- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

Nissan is crashing an exclusive party in the United States.

With the introduction of the 2009 GT-R, the Japanese manufacturer becomes a member of the super car club, which is mostly limited to high-performance machinery with prices well into six figures.

It means that the new GT-R hobnobs with the likes of the Porsche 911 Turbo, Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Dodge Viper and Audi R8, although it has performance characteristics that also place it in the company of such pricey exotica as the Ferrari F430, Ford GT, Lamborghini Murcielago, Porsche Carrera GT and the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren.

To put it into perspective, Nissan claims that the GT-R ran a lap around the famed Nurburgring course in Germany in 7 minutes 38 seconds, quicker than all but one of the exotics, the Porsche Carrera GT.

The GT-R is familiar to enthusiasts who pay attention to extreme-performance machinery on the world stage.

Although never before available in the United States, the cars achieved notoriety in video games and the “Fast and the Furious” movies.

Now, however, the GT-R super car is available through 676 of the 1,070 Nissan dealers in the United States.

But it will be a rare delivery, and it is expected to command prices way beyond the sticker price.

Those dealers are projected to get just 1,500 of the 12,000 GT-Rs sold world-wide.

Despite its high price, which ranges up to $75,540 with options, the GT-R qualifies as a bargain—a car that arguably delivers the most performance for the dollar of any high-zoot automobile currently available.

The designers said the idea of the GT-R was “to shake up the super car establishment” by producing an automobile that had the lowest price among the exotics and could be driven by anybody, anywhere, at any time.

With all-wheel drive, a twin-clutch automated manual transmission, and a twin-turbo V-6 engine delivering 480-horsepower, it has a top speed of 193 miles an hour and rips zero-to-60 acceleration times in 3.5 seconds, according to the manufacturer.

One enthusiast magazine, Car and Driver, even bettered that, flashing past the 60 mile an hour mark in just 3.3 seconds.

That’s super by any definition. The all-wheel drive is biased toward the back, so that 100 percent of the power can be sent there during for high-speed driving.

But the system also can send 50 percent of the power to the front wheels in slippery, foul weather conditions.

With that, the Nissan designers describe the GT-R as an everyday driver—a car that can be used for commuting and ordinary chasing-around in all kinds of weather.

So although the GT-R comes with high-performance summer tires, a buyer also can specify all-season tires to cope with snow and ice, with only a marginal loss in performance capability.

The designers said they also wanted to make the GT-R useful, so it has a back seat and a nine cubic foot trunk, configured so it reportedly can handle a couple of golf bags.

The back seat is more of the old “plus two” style. It exists, but primarily for purses, watermelons and small dogs.

Even with the front seats pushed all the way forward, the two seats in the rear reject humans.

With all that, the GT-R is fairly large for a super car. It is 15 feet 3 inches long and weighs 3,908 pounds—or nearly two tons.

But there’s more than enough power to overcome that. The twin-turbo V6 seems almost leisurely off the line as the engine revs build.

Then the turbochargers kick in and the GT-R morphs into a jam-your-body-to-the-seat drag racer.

The surge is astonishing, and there’s almost no wheel spin because of the GT-R’s sophisticated all-wheel drive system.

The twin-clutch gearbox is a manual, but there’s no clutch pedal.

One clutch operates first, third and fourth gears, and the other works second, fourth and sixth.

They are continuously pre-selected, so the next shift, up or down, happens in about one-tenth of a second.

It works the same way whether the driver selects the automatic mode or shifts manually with the paddles on the steering wheel.

Yet for all its blazing performance, the GT-R is as docile as an economy car around town.

Inside, the comfort level in the two front bucket seats is first rate. They are upholstered in leather, with faux suede inserts that grip clothing to keep the human cargo from sliding around.

A well-placed dead pedal helps brace the driver.

The steering wheel adjusts only vertically, but takes the instrument cluster with it. A telescoping feature would be welcome.

Shock absorbers can be adjusted by the driver from a comfort setting to all-out stiffness for track racing, and the standard stability and traction control also can be turned off for track sessions.

Besides the impossible back seat, there are a few other negatives.

The sun visors do not slide on their support rods to block sunlight from the side, and the multi-function information center provides a bewildering and distracting set of screens that can provide up to 17 performance parameters, including lateral G forces, throttle position, steering angle and brake-pedal position.

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