Go, go, Godzilla: The delightful Nissan GT-R
July 27, 2013
2014 Nissan GT-R
Powertrain: 545-HP 3.8-liter turbocharged V6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission
EPA mpg figures: 16 city, 23 highway
Reverse engineered for the Playstation nation, the Nissan GT-R is indeed the sleeper of the supercar world. Those who know (and dream) about the car will run across a parking lot to hug you and talk tech when you roll up: Angry young women in RAV-4s will road-rage you out of the way, absolutely oblivious to the presence of Godzilla, in car form.
And that's not such a bad world to live in, especially when you've scored seat time in a 545-horsepower, nearly $100,000 vehicle that's one of the best performance cars on the planet.
Those who understand what's under the hood — and connected to the road with the most intense all-wheel-drive system in the business — have also opted to overlook the fact that the GT-R does indeed look kind of like an old Mitsubishi Eclipse up front, and a giant Chevy Cobalt from the rear. The car's proportions are unexpectedly tall for an intense racing machine; the tradeoff is an actually comfortable driving position, an almost usable rear seat and … again, that stealth profile.
More than any other car I've driven recently, self-restraint is very, very important in the GT-R. Under safe conditions (though doing so may actually void the warranty, I have heard), you can use launch control to propel the car to 60 mph in about 2.6 seconds. Top speed approaches 195 mph. The car is so blindingly fast, and so wickedly glued to the ground in the corners, that simple motoring is a borderline religious experience.
As a result of its built-in intensity, GT-R can also, frankly, be an unpleasant around-town machine. The suspension is so painfully rigid you'd swear the wheels were welded directly onto the frame, and the superwide 20-inch race tires required to help keep it glued to the earth also make for a very, very loud and bumpy time on public roads (although the electronically controlled suspension can be both marginally softened and intensified for track purposes).
In controlled circumstances, a skilled driver can make the GT-R do things other cars only wish they could do, with an intensity of handling and braking (giant Brembos, naturally) that scared my pants off. In the best way possible.
Having been introduced back in 2007 in Japan, the car shows just the tiniest amount of age — the front fascia was recently restyled — and naysayers might describe the interior and controls as looking like a Z-car from the 1990s.
Despite all of that, it's still a cutting-edge and totally luxurious experience, with soft and beautiful "red amber" leather on the dash and seats, one-of-a-kind shift controls and the much-discussed, video-game inspired performance and diagnostic displays available on the navigation touchscreen. That's useful for quantifying the amount of head-snapping you've been doing, indeed. And given that the analog speedometer goes up to 220 mph, the digital readouts are useful for quickly figuring out exactly when you'll go to jail, and for how long.
The driving position, as mentioned, is actually pretty pleasant for a civilian-friendly race car, with ample head room, a healthy angle for grabbing that thick wheel and the oversized shift paddles, and a seating arrangement that's secure but not like being strapped into a NASCAR racer.
You'll immediately note that, despite that humungous output, the GT-R's exhaust does not growl like a Shelby Mustang or crackle and grunt like a V10 Viper. Rather, the car sounds a bit like a nuclear-powered vacuum cleaner, with its relatively small, 3.8-liter V6 so enormously turbocharged that it's more aircraft than automobile. The massive exhaust ports were blackened with carbon, like the rear end of an F-18.
Pop the hood and you'll see a plate with the signature of one of the four Japanese artisan-mechanics who lovingly put the GT-R's engine together with their bare hands. Plasma-sprayed bores and the highest of high-tech, high-performance components produce 463 foot-pounds of torque, as well. You're not going to get beaten by many other yahoos out there on the road. Ever. It's also, amazingly enough, capable of 23 mpg on the highway.
My advice — besides being extremely careful — is to keep the car in manual mode, like a Lamborghini, and tap off those microsecond gear shifts, as the automatic mode tends to keep the car in sixth gear at all times, really squashing the acceleration.