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2009 Nissan GT-R - Driven

Carter Jung
Sep 1, 2008
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For years, the GT-R has long become synonymous with Godzilla. And we're not talking the bastardized U.S. version that employed the digital services of a Jurassic Park reject, but the Toho one, rubber suit and all. Both share some obvious characteristics: Japanese origin, freakishly brute power, the ability to bring a nation to its knees, and a roar likened to a derailed freight train being castrated. The R35 however, is not Godzilla. Far from it. If I were to pick a fictional character, it'd be Bruce Banner.

The three previous iterations of the GT-Rs were pure unadulterated sports cars: Power begging to be released from its twin-turbo'd, individually throttle-bodied straight six-, and competition thrashing handling thanks to it's all-wheel-drive ATTESA equipped goodness. With aggressive body lines, Spartan interior, huge wing, responsiveness to tuning, and unbeatable performance for its price, you can see why a Tokyo-crushing, radioactive lizard the size of a building is an apt comparison. But, with the R35, say good night to that bad guy and say hello to Dr. Banner.

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For the comic-ignorant, Bruce Banner is a mild-mannered nuclear physicist in the Marvel universe. Gifted, cutting edge, and ahead of his time, he is the pulpy counterpart of the R35. Take for instance the six-speed dual clutch transmission with paddle shifts capable of swapping gears faster than girls do spit around Joe Francis. It shifts as quick as 0.2 seconds and has three cockpit selectable modes (Normal, R-mode for quicker shifts, and Snow mode). For improved weight distribution and center of gravity, the transmission is separated from the front engine via a carbon composite shaft and mounted above the rear axles. With the ATTESA E-TS, power is biased to the rear with up to 50 percent transferred to the front and independently distributed to each axle. If drivetrains could have engineering degrees, the R35 would have a Ph.D., Summa Cum Laude.

Just as intelligent is the cabin of the R35. Gone are the race seats, sparse interior, and accoutrements circa King Leonidas found in previous GT-Rs, and in are leather-trimmed seats, high-grade materials, standard navigation, padded and stitched interior, and a shiny red engine start button. Even the steering wheel now has, gasp, switches. Clearly, Nissan's learned a thing or two from their Infiniti experiment.

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With assistance from Polyphony-the peeps behind Gran Turismo-the Multi-Function Display has seven fixed and four customizable screens capable of spitting out as many as 17 performance parameters-lateral, braking, and acceleration G's; TPS; steering angle; boost; oil temp; and so on-making aftermarket gauges as redundant as a third nipple. Most impressive about the solidly built and surprisingly silent interior is, take away the strategically placed GT-R logos and you'd swear you weren't sitting in a Nissan, which is a compliment...I think.

The aluminum 3.8L V-6 VR38DETT engine is a patent-warranting technical marvel in of itself. Contrary to ignorant belief, this isn't just a tweaked VQ35 out of the Nissan stable. First off, like the transmission, the VR is hand-built with Japanese pride by a single technician from start to finish to tolerances rivaling F1. The bores are plasma-sprayed for increased efficiency and heat transfer, and the oil system's temperature is regulated with a thermostat, wet and dry sump oiling, and an oil scavenging pump. The "R" in VR? Apparently it stands for really different and new.

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What makes the R35 really sing is the symmetrical turbo system. With two IHI compressors at each bank, individually piped and intercooled, think of it as two three-cylinder turbo kits. A con for tuners is that the manifolds are integrated to the turbo, making it great for flow, but a pain in the arse for simple turbo upgrades. Nonetheless, on XS Engineering's all-wheel-drive Dyno, the R35 cranked out a heaving 412.1 hp at 6,527 rpm and 388.7 lb-ft of torque at 4,050 rpm at the wheels. Not bad considering it translates to a less than 15 percent loss through an all-wheel-drive powertrain-OE claimed figures are 480 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque. For comparison a stock R32 maxed out at 258.5 hp and 201.8 lb-ft of torque max-see dyno sheet.

Driving the R35 on the streets is where the Bruce Banner metaphor really comes to play. Being a GT-R owner, I had preconceived notions when it came to driving the new one. A little loud, plenty raw, and hefty on the visceral side. But driving it around town I got none of that-zip, zero. It was fast, but all the niceties the R35's accumulated made the car heavier, quieter, dare I say cultured, when on the road. The familiar torquey punch of the turbo RB26 was replaced with a linear, V-8-like acceleration. Confounded, was I.

