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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

2009 Nissan GT-R is Motor Trend Car of the Year

2009 Nissan GT R Front View


Yes, we are fully aware of the GT-R's best-known nickname, "Godzilla" -- so called because the automotive press found previous generations as ferocious and all-conquering as Japan's fire-breathing monster. But following a full week of intensive evaluation in Nissan's new sports car, we here at Motor Trend now lay claim to a more suitable GT-R moniker -- Ichiban. From Japanese, ichiban translates to "number one." In Motor Trend vernacular, however, it simply denotes: 2009 Car of the Year.

Every September, it seems a few editors comment, "This is the toughest field I can remember." Sure enough, as this year's testing drew to a close, several staff members expressed those same sentiments.

2009 Nissan GT R Side View

And for sound reason-the competitive set is more imposing than Jamaica's Olympic track team. From the jumbo-shrimp Honda Fit and the discount-Lexus Hyundai Genesis to the quicker-than-a-Cayman BMW 1 series and the cat's-meow Jaguar XF, this year's pool runs deeper than any of recent memory. Yet, no contender proved as profound, awe-inspiring, or, more important, able to fulfill our criteria as the GT-R. How did Nissan so competently clinch the calipers?

Read on.

The Super in Superiority

The last time a Nissan, at least one that came from an official U.S. showroom, was judged against such niche exotics as, say, a Ferrari or a Lamborghini was...never. Until now.

The GT-R puts Nissan on a map that thus far only designated Maranello, Sant' Agata, Munich, and Stuttgart as points of interest. Well, it's time to stick a tack on Tochigi. In the kingdom of supercars, the GT-R positively belongs. Be it comparing 0-to-60 sprints, quarter-mile times, 60-to-0 braking, or lateral acceleration, the GT-R is one of the world's best. Don't believe us? Its cornea-melting 0-to-60 run of 3.3 seconds is quicker than that of the BMW M6, the Porsche 911 GT2, the Lamborghini Gallardo LP-560, and the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. It even manages to run door to door with the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano and the Corvette ZR1. Quarter mile?

2009 Nissan GT R Side View

At 11.5 seconds at 121.0 mph, it is quicker than both the M6 and the SLR, and only a blink or two behind the rest. Further, the GT-R halts from 60 in just 102 feet-better than that of all but the GT2 and ZR1-and sticks to the skidpad with 1.00 g of lateral vigor, again in the realm of the others. Perhaps better yet, the GT-R puts up those thrilling stats while still delivering 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway and ULEV-II emissions. Only the GT2 sips less fuel and none exhales through greener tailpipes.

So how does it do all that? The list is long (see "Fast Facts" on Page 6), but the GT-R's core elements make it happen. For starters, it employs a handbuilt V-6 that uses plasma-coated cylinder bores to ensure optimal efficiency and twin IHI turbochargers to produce 480 horses. (That said, our GT-R dynamometer test from June 2008 revealed horsepower is really around 507.)

2009 Nissan GT R Rear Three Quarter View

The V-6's partner in lap time, a hand-assembled dual-clutch automatic transmission, delivers a nearly uninterrupted flow of torque. To optimize weight over the rear wheels and offer minimal load shift during acceleration, braking, and cornering, the GT-R is the world's first all-wheel-drive production car to feature a rear-mounted transaxle. Feel like a round of caliper-smoking hot-laps? Its Brembo brakes are worthy of any track, even the infamous Nurburgring, where they helped the GT-R lap quicker than the GT2. And to provide a rigid, aerodynamic, precise, and relatively lightweight body-at 3891 pounds, the GT-R weighs less than an M6-its brutally elegant shape ingeniously meshes steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber.

Face-to-Face Value

Carrying a base price of $77,840, the GT-R does not appear, at least at face value, to be much of a bargain. But value does not mean low prices in hard times or affordability to the masses. Rather, it equates to getting more in return for every dollar put out. Based solely on price, the GT-R's competitors include the $76,460 Porsche 911 Carrera, the $77,975 Jaguar XK, and the $73,255 Chevrolet Corvette Z06. Can any match the Nissan's levels of performance? Nope. The Z06 comes close, but close in a race only means second place.

2009 Nissan GT R Grille

You have to refer to the aforementioned supercars to realize stats akin to the GT-R's. And the mean cost of those exotics? Ranging from over $104,000 for the M6 to nearly $500,000 for the SLR, the average price comes out to over $236,000. The arithmetic does not lie: Comparable performance for, on average, a third of the cost equals value.

