The GT-R is the blind date everybody’s been telling you about for months: incredible body, second in her class at Harvard, fabulous conversationalist, star athlete. Then you meet her. Yes, she has obvious “assets,” but nobody mentioned the halitosis. She graduated with a B.A. in accounting. She’s a great conversationalist, but her voice sounds like run-flat tires with three-inch sidewalls running over a concrete-aggregate rumble and tar-strip slap. She's an athlete, but a grunting shot-putter, not a Sharapova. In short, the GT-R is SO not a supermodel.
I spent 1,450 miles inside a Nissan GT-R in early April, flying through the deserts of Nevada and central California. I didn't notch 193mph, the GT-R's top speed. But I (or you) could have done so with ease. I decided not to approach this limit to preserve my license. In fact, the Nissan coupe plants itself on the road better than any car I've ever driven.
Stretching the GT-R’s legs on an open Nevada two-lane road was so simple that my 28-year-old daughter could repeat the process a few minutes later while I lazed in the right seat. When we passed opposite-direction tandem tractor-trailers on these empty highways, it was as though the GT-R slipped by a Smart. With a Cd of .27 and just enough downforce in all the right places, aerodynamics are apparently a lot of what allows this car to go so fast so easily.
If there's anything to criticize about the GT-R's handling— I also spent an afternoon with the car lapping the mickey mouse Reno-Fernley Raceway— it's the steering. While the helm’s quick and precise, it’s strangely numb and electric-feeling. The Japanese still have a lot to learn from Porsche here, but the GT-R is ridiculously nimble for a two-tonner (with driver and gas).
Two of the car's most highly touted features baffle me, though. One is the endlessly configurable instrument display, called-up via the nav screen. Nissan readily admits that it “was inspired by videogames.” It’s not what you’d call useful– unless you're intent on studying steering-wheel deflection, slip angle, transmission-oil pressure and brake-pedal position while late-apexing an off-ramp. It's the geek equivalent of the complex chronographs of the 19th century: pocket watches that read out everything from the tides to your mistress's menstrual cycle.
The GT-R’s fiddly “launch mode” for maximum acceleration (meaning turbo spool-up) is also a curiosity. It will amuse those who haven't an ounce of mechanical sensibility who don't mind abusing machinery. Actual GT-R owners will use it a few times to amuse the neighbors, and then will realize that they're still making payments on the $70,000+ appliance they're brutalizing. Even Nissan told me to only use it "once or twice."
For me, the car's tires are the biggest turnoff. Quick! Name a single benefit to run-flats. They're noisy, expensive, difficult to repair and can only dismount with special machinery. I don't have a spare in my 911 either, since a fuel cell fills the trunk, but I use Ride-On to seal its tires permanently. (No, Ride-On has nothing in common with Slime or Fix-a-Flat.) The Bridgestones on the GT-R are so loud they negate the Bose sound system; a Costco Kenwood would have sufficed amid the din.
Obviously, this car's numbers– whether we're talking racetrack lap times, zero to sixty or MSRP– are stunning. We all know that GT-Rs are lapping the Nordschleife faster and faster, that they out-accelerate Porsche Turbos and ZO6s and cost $69,850 (plus “market adjustment fees…”). There's a lot to like about this car, but is it the ultimate, the Godzilla, the Nurburgring killa?
Who cares? Acquiring a supercar, rather than fantasizing about one, faces the buyer with a decision with vastly more to do with real-world attributes than with video games, bad movies and teen fetishes. (Admittedly, the last video game I played was Space Invaders.) It fascinated me that nobody in Nevada or California noticed the GT-R, other than carwash attendants, 14-year-olds with mullets and every parking valet in Vegas. The rest of the world walked on by, assuming they’d encountered a new Toyota Supra.
Seventeen years ago, the first Japanese supercar arrived in the States: the Acura NSX. Fabulous numbers, a half-price Ferrari, buff-book craziness, slavering car writers, rumored to be the benchmark for the McLaren F1, development work by Ayrton Senna… So where did the NSX go? Ultimately, it became the orthodontist's car, when the world went back to buying Porsches and real Ferraris. Care to take bets on what will happen to the GT-R?
Bottom line: the car world may have gone cuckoo for Coco Puffs over the GT-R but it’s ultimately a pointless, nerdy, twin-turbo, electronics-laden technological curiosity.