The Nissan GT-R is the latest model that will come to the U.S. after years of being sold overseas and dangled in front of drooling American car fans. We were similarly taunted for a long time by street-legal versions of Mitsubishi's and Subaru's World Rally Championship cars. They finally made it here in 2003 and 2004, respectively, in the form of the Lancer Evolution and the WRX STi.
Though it, too, has turbocharged power and all-wheel drive, the GT-R is racetrack-bred and runs 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds, according to Nissan, blowing the others away and joining the likes of the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and Dodge Viper. Beyond those models, you're looking at supercars priced at six figures or more to give chase.
Unlikely to be mistaken for any other car, the audacious-looking GT-R is shaped to cheat the wind, to route cooling air where it's needed and to maintain aerodynamic downforce, front and rear. It's constructed of steel, aluminum and carbon fiber to keep weight down — and to distribute it as evenly as possible over the front and rear wheels.
The GT-R has the driver-oriented cockpit you'd expect of a performance car, with a large tachometer front and center. The seats hug their occupants tightly — a necessity on the track — but the floor space is uncommonly unrestrictive. Credit a rear-mounted transaxle that relocates the intrusive hump that usually comes with a front-mounted transmission. A single propeller shaft runs through the center tunnel from the engine to the transaxle, and a driveshaft runs back to drive the front axle, leaving relatively generous space on either side.
Technically a four-seater, the GT-R could handle two adults in front and two kids in the back. Nissan says the trunk can accommodate two golf bags or suitcases.
Under the Hood
A hand-built, twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V-6 produces 480 horsepower and 430 pounds-feet of torque. The only transmission is a six-speed automated manual with steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. There's no conventional stick or clutch pedal, but the gearbox has two clutches — one for the odd gears and one for the even — that allow it to shift almost instantly. It's akin to Volkswagen's Direct Shift Gearbox, used on the GTI and R32.
The all-wheel drive is rear-biased to give the balanced feel of a rear-drive car. Up to 50 percent of the torque can be shifted forward, automatically, when needed. The standard wheels are 20 inches in diameter and the tires are Bridgestone summer performance run-flats, but you can also opt for Dunlop all-seasons. With the all-seasons, plus all-wheel drive and a Snow mode for the transmission, the GT-R could conceivably be driven in the winter in ways its competitors can't, though low ground clearance might prove a limiting factor.
The suspension uses Bilstein adaptive-damping shock absorbers that can be adjusted to Comfort, Normal or R — the last for maximum handling — by means of one of three "setup switches" on the dashboard. The other two switches give similar control over the stability system and the transmission's shift characteristics when in Automatic mode.
In addition to the features already mentioned, the GT-R has antilock disc brakes with Brembo 15-inch cross-drilled rotors and six-piston monoblock calipers for the front wheels. The rear calipers have four pistons apiece. Optional are side-impact airbags for the front occupants and side curtain airbags to protect the front and rear occupants in a side impact.