"It's a video game." "It's boring." "It does everything for you." "I don't like it." This is what people who have never driven a Nissan GT-R say. They should drive one. They're wrong.
(Full Disclosure: Nissan wanted me to drive the 2014 GT-R so bad that they dropped it off for a weekend of Godzilla time. I only did launch control, whether trying to win off the line or backing out of a driveway.)
The GT-R has been around for decades, but it never officially came to our shores until 2008, where it was considered the bargain of the century. It was a 485 horsepower car that could out-accelerate and out-handle basically everything for just $69,850.
Now, five years later, the horsepower figure has ballooned to 545, but so has the price. This is now a $105,000 car. And yes, it can still out-accelerate and out-handle most everything else on the road, but it isn't necessarily the value proposition it once was. It's still an astounding car in nearly every single quantifiable way, but now other factors pop into your head when thinking about it.
Sure, it gets to 60 in a mind-erasing 2 POINT GOD DAMN 7 SECONDS, but is the interior up to snuff? Yes, it can turn your neck muscles into pulp in a corner, but does it look the part of a car that costs six digits?
The GT-R is the ultimate expression of a Japanese car. It has tech on tech on tech, all designed by Nissan and then manufactured in an exacting workshop that allows for only the slightest variance in tolerances.
If an Italian sports car is an exercise in passion and a German sports car is a tribute to precision, then a Japanese sports car is a technological wunderkind. That's just what the GT-R is. It's a sports car from the country that invented the Walkman and gave us Super Nintendo. The GT-R is an institution as Japanese as sushi, anime, or Hello Kitty.
So to say that the GT-R is a digital experience isn't an insult. Not in the least. It might be the highest compliment you can pay this car. And the thing is, if the GT-R is digital, it's unlike anything digital you've ever experienced. You need to drive it to understand it.
My favorite GT-R came two generations ago. The cars of the mid-1990s, the R33s, were my absolute favorite GT-Rs. They weren't boring like the R32 and they weren't exaggerated like the R34. The R33 was just right.
So what about this GT-R, the R35? I'm torn. The R35 is way larger than any GT-R that came before it and the styling makes the R34 look tame. But there is a lot to like about it too.
For being such a large car, it doesn't actually look huge. It's like Jackie Gleason wearing vertical stripes; The body hides that girth. While styling is exaggerated, it also looks purposeful. The headlights are swept back because I imagine that's what was determined to be the bet in the wind tunnel. The roof slopes back, there are indentations and scoops and holes that aren't just there for show. They're there for a purpose.
And for an exterior of purpose, that's why I'm disappointed in a couple of elements. On the side there is a GT-R badge placed in a fake vent. The rear wing looks like it was just plopped onto the car as an afterthought. And then we come to the LEDs that were added to the front end in 2012.
(UPDATE: Nissan shot me a note about why all these little doo-dads are on the car. Makes sense to me, although I still think the wing looks like an afterthought:
The vents actually exhaust air from the front wheel wells serving to reduce brake temps and lower the build-up of pressure under the front of the car thereby increasing downforce.
The rear spoiler creates so much downforce that it deflects under pressure, which is what lead engineers to develop the hand-made dry carbon fiber version standard on the black and track editions. While it is lighter, the real benefit is a significant increase in stiffness which transfers more of the aerodynamic force to the car.
The more you know...)
LEDs are cool when done right. When done like this (or like the G63 AMG), they look cheap. These look like someone who owns a GT-R went to Pep Boys, saw two LED strips, and thought it looked good. Then a marketing exec at Nissan saw those strips, realized the car didn't have LEDs, and told the designers they had to be on there. So the designers just farted some LEDs onto the nose. Get them off of there.
Some cars have an Armani suit. They're hand-woven, finely pressed creations that make the driver feel like he's out for a night at the opera. Then there are the interiors that are like Pearl Izumi bike shorts. They have one purpose, and that's to enhance performance at the limit.
Somehow, the GT-R straddles that divide. It's like silk bike shorts. You have a focused instrument binnacle that moves with the wheel when you tilt it. All of the controls are angled slightly in the driver's direction. The seats are properly bolstered with no superfluous massage or cooling or any frivolity.
But the GT-R is now an expensive car. In the past, the buyers didn't necessarily expect amenities or even quality tailoring. Now they do.
So Nissan has had to start offering an interior with hand stitching and natural leather. But nothing has changed from the car when it was introduced in 2008. It's like putting a bow tie on a cheetah. It's still an incredible performer, but it doesn't really feel or look all that formal.
The GT-R weighs more than 3,800 pounds. It's a heavy car. That adds to the surprise when the GT-R hits 60 in 2.7 seconds. Two point seven. Due punto sette. Less than three. It's faster than literally every other regular production car other than a Bugatti Veyron. It makes the Lamborghini Gallardo look slow.
And the thrust isn't just off the line either. Say you want to get from 40 to 65, so on-ramp speeds to the speed limit on many of our major highways. It does it in less time than you just took to read that sentence.
