skyline GT-Rs. They needn't have worried. This engine makes big power everywhere, and displays none of the coarseness that afflicts other Nissan V6s at higher rpm. Moreover, the 2009 Nissan GT-R is as graceful as it is powerful. When we drove a GT-R at Nissan's test facility in Japan, we were amazed at how easy the car was to drive at the limit. The GT-R also felt incredibly poised both in tight corners and on high-speed straights, an impression supported by the otherworldly 7:29 lap the GT-R has turned in at the Nürburgring's famed Nordschleife loop. Its Teutonic target's best time, by the way, is 7:40.
As capable as the GT-R is at the racetrack, it nonetheless manages to be bearable on the street, even if no one will mistake it for a luxury coupe. The transmission's automatic mode is surprisingly civil, and although the GT-R's ride is never less than stiff, the suspension settings can be fiddled with so pavement imperfections need not be treated like land mines. We still yearn for a stickshift, but we know a good thing when we see it -- and the 2009 Nissan GT-R is unquestionably one of the best performance cars ever.