Also of note is what the GT-R's ticket to ride includes, above and beyond the majestic data. A comfortable, leather-adorned cabin that accommodates four passengers. A trunk that swallows two golf bags. A PlayStation-inspired multifunction display. A nav system, 9.3-GB hard drive, and Bluetooth. All standard. For an additional $2250, the Premium Edition adds side and side-curtain airbags, Bose audio, and heated seats.

Masterpiece de Resistance

2009 Nissan GT R Front Three Quarter View

In 1998, Nissan unveiled the 202-mph, $1 million R390 GT1. Essentially a roadgoing version of the race car that captured four of the top 10 spots at the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans, the R390 street car enjoyed a breathtaking aura (its body was the work of famed Aston and Jag designer Ian Callum), humbling specs (550-hp, 471 lb-ft), and remarkable performance (0-to-62 in 3.9, quarter mile in 11.9). Rules dictated that manufacturers build at least one street-legal version of their race cars, so, as rumor has it, Nissan built two.

Today, after a little over a decade since those Le Mans days, the GT-R, of which Nissan will sell roughly 2000 per year at a cost of $77,840-$83,770 each, has superseded the omigawd! R390. Significance? When a genuine production car outperforms a homologated, Le Mans-based street machine-even one 11 years old-for about eight percent of the cost, it is certainly noteworthy.

2009 Nissan GT R Rear End

The GT-R's significance, naturally, stretches far beyond its preeminence to the R390. Its justifiable association with contemporary flagships from Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Porsche alone says it is no poseur. The bottom line is Nissan is comfortably performing in rarified air, legitimately shaking up the hierarchy within the supercar stratosphere. And, lest you forget, at a comparative pittance of the others' retail prices. Further, whereas previous generations were sold only in Japan, Australia, and the U.K., the new GT-R boasts a global presence, treating enthusiasts in such countries as Germany and the U.S.

As with any supercar, simply looking at the GT-R is an integral part of the experience. Per senior vice president of design Shiro Nakamura, "The mission was to achieve a distinctive car, a supercar, but not a normal fast car-it's chunkier, more practical, and more muscular. The element of functionality is core to the GT-R and that functionality is reflected in the design. It is clearly not an Italian, German, or American car: It is unmistakably Japanese." Mission accomplished. St. Antoine notes, "The GT-R intentionally has none of the sophistication of a Ferrari, but instead looks mean and techno and macho."

2009 Nissan GT R Exhaust

Per chief vehicle engineer Kazutoshi Mizuno, a Nissan racing team director in the 1990s, his goal with the GT-R was to produce a "multiperformance supercar that can be driven fast and skillfully by just about anybody in just about any road condition." Thus, his mantra, "Anyone, anytime, anywhere." Well, the GT-R managed to astound every editor with its capabilities. Sure, some were dissatisfied with the styling ("Nissan has built the world's ugliest, oversized electric shaver"), the videogame feel ("If someone buys a car for more than just pure performance, i.e., emotional feel, the GT-R would be at a disadvantage"), and the stiff suspension ("Coarsest ride on the oval"), but none, regardless of talent, could dispute the GT-R's ability to leave mouths agape and spines tingling. Its mind-blowing faculties seemingly blur the line between surreality and reality-what a fantastical "Anyone, anytime, anywhere" supercar should do.

Plainly put: No Nissan has ever been as formidable or as awesome as the GT-R. More significant, no other 2009 contender crushes our criteria like the GT-R. For that, it wholeheartedly deserves our Golden Calipers.

Fast facts

2009 Nissan GT R Center Stack 2009 Nissan GT R Gear Shift 2009 Nissan GT R Display Screen

1. The 2009 GT-R, the sixth generation of Nissan's flagship sports car, is the first to come from a "clean-slate" design-all others were based on JDM Skyline models-and the first to be globally marketed.

2. A single technician in a climate-controlled clean-room environment hand assembles the all-new VR38DETT 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6 (in Nissan's Yokohama factory) as well as the GR6 six-speed twin-clutch automatic (at the Aichi Machine Industry plant).

3. The GT-R undertook over 3100 miles of rigorous testing at the 12.9-mile Nrburgring Nordshleife, the world's most demanding racetrack. Its best lap time is 7:29, quicker than those of a Corvette Z06 and a 911 GT2.

4. The GT-R's "high-speed driving test"-the front passengers enjoying an easy conversation without raised voices at 186 mph-was performed mostly on German autobahns.

5. Product chief designer Hiroshi Hasegawa incorporated historical GT-R styling cues into the new model, namely the edgy box-shape of the 1969 PGC10 GT-R, the four round taillamps of the 1973 KPGC110 GT-R, and the prominent thin-slit grille of the 1999 R34 GT-R.

