Test Drive: 2011 Nissan GT-R

?A supercar for common folks?

Nissan?s GT-R finally made it to North America as a 2009 model, albeit in limited numbers. The model is really not a new one for the Japanese automaker ? it represented the 7th generation for what has been known elsewhere as the Nissan Skyline. Nissan touted the GT-R as a supercar without supercar limitations, and claimed that it was indeed a supercar that was capable of being driven by anyone, anytime, anywhere. Could it a supercar for the masses? Well, it might well be, if dealers were to sell it at MSRP. And, while that may be true, a word of advice ? get some training in driving this supercar, not only for your own safety, but for the well being of those around you.

The GT-R is a car that can bite you in a heartbeat, leaving a painful mark or worse. It is a highly sophisticated technological piece of? machinery, chock full of state-of-the-art features and equipment. It is executed in a 2+2 coupe configuration, displaying what by some is perceived to be busy and sinister in its exterior image. It is truly a multi-dimensional supercar ?for hauling groceries, or going for the win at a racetrack near you. The 2+2-seating concept may be somewhat of an issue however. The rear seat, while quite comfortable in its actual makeup, is extremely limited in legroom, particularly if the front seat occupants don?t happen to be vertically challenged.

Visually, the GT-R can, and is mistaken by the uninformed, to be any number of other vehicle makes. There?s a lot going on with the design. Some observers?thought it to be a Mustang from the rear, (though I don?t for the life of me know why), others perceived it to be a Corvette, perhaps due to the large quad taillamps (closer, but still no cigar). From my perspective, the frontal appearance clearly and distinctly displays Nissan Z-Car DNA. In any case, it is an attention getter of the first magnitude. More on the design later.?

Power for the potent GT-R comes from a 3.8-liter VR38DETT twin-turbocharged 24-valve V6 ? each engine handcrafted by its own master technician in a clean-room environment. Keep in mind that I said V6 ? not V8 or V12, because it?s hard to believe that it cranks out 485 horses while delivering 434 pound feet of torque. The transmission is a six-speed dual clutch automatic unit with three driver?selectable modes: Normal; R for optimum performance; and Snow for gentler starting and shifting. There are column-mounted paddle shifters for manual gear selection, and the transmission, just for the record, is also handcrafted in a clean-room environment.

The engine is a front mid-engine/rear transaxle mount with ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive system specifically developed for GT-R in a Premium Midship package, which positions the engine behind the front axle; the platform enables the use of what was the world?s first independent rear transaxle all-wheel drive system ? the transmission, transfer case and final drive are all located at the rear of the vehicle.

Now, back to the styling elements ? I mentioned earlier that there?s a lot going on with the design. In short, it?s very complex, with sharp character lines and creases, along with curves and swoops everywhere. The front fenders feature a pronounced and definitive shape, homing in over the front wheels with integrated aft vents for cooling. The greenhouse is low and sharply angled with an upper window definition line in the rear sail panel. The rear end is adorned with a functional deck lid spoiler that curves gracefully with the entire after section?s contour, which sports large, twin dual exhaust tips angled accordingly. Somehow, as busy as it all seems initially, it works together magically, evoking a sense of speed and power overall.

I first encountered the GT-R at Nissan?s 360 global product program just outside Lisbon, Portugal with spirited romps around the famed Estoril Formula 1 circuit ? a challenging and highly technical road course. I first received a hot lap with Pedro, a professional Portugese race driver, and was then afforded the opportunity to crawl behind the wheel for a personal driving experience. The carperformed phenomenally, with plenty to spare, well beyond my capability.?? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ??

