Nissan has been selling the Skyline in Japan for almost 20 years, long enough that the first one to make it to the U.S. officially is the fifth generation. This fifth-generation of the affordable supercar comes to America as the Nissan GT-R, retailing for about $70,000.
The Nissan GT-R boasts performance of far more expensive cars. Its super slick, all-wheel-drive dutifully and invisibly channels the engine's 480 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque to whichever tires offer the most grip. This is most remarkable when enlisted in the Launch Control algorithm, which lets drivers make like Michael Schumacher in their own Stop Light Grands Prix. A twin-clutch, sequential-shifting, six-speed manumatic transaxle is competitive with the best prancing horse logoed car's and the equal of or better than the best of either Stuttgart or Munich.
This car is so good, so much fun to drive, whether slogging and, when the opportunity presents, darting through rush hour traffic or blurring telephone poles on empty back roads.
The GT-R comes with every comfort and convenience a driver and passenger need, and most of what a driver and passenger could want. The sports car-like cabin is climate controlled. The navigation system responds to voice commands. Behind the navigation system's LCD lie 11 pages of data, graphs and virtual gauges that tell the tale on more of the car's dynamics than most drivers can, or want to, be bothered knowing. All this makes even the infernal red start/stop button that takes the place of a perfectly functional key tolerable. At least, most of the time.
Nissan plans to sell about 2400 GT-Rs through 700 specially certified Nissan dealers, a super car fully homologated and certified to U.S. safety and emission standards and ready for everyday use just like any other Nissan the dealer sells. But that's about the extent of the similarities between this ultra-refined supercar and the Altimas, Versas, Maximas and, yes, 350Zs that yearn to share a little of the GT-R's glow. The time may come, if Nissan survives as a major player in the U.S. market despite the shrinking new car market and some not-so-minor missteps by its French management, that the GT-R will be seen not just a stupendous achievement as a legitimate entry in the supercar ranks, but also as nothing less than the salvation of the brand. One car gave that kind of spark to Datsun. The GT-R may for Nissan.
The Nissan GT-R comes in one body style, a two-door, 2+2 quasi-coupe. There's also but one powertrain offered, a twin-turbocharged, 3.6-liter V6 driving all four wheels through a six-speed, twin-clutch, sequential-shifting, automated-manual transaxle. Shifts are managed either by computer or by steering column-mounted magnesium paddle shifters.
The 2009 Nissan GT-R comes in two trim levels. The standard GT-R ($69,850) doesn't lack for much: Dual-zone, automatic climate control, cruise control, power mirrors, windows and locks, eight-way adjustable driver's seat and four-way adjustable front passenger seat, AM/FM/XM/CD stereo with MP3 and WMA playback and six speakers, 30GB hard disk that supports voice recognition, seven-inch color-LCD, GPS-based navigation system with 9.3 GB for personalized audio tracks, dash-mounted Compact Flash card reader, Bluetooth phone system for hands-free operation. Run-flat summer compound Dunlop tires wrap around high-luster, smoke-gray, aluminum alloy wheels.
The GT-R Premium model ($71,900) adds heated front seats, a Bose audio system with 11 speakers, including two subwoofers stacked vertically in a panel separating the rear seats, and run-flat summer Bridgestones.
Options include the Cold Weather Package (no charge) with all-season Dunlop tires on bright silver wheels and a 50/50 coolant mix. The Super Silver special paint ($3000) is hand-polished before receiving three clearcoats. An iPod converter ($360) and GT-R floor mats ($280) can be installed at port of entry or by the dealer.
Safety features that come standard include pre-tensioners on the front three-point belts; pre-tensioners on the rear seat three-point seat belts; dual-stage frontal airbags. Active safety features include antilock brakes that let the driver steer during a panic stop; brake assist, which reads the way the driver hits the brake pedal to quicken the system's response in emergencies; and electronic brake-force distribution, which optimizes front/rear brake balance for what a computer decides is the quickest, best-controlled stop in all conditions; traction control, which minimizes wheel spin during acceleration; and Nissan's Vehicle Dynamic Control system, which monitors various yaw sensors in an effort to keep the car going where it should go. A tire pressure monitoring system comes standard. Optional are torso-protecting front seat-mounted side impact airbags and the head-preserving roof-mounted side air curtains, which come on the Premium model.