The 2015 Nissan GT-R is the Japanese equivalent of a Dodge Viper: loud, crazy and faster than hell, yet flawed in unique ways.
From internet forums to enthusiast publications, the Nissan GT-R has been stuck with the moniker "Godzilla" since its arrival, and it's not undeserved. This may be the quickest Japanese production car ever created. Heck, it's quicker than nearly anything else on the road, Italian, American, German, you name it. It's rare. It's expensive. It's utterly, astonishingly, brutally fast. It doesn't have a Sport mode — it is a Sport mode. For 2015, a NISMO super-high-performance version is available that's even more off the charts (compare 2014 and 2015 models here). My test version was merely a standard model GT-R, but that's perfectly OK — even the "base" model brings insane levels of capability to the street and can blow away anything you might encounter. But with all this performance on tap, is the GT-R still usable as a daily driver? Has Nissan created a track kaiju, or can you actually happily live with one?
Exterior & Styling
I don't find the Nissan GT-R's styling to be all that extraordinary. Aside from the big wheels and tires, there's nothing remarkable about it. It's an evolution of previous Japanese-market Skyline GT-Rs, a car that's as much a part of historical Japanese car culture as the Chevrolet Corvette is to our own. It looks clean and attractive, but not outrageous by any means. Yet it still stopped people dead in their tracks out on the street. Parking-lot attendants exited their booths to come snap its photo. One breathless high school varsity hockey player followed me home, weaving through traffic, just to gush out the window at me in my driveway. Endless thumbs-ups, whoops, nods, waves and compliments at gas pumps and in traffic make me think that perhaps I'm just not seeing the magic — the public loves this car. Whether that's a result of its looks or its reputation is unclear.
How It Drives
The reputation is stronger than its looks, I would posit, thanks to what the GT-R can do. And that stems from what lies nestled amid carbon-reinforced composite struts: a 545-horsepower, twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V-6 engine. Fire it up and the noises it makes are not especially pleasant; one occupant likened the GT-R's noises to a handful of bolts in an empty coffee can. The owner's manual even warns you that the GT-R makes noises different from most other passenger cars, and that this is perfectly normal. The hand-assembled engine, this one made and signed by Nobumitsu Gozu, one of four engine builders who hand-make the GT-R's twin-turbo power plant, is mated to a dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission that sends power to all four wheels, with a bias toward the rear. It can rocket the GT-R from zero to 60 mph in a purported 2.9 seconds. There's even a special combination of switches to flip that can engage a Launch Control mode, enabling drivers to routinely rip off those sub-3-second times with astonishing repeatability. Come to a stop, left foot on the brake; switch the traction control and differential switches to R mode, and floor the accelerator. The engine swings up to 3,000 rpm and holds there — and you have 3 seconds to let your left foot slip off the brake, launching you forward in a neck-snapping, eyeball-watering, howl-inducing, scenery-blurring tsunami of ungodly thrust. It is enormous fun.
The GT-R isn't just about straight-line acceleration, however, it's easily one of the best handling cars I've ever driven, but it requires your full attention whenever driving it. On the highway, the extremely direct and sensitive steering demands both hands on the wheel. It is so sensitive to pavement undulations and ruts that one good-sized patch of rough pavement or a frost heave could easily send you into the next lane, if you're cruising along with just one hand on the wheel. The brakes, steering, ride stiffness, all of it is meant to deliver amazing times around a road course, yet provide sufficient comfort to get you home at the end of the day. And the comfort is sufficient — but only just. Even switching the adjustable suspension into Comfort mode only makes the ride tolerable, certainly not comfortable. The level of electronic wizardry in the GT-R is astonishing, with suspension, transmission and powertrain adjustability that creates a car with capabilities far exceeding those of nearly any driver likely to get behind the wheel. One quickly comes to realize that the GT-R isn't a sports car — it's a racecar, a lightly modified track machine that's been minimally civilized for life among the affluent enthusiast public.
Fuel economy is largely irrelevant in a car like this, but we'll discuss it anyway. The EPA rates the GT-R at 16/23/19 mpg city/highway/combined; I achieved 16.7 mpg in a combination of city and highway driving. That's about on par with many of the GT-R's competitors. The Jaguar F-Type R coupe, for instance, gets an almost identical 16/23/18 mpg, while the Porsche 911 Turbo rings in at 17/24/20 mpg. The GT-R does beat the Audi R8 V-8 coupe, which is rated at 14/23/17 mpg, but the clear fuel economy winner is the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray coupe, which achieves 16/28/20 mpg thanks to an eight-speed transmission and cylinder deactivation for highway cruising. But nobody buys these cars because they're frugal.
