2009 Nissan GT-R

The Good:
– Ferocious engine
– Razor-sharp handling
– Multitude of technology
The Bad:
– Harsh ride
– Useless rear seats
– Eats as much fuel as a truck

The new Nissan GT-R was the most anticipated sports car ever. It is hard to drive this car without any positive preconceptions, given that the entire world media has already tested it, and they all came out swooning. It became famous as the economy-badged Japanese coupe that outran Porsches and Ferraris.

From the outside, it looks different enough. Inspired by Japanese robot cartoons, the GT-R is a caricature of random shapes and curves, coming together to form a tall 2-door coupe. While some fanboys may argue that the styling is sleek, its excessive size becomes apparent when parked next to a Ferrari, as we did. Either way, it is still more interesting than simply being a clone of existing sports cars.

The doors have pop-out handles mimicking those of an Aston Martin, but few have ever seen an Aston Martin to realise that. That premium little piece of metal allows entry into a decently-trimmed cabin, if a bit industrial in design. But we then noticed distinct cost-cutting measures when it came to trim materials. The dashboard starts off with stitched leather. Then, upper parts of the central console have soft-touch plastics. The area around the shifter consists of harder plastics with a rubbery texture. And panels in the rear seating area are completely made of economy-car hard plastics. We would’ve figured that a car that costs as much as a Porsche 911 Turbo in the GCC would have an interior to match.

The semi-leather seats are tight and sporting, but the power-adjustable driver’s seat doesn’t go high enough for our liking, likely to preserve that annoying “bathtub” feel inherent in most sports cars. While the front is spacious, the rear seating area is no more useful than in a Porsche 911. There is absolutely no rear legroom, although Nissan thought it appropriate to add a single open cup-holder between the rear seats, just in front of the big subwoofer. For storage, the front passengers get covered cup-holders, some tiny door pockets and a glove-box, while the luggage boot out back is good for maybe one small suitcase.

Features include a hands-free ‘intelligent’ key straight out of the Nissan parts bin, a starter button, a strong dual-zone a/c, a solid CD stereo with subwoofer, front-side airbags, cruise control, HID headlights and a working Bluetooth phone, as well as a prominent LCD touchscreen computer with ten Playstation-style displays to show all sorts of information about acceleration, braking, four-wheel power distribution, various temperatures and other info that you’d never have time to look at while actually driving, unless you figure out how to download it later. Ironically, even with all this, there was no navigation system in our tester.

However, the GT-R firmly prioritises performance over trivialities such as luxury and comfort. The 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 is the centrepiece of Nissan’s engineering accomplishment. Already with 478 hp on tap at 6400 rpm, and 588 Nm of peak torque from 3200 rpm to 5200 rpm, there are rumours that power figures are actually even higher. The fiendish engine is mated to a dual-clutch automanual gearbox with paddle-shifters, and a host of adjustable chassis settings, accessible via various switches on the dashboard. Setup choices include ‘comfort,’ ‘normal,’ and ‘R.’ For acceleration tests, we slipped it into ‘R’ so that launch control was activated and the stability control relaxed a bit.

The controversial launch control feature still requires human intervention to control the revs at which the car launches, so we simply took off after holding the revs at a lowly 2800 rpm. That netted us a 0-100 kph time of “only” 4.5 seconds during our hot summer testing. We weren’t prepared to try more, given how Nissan subtly hinted to us not to abuse the car as the ‘black box’ is watching. With all the stories of GT-R trannies blowing up, we weren’t inclined to push our luck. This all-wheel-drive rocket takes off with neck-snapping spontaneity, with no wheelspin whatsoever. We could actually sense the strain that this naturally puts on the drivetrain, and the clunking 6-speed gearbox noises didn’t put us at ease. Also, as-tested fuel consumption figures of 20.8 litres per 100 km, using RON98 petrol, didn’t let us play too long between refills.

But more than the engine, it is the handling that practically destroys most other cars. Even with worn tyres on our battered tester, it cornered like no other car we’ve ever driven before. With intense steering feedback, firm flat suspension, computer-controlled all-wheel-drive traction, instantaneous gear changes and bone-crushing brakes, it really is the Playstation of cars. It inspired confidence, even as we were taking sharp off-ramps with squealing tyres. The 255/40 front and 285/35 rear Bridgestone Potenza rubbers, shod on black 20-inch wheels, had a semi-slick pattern and seemed about half-way out the door, which would account for the tyre-screeching that appeared earlier than we expected during corners. But the electronics seemed to compensate for such physical deficiencies, and even pulling the car straight when the rear slid out a couple of times. We believe this car is nearly uncrashable even near the limit, and you have to be a suicidal idiot to put it into a wall.

As satanically undefeatable as this car is, it is not exactly perfect either. Care needs to be taken to save the low front bumper, already bruised on our tester. The suspension is harsh even in ‘comfort’ mode. It is doubly harsh on isolated village back-roads, where we jittered all the way to 250 kph before backing off to save our spines. The engine, wind and tyre noises are all excessive at highway speeds. In fact, the car is noisy even at 25 kph, as the transmission loudly clunks between gears, with the occasional jolt. At times, the starter button refused to fire up the engine, requiring it to be pressed for as long as 15 seconds to get a reaction sometimes. The turbo engine sounds awesome on acceleration, like a jet taking off, and while quieter than a Ferrari V8, it is still audible at idle. Also, the lightweight Ferrari F430 Spyder we had at hand sounded better anyway, and also seemed to handle sharper thanks to fresh tyres.

But the GT-R, even with all its impractical aspects, is a practical supercar. While a Ferrari is a fragile status symbol for trundling around upscale boulevards, the GT-R is a car that can be easily driven fast about town and on the track, with space for fat butts and groceries to boot. It might be overpriced in the GCC market, but it can still hold its own against more expensive supercars, worn tyres and clunky gearboxes notwithstanding.

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