Here is a car that bested the 997 Porsche Turbo, Corvette Z06, Ford GT, Ferrari F430, Lamborhini Murcielago and Gallardo with a 7:29 at Nurburgring. It ran a 1:56 at Buttonwillow, stock, an effort good enough to place it within the Top 15 at our Super Lap Battle Finals last November. The R35 looks like a predator with its muscular body, wide rear haunches and permanent scowl on its face. But driving it, you wouldn't know all that. As tuners, you come to expect a bouncy, loud, rough car with performance commensurate to the R35. Not something that rides as smooth a G35. Albeit a really, really fast G35.

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But then I had the opportunity to take it on a track, two tracks in fact-Reno-Fernley in Nevada and Estoril in Portugal-and that's where Bruce Banner cowered into his subconscious hell and the Incredible Hulk that is the R35 came out. The brief blips of throttle on the highway or unwaveringness on a sweeping interchange is but a glimpse of what it's made of. To coax the angry, supercar-killing beast, take it to the circuit and all the sophistication and intelligence go out the window, and the soul of the GT-R comes alive.

Fly into an apex and hit the brakes and the mono block six-pot Brembos up front and four-pot in the rear slows the 3,800 plus pounds of Nissan effectively. Turn in, and the GT-R feels freakishly solid-a fact attributed to each chassis being individually tested for solidity. The 20-inch Bridgestones wrapped around forged Ray's Engineering-as in Volk Racing-wheels and adjustable Bilsteins grapple the tarmac tighter than a fan-boy would William Shatner at a Star Trek convention. Even with all the technical wizardry acting as Viagra for my cojones, I was barely able to take the R35 to its limits. There were moments where I may have prodded it, accidentally, but truthfully, its much more car than I can handle.

With a base price of $69,850 many might argue that the GT-R is expensive. But when you compare its performance to the league it runs with, it's a bargain. A delicate between intelligence and brawn, it is the closest you'll get to feeling like a superhero for the price of a kidney, a good pyramid scheme, and a part-time job at Starbucks. Despite early rumors from Japan about it being un-tunable, it's only a matter of time before tuners crack it. But until then, I'll cling to the fact that my slightly-tuned R33 is the last of the great, yet-outdated Godzillas.

'09 Nissan GT-R
MSRP $69,850 base MSRP

Engine twin-turbocharged, alumimun, 3.8L, 32-valve DOHC, variable intake-valve timing V-6

Power Rating 480 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 430 lb-ft @ 3,200 rpm

Configuration Attesaets all-wheel-drive system

Transmission dual-clutch six-speed paddle-shifted

Curb Wieght 3,800 pounds

Suspension Four-wheel independent suspension

Wheels forged aluminum Ray's Engineering wheels (20x9.5 front; 20x10.5 rear)

Tires Bridgestone run flat tires (255/40ZRF20 front; 285/35ZRF20 rear)

Brakes Brembo mono block six-piston calipers and 15-inch cross-drilled rotors (front), four-piston and 15-inch cross-drilled rotors (rear)

Fuel Economy Estimated EPA 17 mpg city, 21 mpg highway

Drive Impression Despite the amount of power the R35 has, because of the weight, polished interior and electronic refinements, the GT-R is smooth and almost sedate on the streets. Push it however, and the Nissan comes to life living up to the GT-R heritage. This duality, makes this a car that you could drive everyday, comfortably.

Tunability Due to an entirely new motor, and strict limitations on modifying the R35 in Japan, the aftermarket isn't teeming with parts. Time will tell when and how tunable the new GT-R will be.

The Sasha Experience
With Japan's most iconic car model finally making its way to the States, who better to pair it up with than our scene's most iconic import model: Sasha Singleton. After driving the car, see what she has to say about the new GT-R.

I absolutely love this car! It has an insane amount of power, and is very fast but still so smooth. The funny thing is that when I was driving it, it was so smooth that I didn't even know I was going 100 mph, which could be a dangerous thing! I can honestly say that I have never been in a faster automobile.

The GT-R also handled great. It took turns like nothing and I felt really safe and secure in the driver seat. I could take the sharpest of freeway on ramps going well over 60 mph and the car handled beautifully! It felt very sturdy.

A cool feature was how I could go from automatic to manual shifting and then change gears with the slightest tap of the paddle-mounted shifter. All the other interior features I love as well. Everything feels luxurious while having a sporty edge. Oh, and I heart the Multi-Function Display!

Finally, the styling of the car was hot. It looked like a Ferrari/Supra hybrid and I love the back end! The GT-R is definitely worth the money. It combines power, luxury, sport, and is a great car for everyday driving-unlike some cars with similar horsepower. Plus it looks fabulous...what more could you ask for?- Sasha Singleton

Illegal (For Now) Immigrants
Now that the GT-R is Stateside, here are our picks for the top five other Nissans we hope make it past Homeland Security.

By Carter Jung
164 Articles

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