Unlike many high-performance cars, the GT-R is roomy inside with plenty of space for the two front occupants and enough room to squeeze children or adults of smaller stature into the two rear seats, if the front seats are moved forward. The fact that there are two usable seats back there is noteworthy and gives the GT-R something of an advantage over its competition, which either has no backseat or has one so small as to be vestigial. Front-seat comfort is quite good, with supportive and heavily bolstered performance seats that offer plenty of width for wider backs, but the seat bottoms still feel tighter than most competitors. Headroom is plentiful, which should be a boon when doffing a helmet for a track day. It's much more spacious than a Corvette or 911, but the Audi R8 has more comfortable seats, if considerably worse visibility.
Interior materials and designs are dated, however. This doesn't look like the latest, greatest Nissan equipment; it looks like last-generation stuff. The GT-R hasn't received a big update since its introduction, so this stands to reason. Switches, buttons and plastic quality are not indicative of the car's more than $100,000 price tag; it looks like a 10-year-old Infiniti interior, with some slightly nicer leather. There's no design flair to the interior, either — aside from some contrasting stitching on the dashboard, it's very businesslike, plain-Jane and sadly uninspiring. Opt for the Red Amber or Ivory-colored leather for a bit more visual interest, but compared with the F-Type, 911, R8 or the Corvette, the interior is a snoozefest.
Ergonomics & Electronics
It may not be much to look at, but the interior is certainly chock-full of amazing electronics, most of which are centered on performance monitoring. A separate control panel activates a series of performance pages where you can display everything from engine temperature and boost to g-meters for cornering and acceleration forces. There's a big chronometer as well, controllable through steering-wheel buttons, to record your lap times around the track. It's definitely more track-oriented than Dodge's Performance Pages app for its SRT vehicles, but it doesn't have a drag strip timer like the Dodge app does (odd, considering the car has a launch control feature like the high-performance Dodges do). The rest of the interior electronics are last-generation Nissan corporate parts-bin stuff — uncomplicated but unsophisticated, especially when put up against Audi MMI, BMW iDrive or even Chevrolet MyLink.
Cargo & Storage
The GT-R has a surprisingly large trunk for a sports car, able to swallow 8.8 cubic feet of gear in a trunk that is decently deep. One could fit a full-size suitcase in here, which is not necessarily the case for the GT-R's competitors. The Audi R8, for instance, has just 3.5 cubic feet of cargo room in its frunk (front + trunk = "frunk") and a couple of storage pockets behind the seats. The 911 doesn't do much better, with a 4.1-cubic-foot frunk, but the Jaguar F-Type beats them all with a comparatively cavernous 11 cubic feet under its liftgate. The rear seats in the GT-R do not fold down, because of a center console that runs all the way into the backseat and two enormous speakers mounted between the passengers.
The Nissan GT-R has not been crash-tested. For all the GT-R's high technology, it doesn't possess much in the way of active electronic safety systems. It has all the requisite airbags and traction control systems, but nothing in the way of electronic systems like blind-spot warning, automatic braking or automatic cruise control. A backup camera is standard. See the GT-R's standard safety equipment here.
Value in Its Class
Nissan has raised the price considerably on the GT-R since its U.S. introduction for the 2009 model year, and it has now climbed to a lofty $103,365, including a destination fee, to start at the Premium trim level, which is what I tested. Add the $3,000 Regal Red metallic premium paint and $285 GT-R logo floormats and you arrive at the $106,650 sticker price for my test car. Higher versions of the GT-R are also available, but the Black Edition generally brings only appearance options for its $113,105 sticker price. You get a bit more content with the NISMO version of the GT-R; for $151,585, its 600-hp turbo engine and much more aggressive tuning push it even more toward being primarily a track car. Option one up your way here.
The GT-R is assuredly the most track-oriented car of any of its competitors. With its high sticker price, the GT-R exists in some rarified air, but competitors are more numerous than one might suspect. Closest in price and mission would be the $99,925 Jaguar F-Type R coupe, which matches the GT-R in horsepower and fuel economy but delivers a knockout punch in terms of style, grace and sound, all the while delivering its own kind of scintillating performance. The Porsche 911 Turbo is the performance car the GT-R set out to beat, and the Nissan certainly wins on price, besting the $152,095 starting price of the 911 Turbo (it only goes up from there, and rapidly). Both cars feature all-wheel drive, explosive performance and impressive track capabilities, but the 911 offers a more luxurious if slightly more snug interior. One of the more intriguing options may be the Audi R8; in its base V-8 trim, it costs $120,150, and has style and presence inside and out that makes the GT-R look like an Altima coupe. It has the performance chops as well, despite featuring a V-8 engine that makes 115 hp less than the GT-R's turbo V-6, and it weighs more than 200 pounds less than the GT-R. Compare them all here.
None of these cars is as quick as the brutal Nissan GT-R, however. Only the Porsche 911 Turbo comes close, with its own 3.2-second zero-to-60-mph time (manufacturer's estimate). But a few 10ths of a second really only matter when you're at the track; out on the street, everything from tire pressure to air temperature to driver skill will dramatically equalize performance among these kinds of cars. If you must have one of the absolute fastest production cars ever made, then the GT-R is a compelling idea. If you're more interested in comfort, luxury and everyday usability, there are other options worth considering.