It must be Christmas, because a 2009 Nissan GT-R showed up in our garage. Just like how we spent 1973 transfixed by commercials for the Vertibird Rescue Ship toy, we slathered over every specification sheet and photo of the new GT-R since the concept was shown at the 2005 Tokyo Auto Show. And in each case, we finally ended up at the controls of one. The GT-R is definitely the biggest, baddest toy on the block.
The GT-R is essentially a race car made for the street. Production cars don't generally squeeze 480 horsepower out of a V-6, or have the transmission mounted at the rear axle. And the incredibly rigid suspension feels as if it was made for a race car. The car looks impressive and brutish, a theme that carries into the cabin and the driving feel. The Corvette Z06 has some scary competition in the GT-R.
Surprisingly, the GT-R is in no way stripped down, except maybe for the lack of an iPod port. Nissan put all of its excellent cabin electronics in the dashboard, which includes a hard-drive-based navigation system, an impressive stereo with plenty of digital music capability, and even Bluetooth cell phone integration. And those electronics share space with an incredibly detailed performance computer. This Nissan GT-R just doesn't compromise in its car tech.
Test the tech: GT-R versus virtual GT-R
We couldn't wait to drive the real 2009 Nissan GT-R, so months ago we picked up Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, which has a virtual GT-R. We compared the driving experience in each by taking the real GT-R for a drive on back roads north of San Francisco, and the virtual car in the game's Suzuka East track. In the game, we set the physics to Professional, as we figured that should replicate as closely as possible real-world physics.
The first real difference we noticed was with the engine sound. The real GT-R makes an engine sound dominated by its turbos. The 3.8-liter V-6 isn't particularly loud or throaty, but when you give it power, the twin turbochargers whirr up like turbines. In the game, the engine sounds more generic, just a standard engine growl. Other things that just can't be replicated in the game is the hard ride, because of the low-profile tires wrapped around the 20-inch wheels and the rigid suspension, and the general cabin noise and vibration. The GT-R isn't a comfortable ride unless it's on a well-paved surface.
Acceleration between the real and virtual GT-R seems well-replicated. In the game, 60 mph seems slow, and it's difficult to get below that speed. With the real GT-R, we tapped the gas while getting on the freeway, and by the time we glanced at the speedometer, we were already at 60 mph. The GT-R has been clocked to 60 mph at times approaching 3 seconds. The kind of acceleration is really incredible. The big difference here is that it is much easier to modulate the GT-R's gas pedal than a PlayStation 3 controller, making it much easier to control the speed in the real car.
The speedometer in the real car is much easier to glance at than that of the virtual car, and it helps that you can get a digital speed display on the tachometer and on the performance computer. While driving on public roads, our speedometer needle was generally in the 6 o'clock position, at 40 mph to 60 mph, while 200 mph is up in the 12 o'clock position. You also get a much different sense of speed--we could tell when we were getting up to scary while driving the GT-R down a two-lane blacktop with blind corners and rises.
The handling in the real GT-R truly feels phenomenal, as good as that of the Audi R8 we reviewed a few months ago. To get the real GT-R out of sorts, it takes the kind of driving you can only do in a controlled environment. We threw it into one particularly good corner with some speed, and felt the grip loosen for a fraction of a second, then get taken up by the all-wheel drive. In the game, we spent a lot of time facing backward in the sand as the car wiped out on the sharper turns. Maybe it was the difficulty in controlling our speed in the game, but we had a much harder time maintaining grip. It didn't seem to map well to our experience with the real thing.
As for the transmission, the game's automatic setting is far different than the real car's automatic setting. The GT-R uses a six-speed double-clutch manual transmission. There is no clutch pedal, as the dual clutches are controlled by computer. You can set it for automatic shifting or manual, using the column-mounted paddle shifters. In the game, the car shifts like a sports car, maintaining revs so you can keep power. The real car's automatic mode is designed for economy, rapidly shifting up to sixth gear even when you are only going 25 mph.
In manual mode, the real GT-R's shifts are visceral and solid. You can feel each one through the car as you push the left paddle for down or the right paddle for up. The game does a good job of replicating the match-up between speed, tach, and gear, but you just don't get that same abrupt power change in the virtual experience.
Although we've spent many hours enjoying the virtual race track, nothing beats the experience of sitting behind the wheel of a real GT-R. For a good look at the Nissan GT-R's performance in a controlled setting, WebRidesTV has video of a GranTurismo 5 Prologue-inspired match-up between the GT-R and a Ford GT.
In the cabin
The cabin of the 2009 Nissan GT-R brings in many race car touches, but adapted for a road car. The deep front seats embrace you, but you don't have to mess around with a four-point harness. Although the steering wheel has a bubble in the middle for the airbag, the surrounding area, leading out to the three spokes, is metal and flat. Industrial-looking controls mounted on this flat area don't set torque and traction control, such as on a Formula One car, but handle more mundane features, like the cruise control and audio.
We recently saw this same package of cabin gadgets in the Infiniti M45x, including navigation with traffic reporting, Bluetooth hands-free cell phone integration, and a stereo system that handles many digital audio sources. The interface between the two cars is different--where the Infiniti has a big multifunction control knob, the GT-R relies on a row of buttons and the touch-screen LCD, which works perfectly well. The GT-R also has the same voice command system as the M45x.