Having started late that morning, there were already cyclists all over the road, so I’d been keeping it mellow. But as I came around the corner onto the ridge, I saw half a mile of gently winding road ahead. No cars, no bikes, no cops, and I was terrified. Terrified because I knew just how fast I could be going at the other end. Think helicopter crane recovery and dental records identification.
That’s the thing about the GTR. You’re never worried about what it’ll do to you, you’re worried about what you’ll do with it.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 3 years, you should know the stats on the GTR. It sports a twin-turbo 3.8L V6 making 485hp at 6500rpm and 434lb-ft of torque. Power’s routed through a six speed dual clutch paddle shifted transmission to all four wheels. Leather, satellite radio, navigation and the world’s coolest vehicle status display (more on that later) are standard. The only options are floor mats and your choice of color. The 2011 rolls on dark gray forged 20″ Rays wheels.
The transmission, traction control and suspension are all adjustable. Most relevant is the “R” mode available for all, which does about what you’d expect: firmer shifts, firmer damping and a little more slippage available. The suspension “Comfort” mode is second most relevant, as it makes the car livable in activities of daily life. It’s still stiff by most standards, but not painful or jarring.
Enough foreplay, let’s get to it: it’s mind-blowingly fast. Fast enough to completely obliterate my previous benchmark, a second-gen Viper GTS. In contrast to the Viper, the GTR actually works with you in the effort, rather than trying to kill you the whole time. It challenges you to go faster on the next turn, and the one after that, and the one after that, until you finally overcook it. The GTR takes a lax approach to punishment, gently slapping you with understeer in all but the most deliberately trail-braked, throttle-heavy indiscretions. “But understeer is lame!” the masses cry. Not on a windy mountain road at—well, let’s just say fast enough—it’s not.
In case you care to log your speed or the windiness of said mountain road, the GTR can help with that. The navigation/radio display can also serve up seven different configurations of info screens: 1-4 are customizable and A-F are pre-set. Speed, acceleration in two axes, the vector sum acceleration, economy, range, the temperature of every fluid in the car, turbo boost, front-to-rear torque split and a rally course notes/timer combo. If you’re someone who likes lining up the icons on your desktop just so, this is a really cool feature. If you’re someone who’s proud to brag that he pegged 1.2g in lateral acceleration in each direction in one 20 second stretch, ahem, it’s cool too.
Taking things down a couple dozen notches, as a daily driver the GTR gets a B- or C+. Most obviously, it’s tricky to keep speeds in the legal range. All of a sudden, everyone’s driving way too slowly. At stop-and-go parking lot speeds, the dual clutch transmission takes some getting used to. Parallel parking would be tricky, given its nothingnothingnothingherewego! engagement. Also, at low speeds and first startup the engine and cog-box emit sounds most commonly associated with forgetting to put the oil back in. There’s actually a line in the manual pointing out that these noises are ok. It only exhibits two supercar-typical annoyances: the front air dam scrapes a lot and people freak out in the presence of Godzilla. Shortly after it showed up in my driveway, the neighbor kids had hopped the fence and were checking it out. The one day I took it to the office, a number of co-workers visited my desk wondering what I was doing for lunch. People pulled up to take pictures in traffic, loving the car but clearly hating me.
From a utility perspective, it’s no worse than a typical sports coupe. The back seat will fit small kids (though they have to share one cupholder) and the trunk’s decently sized. Just be careful with the groceries, as it can get really hot in there. The seats would be fine for long trips, even if they aren’t cooled. All said, it’s probably best to think of the GTR as a Friday-Saturday-Sunday car, rather than a daily driver. You could drive it every day, but there’d be no joy in it. On the flip side, you could easily start the day with a canyon run, then transition to the kids’ soccer games before blasting to Vegas with The Missus that night.
And now to the elephant in the room: is the GTR a soulless 485hp computer or a bargain of a supercar slayer? The answer hinges on why you’d drop big money on a car. While well beyond my reach, I can understand the value proposition of a 60-something-thousand dollar sports car, the likes of an M3, CTS-V or AMG C63. But when you go beyond a typical super sedan, you’re paying cubic dollars for something special. Maybe it’s the beauty of a Maserati GranTurismo, the comfort of a Continental, or the overwhelming power of the Viper and ZR1.
The GTR delivers speed. For $85,000, you get usable speed wherever and whenever you want it, whether at the track on or the way home from work. The approachable limits mean you can really go for it in scenarios where other machines punish errors with death. Are there more involved, romantic sports cars out there? Certainly, but let’s make another comparison: you bring your P51 Mustang or F4U Corsair to a dogfight, and I’ll bring an F22 Raptor. We’ll see how that works out for you.
Since writing this review, Nissan’s announced the 2011 GTR has 523 horsepower and offers a number of different options packages, along with an updated fascia. The window sticker that came with our car said 2011 and 485hp, so that’s what we published. Our tester’s VIN ended in “00001”, suggesting this was probably a very early example. Make of it what you will. – Ed