6. To ensure that virtually any driver can get comfortable, the GT-R boasts the greatest range of seat adjustment of any supercar-the driver's seat slides nine inches, raises 1.2 inches, and is rake-adjustable, easily accommodating anyone from 4 foot 9 to 6 foot 3. Also, the steering wheel both tilts and telescopes 2.4 inches.

7. Nissan calls it "Independent Transaxle 4WD." In other words, the GT-R is the world's first production car to feature a rear-mounted transaxle (transmission, clutch, and transfer case) and two independent propeller shafts (no torque tube), allowing each axle to control tire grip without manipulation from the other.

8. The GT-R's advanced ATTESA E-TS all-wheel-drive system can deliver up to 50 percent of torque to the front wheels, depending on feedback from sensors that measure speed, steering angle, tire slip, yaw rate, and lateral and transverse acceleration. Also incorporated is a yaw-rate feedback control sensor, which calculates target yaw rate based on steering angle and actual yaw rate based on the yaw-rate and g sensors, and then continuously distributes torque accordingly.

9. Specially developed Bilstein DampTronic monotube shocks feature sensors that gauge 11 elements, including vehicle speed, lateral acceleration, steering angle, engine rpm, brake oil pressure, and ABS behavior.

10. The GT-R incorporates "super-wide-beam headlamps" that utilize three additional subreflectors to enhance the illumination area. According to Nissan, they outperform swiveling lamps that rotate in turns, mostly because they provide superior light spread during high-speed straight-line driving.

11. The Brembo brake system uses fully floating 15.0-inch vented and drilled steel rotors that feature diamond-shaped inner ribs for better cooling. Monoblock calipers (six-piston front/four-piston rear) employ racing-style three-bolt structures to generate stout stopping force and avert caliper distortion.

12. The GT-R's body is composed of lightweight and advanced steels, die-cast aluminum (front suspension strut housings, front and rear suspension cross-brace members, rear-seatback support, door inners, tunnel stay), and carbon fiber (radiator core support, front of the engine bay, rear diffuser undertray). Further, the GT-R's underside-made up of, from front to rear, a polypropylene under cover, a glass-fiber sheet molding compound (SMC) under cover, a carbon SMC diffuser, and a carbon diffuser-helps achieve a 0.27 coefficient of drag.

13. Before being shipped from the Tochigi factory, the GT-R undergoes a nine-lap break-in regimen: Laps 1-3 (brake quenching), Lap 4 (brake break-in), Lap 5 (transmission break-in), Lap 6 (transmission break-in, engine boost pressure check), Lap 7 (transmission contact-sudden start), Laps 8, 9 (reducing friction of suspension).

Drivetrain layout Front engine, AWD
Engine type 60 twin-turbo V-6, alum block/heads
Valvetrain DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Displacement 231.8 cu in/3799 cc
Compression ratio 9.0:1
Power (SAE net) 480 hp @ 6800 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 430 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm
Redline 7000 rpm
Weight to power 8.1 lb/hp
Transmission 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
Axle/final-drive ratios 3.70:1/2.95:1
Suspension, front; rear Control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
Steering ratio 15.0:1
Turns lock-to-lock 2.5
Brakes, f;r 15.0-in vented, drilled disc; 15.0-in vented, drilled disc, ABS
Wheels, f;r 9.5 x 20 in; 10.5 x 20 in, forged aluminum
Tires, f;r 255/40R20 97Y; 285/35R20 100Y, Dunlop SP Sport 600 DSST
Wheelbase 109.4 in
Track, f/r 62.6/63.0 in
Length x width x height 183.1 x 74.9 x 54.0 in
Turning circle 36.6 ft
Curb weight 3891 lb
Weight dist, f/r 55/45%
Seating capacity 4
Headroom, f/r 38.1/33.5 in
Legroom, f/r 44.6/26.4 in
Shoulder room, f/r 54.7/44.9 in
Cargo volume 8.8 cu ft
Acceleration to mph
0-30 1.1 sec
0-40 1.8
0-50 2.5
0-60 3.3
0-70 4.2
0-80 5.2
0-90 6.4
0-100 7.8
Passing, 45-65 mph 1.5
Quarter mile 11.5 sec @ 121.0 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 102 ft
Lateral acceleration 1.00 g (avg)
MT figure eight 24.2 sec @ 0.82 g (avg)
Top-gear revs @ 60 mph 2210 rpm
Base price $77,840
Price as tested $77,840
Stability/traction control Yes/yes
Airbags Dual front
Basic warranty 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/60,000 miles
Roadside assistance 6 yrs/60,000 miles
Fuel capacity 19.5 gal
EPA city/hwy econ 16/21 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.08 lb/mile
MT fuel economy 14.9 mpg
Recommended fuel Unleaded premium