Payne: Terrorizing Detroit in Nissan’s GT-R
We motorhead media types drool at the mention of the Nissan GT-R’s nickname. Yet few of us get a chance to experience it. The $101,000 machine is rarely found in press fleets. My chance to ride Godzilla came this summer. I was expecting tail-wagging aggression, window-rattling roars — a menace with fiery upshifts and a disturbed disposition.
I got none of that. Godzilla? Sure, Japan’s most powerful sports car deserves comparison to Japan’s most fearsome B-movie reptile. But in truth the Nissan GT-R is more cyborg than monster.
Call it the Terminator.
Like the original Terminator Model T-800 from 1984 (which is how long it seems the aging GT-R has been around) — not the sleek, advanced, liquid metal, “Mimetic polyalloy” Terminator T-1000 of later sequels. This beast is Schwarzenegger. Big, heavy, awkward at slow speeds. You can hear the gears meshing. Its feels analog, not digital.
As the auto tranny downshifts from 3rd to 2nd into a red light, the car lurches to a stop. But then, oh, what a launch.
With an electronic, torque-managing, all-wheel-drive system and twin-turbo power, the GT-R is a rocket off the line. The sensation resembles Cedar Point’s Top Thrill Dragster roller-coaster. No slip. No wheel spin. Just nail it and you’re pulled on invisible rails. The engine is a muted roar — an angry vacuum cleaner.
No tail-wagging drama like a Dodge SRT Hellcat. No thunderclap like a Z06 Corvette. No barking upshifts like a BMW M3. Just relentless, robotic power from the 3.8-liter V-6 mill. Godzilla meet Terminator.
The GT-R’s layout is more sports coupe than sports car. The lip doesn’t drag out of my driveway like a Corvette or Porsche Cayman. Indeed, the GT-R feels like an Audi RS 5 and Corvette Z06 had a love child. At almost 4,000 pounds its chassis is Audi-solid, AWD, well-engineered.
Face-to-face the GT-R appears a big athlete with nice jewelry. Mike Tyson wearing earrings. My 2016 45th Anniversary Edition GT-R celebrates its first, early-’70s ancestor. The color is a gold-like hew called “Silica Brass” (for the 50th anniversary edition maybe GT-R will get actual gold). A big, Mitsubishi Evo-like goatee fills the face. Horizontal LED lights adorn the cheeks below elegant, LED-tubed headlights. Flush door handles flip outward, opening the car at your fingers’ command. The GT-R is 10 years old now, but the fashion details keep it hip.
Like an RS 5, the 2+2 interior will technically seat four. If the rear passengers are five-year-olds. Sitting on their knees. In the posh suede and leather driver’s bucket, my seat back hit the rear seat (at least rear passengers get the best concert seat in the house between two giant Bose speakers). Tidy rectangular modules organize the dash holding circular instruments and vents — all trimmed with carbon and stitched leather.
The console-mounted starter button is even Audi-like, except for one detail. It’s red. Like the button to launch a nuclear warhead. WARNING: TOUCH THIS BUTTON AT YOUR PERIL.
Let’s talk about that because I know what you’ve been thinking since the first paragraph: Why would I pay $101,000 for a Nissan??!!!
One hundred grand for a car with the same badge as the Sentra? Seriously? Heck, a nicely-equipped, 450-horse V-8, AWD RS 5 costs $70K and when I roll up to the country club, the valet will say: “Can I park your Audi for you, sir?”
I understand. And that’s why that red button matters. Because the GT-R is not an overpriced Nissan — it’s an underpriced supercar.
Like the aforementioned, 650-horsepower Z06, the Nissan is that rare mainstream breed that can do things supercars can — for half the price. Want a lively AWD coupe to cruise to work? Save $30K and buy the silky RS 5 or a base 450-horse Corvette Stingray. Want to terrorize Porsche Turbos and Ferraris at Waterford track days? Buy a GT-R.
Consider the numbers.
The GT-R packs 545 ponies. Like the Z06, it beats the Ferrari 458 Italia and Porsche 911 Turbo S and Lamborghini Gallardo to 60 MPH in 2.9 seconds. It laps with the supercars at even the epic, 4.1-mile Virginia International Raceway. Yet the Ferrari costs $240,000. The Porsche $183,000. The Gallardo $182,000. Oh.
Walk around the GT-R and it’s apparent this is a race car in drag.
Inside the gorgeous, 20-inch, 20-spoke rims loom massive, drilled 15.35-inch front and 15-inch rear rotors anchored with Brembo calipers that will pull out your fillings under hard braking. The gummy, Dunlop tires — 10-inch front and 11 in the rear — mimic the Z06’s sticky, Michelin 10 x 12s. Throw it into a corner and it rotates with ease. Credit Nissan’s location — ditto the Chevy — of the transmission in the rear (along with the GT-R’s AWD transfer case) giving it remarkably neutral handling despite its girth.
The car’s most distinctive angle is the spoiler-equipped rear end, which makes sense since it’s the view most folks will have of this 193-mph weapon. When’s the last time you saw a car with exhaust pipes as big around as its taillights? The Detroit Tigers could store baseball bats inside these things.
Like the ’Vette, the GT-R betrays its discount supercar price with little shortcomings. The ’Vette smells like an oil refinery inside. The GT-R props its hood with a stick. The Z06’s chassis twists and rattles. The GT-R’s drive-train whirrs and clunks.
Put your foot down and all is forgiven.
The traction is surreal. Stomp on the pedal with or without traction control and the car — 545 horses distributed to all four wheels — stays true as an arrow.
The GT-R’s tight, balanced chassis responded to little inputs as I barreled through tight Oakland County corners, tires chirping. Predictable. Predatory. On the street, the GT-R is a head-turner, but is otherwise docile in daily commuting. Yet, unlike Z-OMG-6, it won’t wake the police departments in three counties when you put your foot down. The angry vacuum cleaner stays stealthy.
Should you buy it? I thought the $81K BMW M3 was expensive until I met the GT-R. Now I’m not so sure. The twin-turbo V-6 M has more attractive lines. More seat room. More badge cache. But then the Terminator GT-R will pound it into the asphalt at a stoplight.
Or, if you prefer, call it Godzilla.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @HenryEPayne. See all his work at HenryPayne.com.
’16 Nissan GT-R
Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, four-passenger sports car
Price: $101,770 base ($104,660 as tested)
Power plant: Twin-turbocharged, 3.8-liter V-6
Power: 545 horsepower, 463 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Dual-clutch, six-speed automatic transmission
Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.9 seconds (Motor Trend)
Weight: 3,922 pounds
Fuel economy: EPA 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway/19 mpg combined
Highs: Race-car performance; rail-like traction
Lows: Clunky drive-train; those are backseats?