"Wow," was all I could say, emerging from a Nissan GT-R for the first time. It really did exceed my expectations. Then I drove the Nismo version, one of about 60 that will come to the US this year. And sweet sweaty bear bollocks, the thing made me reconsider what I thought was possible on four wheels.
(Disclosure: Nissan flew me down to Nashville, Tennessee, gave me a room in a decent hotel, got me good'n liquored up at some karaoke bar and then woke me up at the crack of dawn the next day to sit through a PowerPoint presentation on how the Altima is going to pass Accord in sales any day now. After my penance I was allowed to have at pretty much anything in their lineup.)
As the truck guy around here, I don't usually get to play with performance cars. I keep an old sportbike in my grandparent's barn to wake myself up once in awhile, but for the most part my driving style is more suited to the gentle pace of a diesel 4x4.
That said, I wasn't about to turn down the opportunity to drive a whip-cracking maniac mobile I'd been reading about for six years. Especially its super-quick "ultra-high performance" variant.
So dumped the free shrimp buffet bucket on the lawn to distract other journalists and bee-lined it for a gleaming blue GT-R.
Everything felt so tight. Really; like someone gave a damn when they were putting this machine together, which I loved right away. Little uncomfortable compared to what I'm used to though; You sit on a GMC Sierra's seat like a horse saddle. You sit in it in the GT-R like it's a barrel you're about to be fired out of.
"Ever driven one of these?" a Nissan rep asked, leaning in the passenger side window as I dialed in the mirrors and seating position.
"Here, I'll turn on the PlayStation stuff for ya," he said bringing up the g-meter, boost gauge, brake-force indicator, and other delightful readouts I should have absolutely no use for in a Tennessee neighborhood.
"You're on the hook for tickets," I heard him add as I powered away gently, determined not to spin tires and look like an asshole in the gravel driveway of the mansion Nissan had rented to amuse the media.
As soon as I lumbered onto the road and started playing with the controls, the GT-R made my brain hurt. How is the steering really this precise? How could a car actually accelerate this instantaneously? My motorcycle is fast, but this thing sucks your organs into the taillights when you merge. And it does it so easily.
When you don't have a lot of money, all the fast vehicles you and your friends own are that way at the expense of pretty much every other function. Cheap-but-fast means you work for it, while the GT-R reads your mind and gives in to your deep desires for ludicrous speed before you even get a chance to think it over.
Luckily the brakes work equally well, and I miraculously managed to return the GT-R to its handlers without earning myself a court date.
A gleaming-white GT-R Nismo was getting back at the same time I was, and I figured running the cars back-to-back would be ideal for comparsion. A Cummins diesel rep who'd just had a turn walked past me, shook his head and gravely offered; "Don't kill yourself man."
What's different about the Nismo version, besides that cute red trim and the wild wing? As John Lamm of Car & Driver articulated so nicely:
"The suspension gets new spring rates, revalved shocks, a softer, hollow 34-mm front anti-roll bar, and bushings that are softer in the vertical plane. New tires—measuring 255/40-20 up front and 285/35-20 at the rear, and still branded as Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT 600 DSST CTTs—have stiffer sidewalls and are said to be not so much softer as more compliant."
That, plus 50 horsepower and about 18 lb-ft of torque.
Inside, all the qualities from the regular GT-R are carried over, with an "-er" at the end. The driver's seat isn't "sporty;" you're clutched like a baby bird in the fist of a Gundam.
Cruising down a well-maintained road with the suspension in ultraflat "R-Mode" feels like riding a mechanical bull powered by a nuclear reactor. Putting it in "Comfort," while actually quite relieving in the regular GT-R, is about as pointless as changing the privacy settings on your Facebook account. The car just laughs at you and rams a wooden bat up your butt as opposed to a steel one.
So is putting up with such punishment worth it? I guess that depends on just how insatiable your need for speed is, because this car is unreasonably fast.
Driving the regular GT-R is like walking your neighbor's full-grown pitbull. It's powerful, and it might take a few minutes to warm up to you. But if you're nice to it you've got nothing to worry about. Driving the GT-R Nismo is like walking one of Michael Vick's pitbulls that hasn't eaten in two days and you're wearing bikini bottoms made out of steak. Good. F'king. Luck.
You can't itch your leg while driving it because if your foot moves a micrometer you'll break the speed limit. Don't stare at that jogger or cool junker for sale on the side of the road either, because the car will pretty much start turning with your eyes.
But of course I had to have a go at real hard acceleration... couldn't let y'all down and not report back on that, right? So on a big, wide road with a highway speed limit I came to a stop and gave it the beans.
At which point my beans, and every other organ inside me, was basically blown out the back window. Tears streamed down my face and numbers from the speedometer flashed so fast they might as well have been advanced physics equations I was so far from understanding them.
Since I was not about to try this experiment a second time, I figured I might as well get a panic stop test done too.
Before I could realize that was an even worse idea the car was at a complete halt, leaving my stomach to stop about fifty meters further down the road.
After dry-heaving for a few seconds and collecting my wits I guided the car back to the Nissan camp as close to gently as was possible; indulging myself in little blink-length blips from 5 to 30 MPH where it was safe to do so.
My verdict is that while the GT-R is ludicrous, it's not unreasonable to imagine using it every day for everything. The GT-R Nismo however, is King Högni's own blade of Dáinsleif; it can't come unsheathed without killing somebody and should pretty much be left in the hands of professionals.
Even if it doesn't kill you, you're only suffering through a bumpy ride for nothing if you're not on a race track.
If that car's on your shopping list, do yourself a favor and buy the mere-mortal GT-R along with racing school. Already got your license to track? Well, you might be worthy of the Nismo... throw me a few laps in the passenger seat, yeah?
Images: Andrew P. Collins, Nissan