Monday
Feb232015

Test Drive: 2015 Nissan GT-R

 

After spending a week driving the 2015 Nissan GT-R, I came to one irrefutable conclusion: If you owned a GT-R, you’d have to get used to talking to strangers about it and having your picture taken. In over twenty years as an automotive writer, I’ve never had a car that generated as much interest as the GT-R. Every time I parked the car anywhere, people were looking at it and taking pictures of it when I returned, and people would follow me on the road to get pictures of it. I could see the car in its parking spot from my apartment and once word got out that it was there, the GT-R was getting several visits a day from kids (mostly teenage boys, but some girls too) who would take pictures of it. It even showed up on a friend of my daughters Instagram page before she even realized I had it. Just a couple weeks before getting the Nissan, I had driven a $200,000 Porsche 911 Turbo that barely got any attention, but driving the GT-R made me kind of feel like I was dating a supermodel.

Most of the GT-R’s popularity may come from its popularity in racing games, but this car has real substance when it comes to performance. At the heart of the GT-R is a twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V6 with dual intercoolers that produces a substantial 545hp and 463 lb-ft of torque. Each engine is assembled by a single person at Nissan, a job that takes around six hours to complete. Only four individuals are given that privilege, with each engine bearing a plaque with the name of the person that built it. The engine in my test car was built by Izumi Shioya, who has been building engines for over two decades.

Like a race car, the GT-R’s engine is moved back into the compartment for less weight over the front axle, and the six-speed dual-clutch transmission is mounted with the transfer case at the rear of the car for better weight distribution. The transmission has a three-mode driving system (Comfort, Normal and R modes) that affects suspension, transmission and traction control, with the fastest shifts in “R” mode taking place in a mere 0.15 second. Also like a race car, the GT-R has a carbon composite driveshaft and massive Brembo brakes with monoblock aluminum calipers. The spoilers and vents are not just for show but contribute to a slippery 0.26 coefficient of drag, and the rear spoiler actually produces downforce. The bottom of the car also has a flat underbody for better airflow, with a carbon fiber diffuser at the rear that helps to suck the car down to the road. Inside, the GT-R has Recaro seats and a display that can be customized to show just about anything the driver wants to see, from a G-force meter to fluid temperatures.

Nissan offers three different versions of the GT-R, with the $101,770 Premium Edition (which is what I drove), the $111,510 Black Edition and the $149,990 NISMO Edition. The only difference between the Premium and Black Editions is the addition of an unpainted carbon fiber rear spoiler, 20” dark finished Rays wheels and black/red Recaro front seats on the Black Edition. The limited NISMO Edition is the hardcore GT-R, as it features a more powerful NISMO-tuned 600hp engine and a NISMO-tuned suspension along with lightweight 20” Rays wheels in addition to the features found on the Black Edition. All three GT-R models have a slightly front-heavy weight distribution, with 53% of the cars weight over the front axle and 47% over the rear.

The GT-R has been around in its current model generation for years now but I think it still looks great, with its aggressive nose and lights, hood vents and fat round tailpipes. There are some elements of the car that show its age, such as the toggle switches for the driving modes and the metal rod that’s used to hold the hood up. Older designs are sometimes more driver-friendly than modern designs though. For instance, it’s much easier to change the driving mode using a toggle switch than to look for it in an electronic menu to change it. Still, in some ways the GT-R doesn’t feel like a $100,000 car. Some of the plastics don’t seem any higher in quality than in Nissan’s economy cars, and it’s odd that the steering wheel is not power operated and has two levers for adjustment – one for rake and one for height. Once you drive the GT-R, however, you begin to understand that above all else, the focus of its development was on performance.

From the moment you slide into the GT-R’s Recaro seat and push the red starter button to fire up the twin-turbocharged V6, there’s a sense of seriousness about this car. The GT-R not only has a lot of race car technology under its skin – it also sounds like a race car with all the noises that emanate from the engine, the differential and the transmission. Start it from cold and drive off and you’ll feel like you’re pulling a cold race car out of its paddock, and like a race car the GT-R needs to be warmed up properly. Once you do get the engine, the transmission and the tires up to operating temperature, the GT-R will treat you to a thrill ride if you’re aggressive with the throttle pedal, with turbo boost that comes on strong at around 3,000rpm and has very impressive punch up to 5,000rpm. When it comes to performance, the dual-clutch transmission works best in manual mode as it knocks off shifts in the blink of an eye, but the transmissions is not quite as good as the dual-clutch systems from Porsche and BMW in full auto mode.

The GT-R is also strong in the handling department when you get it on a twisty road, especially if you put the car in “R” mode that stiffens up the shocks. With more weight over the front axle, the GT-R gives the driver a dose of understeer on turn in, but once you get the nose tucked in and get back on the power, it corners flat and is pretty well balanced, and feels lighter and more nimble than its weight would suggest. In fact, it handles so well that I found myself wishing the Recaro seat had adjustable side bolsters to hold me in place a little better. Steering feel is a bit on the numb side, but is not much different in that respect than other modern sports cars that cost a lot more.

As good as the GT-R is on a twisty road, it’s also comfortable enough to drive on the interstate and on less than perfect roads as long as you leave it in the Comfort setting, but it always kind of feels like you’re driving around in a street-legal race car, which is something I love about it. The GT-R even has a back seat with some fairly large cushions, but like the Porsche 911 and to a lesser extent the BMW M6, that backseat should only be used as a last option. The Nissan GT-R is not the easiest sports car to live with and may not have the cachet of some of its rivals from Germany, but it certainly makes driving an event, which in my opinion is what sports cars are all about. It’s fast, it’s loud and it can be temperamental, but it makes you feel special when you’re driving it, and when it comes to exclusivity and curb appeal, it garners more attention on the road than cars that cost twice as much. In a world where even expensive sports cars are all starting to feel more alike than different, the GT-R is a unique and exciting car.

More info: www.nissanusa.com


MSRP

$101,770

Price as tested

$106,650

Engine

Twin-turbo 3.8-liter V6 with dual intercoolers, direct injection and variable valve timing

Power

545hp @ 6,400rpm

Torque

463 lb-ft @ 3,200 – 5,800rpm

0-60mph

4.9 seconds

Drivetrain

Dual-clutch 6-speed transmission with ATTESA AWD, 1.5-way mechanical limited slip differential, electronic traction control

Suspension

Front: Double-wishbone front with aluminum arms

Rear: Multilink with aluminum arms

Bilstein DampTronic system with normal, R and Comfort modes

Brakes

Brembo 15.4-inch vented discs front with 6-piston calipers,

15-inch vented discs rear with 4-piston calipers

Fuel economy

16 city / 23 highway

Curb weight

3,851 lbs.

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