The car is unflappable. It can't be flapped. Zero chance of flappage. And that's without even mentioning launch control, which is a mystical wonderful creation. It pins you back in your seat like Hulk Hogan is sitting on your chest. I actually had a friend tell me after two launch control starts that he might puke if I did it again. It's madness.
In the same way that the acceleration forces your eyes to the side of your head like a hammerhead shark, the braking will reverse that and put your eyes on the dashboard. Literally. Wear a seatbelt.
Brakes are near perfection. The pedal is solid with just the right amount of bite right when you get on the pedal. Not too wimpy, not too aggressive, but just right. From high speeds, Godzilla does wiggle his hips a little bit, but overall it's pretty solid. If it weighed less, it'd be even better.
It has a rather aggressive suspension setup, which in cities does not equal comfort. It's actually stiffer than I remember it being, but I had only driven it on a track. The GT-R likes a smooth road, bumps upset it.
Around town in Manhattan, it's a nightmare. The front spoiler is very low and the ride is stiff, which makes every single road into a slalom. Out of the big city, the GT-R is great, especially at a spirited pace. The aggressive spring rates smooth out and make for a great ride.
So here's where people say that the GT-R doesn't feel alive. It doesn't feel like you're part of the equation. And they're right, to a point.
At the speed limit, the GT-R is flat out boring. You're boring it and it's boring you. At slightly above the limit, it's the same. The problem is that the limits of this car cannot be reached on a street without breaking all sorts of laws. It's the antithesis of the Scion FR-S or the Miata. Those are cars where slow is fun. Here, slow isn't fun.
The saving grace is the steering, which is beautifully direct and wonderfully weighted. It doesn't feel artificial at all. That in itself is a rarity these days, in cars that feel like you're using a PS2 controller to drive them.
Now, get the GT-R out to an open autocross or put it on track. It comes alive. Turn in is crisp and Godzilla stays neutral throughout. Remember how Jeremy Clarkson hurt his neck in a GT-R at the Fuji Circuit in Japan? I doubt that was Top Gear fakery. This thing can corner better than a roller coaster.
But it has an issue: Elevation changes. If you go through a corner on a track with an aggressive elevation change, the weight transfer can upset the car and make it rather nervous. If the car lost 300 pounds or so, that wouldn't be an issue.
When it came out, the GT-R probably had the best double clutch gearbox in all the land. Now, it's still really good, but it's no longer the best. Porsche's PDK and Audi's S-Tronic have both leapfrogged the GT-R.
Shifts are fast and rev matched beautifully when at speed, but it's clunkier at slow speeds. Shifts aren't necessarily all that smooth. It makes crude noises when going into first. It also needs a seventh gear, the drone at highway speeds is awful. It's still good, but it just isn't as good as its competitors from Germany. Step it up.
In terms of toys, this car is the same as a Range Rover: It has every single possible thing to be the best at what it's built for. The center display tells you absolutely everything you'd want to know about what's going on under the skin, with graphics by Polyphony Digital, the same people responsible for Gran Turismo.
It has a super sophisticated all-wheel drive system for unimaginable amounts of grip. The transmission, though a bit clunky, has some brilliant software in automatic mode that makes it better than you can be with the paddles. The tires are full of nitrogen.
There's adjustable damping, multi-mode traction control, launch control, all sorts of other types of control, and more. Then there is that standard suite of satellite radio, navigation, cruise control, reconfigurable displays, and more.
It's a Japanese technology superstore. It's the Wiz.
In the GT-R, you have a bass-heavy Bose stereo. It's not terrible, but it isn't superb either.
Then there's the GT-R itself. Inside it, you barely have an engine note. What you get is basically all induction noise. The GT-R sounds like the greatest Hoover in the world. But induction noise isn't evocative.
From the outside, it does let off a little bit of a burble but nothing that will incite enemy nations to action. It sounds a lot like my dad's Mitsubishi Evo.
In the past the GT-R was nearly a 10 on the value scale. And in terms of performance alone, I'm inclined to give it an even higher score. People who shopped at the $65 to 70,000 bracket were just looking to go as fast as they could.
In the $100 to $125,000 bracket, there are other factors that people seem to take into consideration. Nissan put some polish on the interior, but it isn't close to a 911 or an Audi RS5 in terms of quality. Neither one of those cars are as fast, but they are nicer to be in.
Godzilla used to be 911 Turbo performance at Boxster prices. That's pretty great. Now it's 911 Turbo performance at 911 prices, which is a substantial jump. If you don't care about the interior, the weight, or the driver aids/electronics, the GT-R is basically your perfect car.
I adored it when it was $70,000, and I still love it even though it's $105,000. It's one of the greatest cars of the last decade. Simply mind boggling.
Engine: 3.8 liter turbocharged V6
Power: 545 HP at 6,400 RPM/463 LB-FT at 3,200 RPM
Transmission: Six-Speed Dual Clutch
0-60 Time: TWO POINT SEVEN SECONDS
Top Speed: 196 mph
Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 3,829 Pounds
Seating: 4 people (two people in the rear need to be legless or flexible)
MPG: 16 City/23 Highway
MSRP: $99,590 ($104,890 As Tested)