Later I was able to experience the GT-R back home in a real world scenario with everyday traffic, where it performed equally well, again with ample reserve to deliver in the hands of a seasoned professional. Now for the 2011 model year,?the GT-R enters its third year of? availability in the North American marketplace, benefitting from a number of enhancements and a more simplified selection process. There is no longer a base model, now only the Premium GT-R exists. Other modifications? include slightly darker wheel center caps,? a double clearcoat on the front and rear fascias and the addition of rear cooling ducts to improve cooling performance around the rear floor area. The suspension has been retuned and the rear bushing strengthened to enhance ride comfort while continuing to maintain its outstanding handling. In addition, auto on/off headlights and speed-sensitive windshield wipers now come as standard fare, along with a USB iPod? interface, Streaming Audio via Bluetooth? and DVD playback. The navigation system now includes XM NavTraffic? and NavWeatherTM capability defined by the addition of the DVD Navigation system with an uplevel Bose surround sound system and ?Playstation-style? vehicle informational program graphics. My ?at home? test Premium GT-R came with a? base sticker reading $83,040, but after adding an extra $3,000 for the special ?Super Silver? paint treatment and carpeted floor mats with the GT-R logo, the final total came to $87,320. Unfortunately, chances are pretty good that one won?t actually be able to purchase a GT-R for that amount since speculators seem to still be bumping the price up anywhere from a modest $15,000 to a more unreasonable $35,000 ? and, when you get to that price, you?re getting into highly competitive supercar territory.?

SUMMARY: The Nissan GT-R Premium is truly an incredible driving machine ? it is equally suited to a multitude of driving scenarios: doing duty as a boulevard cruiser, as a grocery getter, or as a turn-key competitive race car (adding a roll bar and 5-point harness is highly recommended, even if not required, for the latter activity).

The GT-R ranks high in terms of performance stats, competing quite ably with several higher priced cars that fall into the supercar genre. Acceleration is blistering, moving from 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds, with a top speed of 193 mph. The GT-R rides on specific lightweight forged aluminum 20-inch wheels, with special bead knurling, shod with GT-R specific, Nitrogen-filled, Bridgestone Potenza RE07A high-performance, summer run-flat tires, 255/40ZRF20x9.5? up front and 285/35ZRF20x10.5? in the rear, mounted on aluminum-alloy, premium dark (near black) finished 7-spoke wheels. (Dunlop all-season tires are available). The suspension is a Bilstein Damptronic system.?

Select, distinctive exterior features include: ?Aero-blades? on front fender edges; vent in the front fenders? trailing edges; aggressive front end styling with large hood budge and single central air intake; ?super wide beam ?headlights featuring three additional sub-reflectors (compared to conventional lights); four-passengercabin with sloping ?aero blade canopy? roofline and curved C-pillar ?sword edge?; GT-R hallmark four-ring taillights; rear spoiler; functional rear carbon fiber underbody diffuser; large integrated quad exhaust tips; durable anti-chip paint with ?double clear coat? process; and the available hand-polished seven ?coat?Super Silver paint finish. Interior features include: Usable passenger and luggage?space; driver-surrounding instrument panel, with meters and multi-function display at a uniform height for minimal driver eye movement; large center mounted tachometer, with gear display on its upper right; ?dial plate? meter-surround design evoking the concept of engaged gears; large, metallic-framed center console featuring an ergonomically designed shift lever and red ?engine start? button; as well as sculpted performance bucket seats.

Technological content consists of driver-adjustable transmission, shock absorbers and Vehicle Dynamic Control system; video game-inspired?multifunction display with 11 pages of information and a recording?function with playback; navigation system; Music Box Hard Drive; a Bluetooth??Hands-free Phone System; and an available, specially designed 11-speaker Bose? sound system.?

Bottomline, the Nissan GT-R represents a way to join the elite supercar club for what might be considered a bargain price. Unfortunately as I?ve already mentioned, the chances of obtaining this coveted, limited production vehicle at the price suggested by the manufacturer offers a two-fold result ? slim and none. Then again, it should still be available for less than Chevy?s ZR 1 Corvette, and somewhere in the realm of a few high performance Porsche models. Is it worth the money? If you have the wherewithal and it?s what you want, then the answer is absolutely. There were negative issues with the first models delivered to the North American market, having to do with the Launch Control feature ? where transmissions were not holding up to the torque load. That issue has since been resolved and the GT-R represents a bargain in the supercar field of players.

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