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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Nismo GT R Tested but bring your wallett when ordering

You really do need a degree in mechanical engineering to understand everything that Kazutoshi Mizuno says. As the chief engineer of the Nissan GT-R, he's come to be known as Mr. GT-R, and his background as a racing engineer in charge of Nissan's effort at the 24 Hours of Le Mans means he knows more about vehicle dynamics than we ever will.

We're here to talk about the 2009 Nissan GT-R Nismo, specifically the Nismo Club Sports package, a kit of parts from Nissan's high-performance division that can be fitted to any current GT-R. And as Mr. GT-R scribbles complex technical details and cryptic theory about the car on a white board, he cannot contain his excitement at taking his baby to the next level. Though the GT-R has been on the market for less than a year, Mizuno is already unveiling the first upgrade, which not surprisingly, is heavily focused on track day use.

"We wanted to create parts that made the GT-R feel more at home when it's flat out on a track," Mizuno says, "and we believe this Nismo GT-R more than responds to that need."

It sure does. But it ain't cheap.

The Price of Performance
In fact, the total cost of the Nismo upgrade for the 2009 Nissan GT-R will set you back a whopping $56,000!! Of course, this is only if you purchase all the components at the same time. But once you look closely at the Nismo catalog, you'll notice that this kit can be split into three.

To start with, you can choose to fit the chassis package first for just $22,500. This begins with Bilstein Damptronic coil-over struts, which combine electronically adjustable damping with adjustable ride height. They're complemented by competition-grade springs, rated at 1,036 pounds/inch in front and 538 pounds/inch in the rear. There are forged-aluminum RAYS wheels, 20-by-9.5 inches in front (with 45mm offset) and 20-by-10.5 inches in the rear (with 25mm offset). The wheels carry Bridgestone RE070R run-flat tires, 225/40R20s in front and 285/35R20s in the rear.

For another $19,500 you can upgrade to a titanium exhaust system plus a carbon-fiber aero diffuser. The final step is a pair of Recaro carbon-fiber racing seats, also priced at $19,000.

Any math whizzes out there will realize that the cost of all three upgrades actually adds up to $61,500. So by charging $56,000 for the whole package, Nismo hopes more drivers will go for the whole package.

No Nürburgring This Time
Now to get the car to this stage, Nismo had to test and then test again. Mizuno would have loved to test at the GT-R's spiritual home for the last 20 years, the Nürburgring Nordschleife, but couldn't get the Nismo program there due to budget constraints. So he went to the next best track, and for Nissan and Nismo that means Sendai Highland Raceway, 2.5 miles of tricky, twisting blacktop located 250 miles north of Tokyo. Get the handling setup right here, Mizuno figured, and you can take your Club Sports package anywhere.

The three-mode, electronically adjustable Bilstein dampers and stiffer springs combine with the specially designed Bridgestones with stiffer sidewalls, a more aggressive tread and a new compound to deliver not only a quicker lap time around Sendai than a stock GT-R but also greater all-round handling stability. After just one lap on a semi-wet surface, we were blown away by the car's improved grip levels.

Of course, while the Nismo Club Sports package might be a nicely integrated performance package thanks to the 26.4-pound weight saving represented by the twin, manually adjustable leather-upholstered carbon-fiber seats and the 11 pounds shed by the cat-back titanium exhaust system, it's in the corners where it counts. That's why we feel most GT-R owners will initially just go for the suspension package, although actually the forged wheels do their bit to reduce weight, trimming 3.5 pounds off the front wheels and 3.2 pounds from the rears. Add all the weight savings up and the 2009 Nissan GT-R Nismo is around 43 pounds lighter than the stock GT-R.

It's All About Fun, Period
For all its dedication to track use, the GT-R Nismo has no more power than the standard model. Mizuno has left the engine alone, so the twin-turbo 3.8-liter V6 makes 473 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 433 pound-feet of torque from 3,200 to 5,200 rpm. "That's plenty," Mr. GT-R stresses.

Mizuno says his job was not to tweak anything under the hood. He says, "This package features parts that lift cornering limits and overall stability levels especially under heavy braking and acceleration, but at the same time make it more comfortable for the driver thanks to more supportive seats."

This suspension package lets you know much sooner in a corner what the tires and the rear end of the car are doing. Thanks to this impression of handling stability, you can brake later and harder, loading up the suspension far more at the apex but with less body roll. We noticed greater steering precision and a more neutral balance with almost no understeer as the car turns into a corner. And on a semi-wet track (actually water was streaming across the pavement in a couple low-lying sections), the merits of these settings reveal their heightened handling potential more than on a dry track.

The Nismo setup also seems to maintain traction longer and then loses grip more progressively than the standard GT-R, so you don't find yourself saying, "Oops, crikey, lost it," as you head off backward into the scenery. If Mizuno wanted to give amateur racing drivers and GT-R owners more confidence and more fun at higher speeds on a track, then he has certainly done that with this car. And the ride quality has not suffered in the transformation, either.

Passing Gas for $19,000
We can almost comprehend why the handling upgrade costs more than $22,000. We can even hazard a guess as to why those specially designed Recaro seats with unique seat rails and hand-operated reclining function cost around $19,000. But we couldn't help but scratch our heads at the $19,000 price tag for the titanium exhaust system.

Nismo tells us that this exhaust in no way ups the power. The 11-pound weight reduction is the primary rationale, although the system also improves cooling efficiency, as it's complemented by some specially fitted cooling ducts and cooling fins, not to mention a carbon-fiber aero diffuser.

To prove the package's reliability levels, Nismo tested the new parts in this year's annual 24-hour endurance race at Tokachi on Hokkaido, Japan's only 24-hour race. But even if everything came off the car in perfect working order, we feel Nismo still might find it a little challenging to convince owners that the non-suspension parts are worth the investment.

Only 70 Percent Complete
Even with the Nismo Club Sports kit completed for the all-wheel-drive GT-R, Mizuno says that he has only completed around 70 percent of what he wants to do with the GT-R. Once the long-awaited V Spec version of the GT-R is introduced in Japan this December, he says he'll advance maybe 5 or 10 percent further toward his ultimate goal.

Mizuno's long-term plan is to improve the GT-R incrementally over an extended period of time. While enthusiasts are lathered up at the prospect of the V Spec, Mizuno says such special editions are not part of the long-range plan. He just shrugs his shoulders and says, "Sure we will do special editions like the V Spec and even some hotter variants down the road, but these will be very limited runs. What I really want to do is to tweak the base GT-R, like we have here. That's where the fun lies."

If the handling performance of the 2009 Nissan GT-R Nismo is anything to go by, then we have a lot to look forward to with the V Spec. From what we're hearing, it will cost around the same as the Club Sports but get a whole lot more herbs under the hood.

Magic From Mr. GT-R
Mr. GT-R has waved his magic wand over the current GT-R to come up with a suspension package that catapults Nissan's charger into a whole new league. It's not cheap, but boy, is it worth it.

For owners with wads of cash to spend and unlimited time to attend track days, why not start with the suspension upgrade? Thanks to Nismo, the GT-R just got a whole lot better.

For the moment these parts are only available through the dozen Nismo outlets in Japan, although it's interesting to know that if the parts are installed by Nismo personnel they carry a full three-year/60,000-kilometer (about 37,000 miles) warranty. Meanwhile, Nismo tells us that we can expect these parts to go on sale in the U.S. as early as spring next year.