Here's What It's Like to Drive the Ferocious Nissan GT-R

'Godzilla' earns its nickname.
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'Godzilla' earns its nickname.
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They call the Nissan GT-R ultra-performance coupe “Godzilla.” Yes, it is Japanese, and loud, and powerful, but I suspect there's more to this nickname than just raw ferocity. In the wake of Nissan's cancellation of the GT-R LM Le Mans racing program, it seemed worth a visit with the car that inspired that effort.

The GT-R’s 545-horsepower 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6 powerplant seems to exude performance on an industrial scale. The dual-clutch automated manual transmission and all-wheel drive system deploy this commercial-grade muscle with the subtly of a stamping press, pounding out shifts and seeming to rip right into the road itself.

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This is the sound of big, serious work being done. Or, in the case of Godzilla, serious mayhem being wrought. At full acceleration, images of a reptile pulling down high-tension power lines and exploding transformers involuntarily come to mind.

Nissan is renowned for the smooth civility of its V6 engines, as seen in cars like the Maxima and 370Z over the years. Not this one. The GT-R’s engine plays grunge music, grinding out gritty sound that seems to spit it out the dual chrome tailpipes in solid chunks that probably collect in the ruts ripped into the asphalt by the car’s tires.

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There is a stronger feeling of serious mechanical activity underway in the GT-R than any other car save the Bugatti Veyron, with its steam locomotive-level power and complexity. Maybe it feels like this to drive the Abrams M1-A1 main battle tank.

Consider why: the GT-R features a high-output twin-turbo V6, computer-controlled all-wheel drive and a dual-clutch transmission which conspire to optimize the application of power to each of the four wheels. Typically, this is a bloodless transaction, performed with actuarial efficiency in cars that can demonstrate their superiority with a spreadsheet.

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The GT-R manages to convey its superiority viscerally, despite the precise metering of power to the optimum wheel, depending on throttle position and steering angle. This is a worthy accomplishment. You have to wonder what the GT-R would be like if fitted with winter tires and raced on ice. Surely that is the seed of an idea for a fantastic YouTube video.

Similarly, the computer-controlled Bilstein shock absorbers let the drive select the balance between ride and handling to suit the situation. But the car never feels like a boulevard cruiser, no matter the setting. And even when dialed up to maximum performance, the ride never approaches that of a tooth-rattling race car.

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The GT-Rs cabin remains a bit of a cave of black surfaces and high sills with small windows. The array of buttons, switches, dials and instruments on the dashboard and console convey a distinctly analog air, like that of a pre-glass cockpit airliner.

Maybe the car should come with period-correct aviator sunglasses in the glove compartment. The GT-R has a back seat because the original Nissan Skyline, from which the GT-R sprung, was a semi-practical coupe. Today, the +2 rear seats have withered to near-vestigial status. They aren’t as useless as those in say, a Porsche 911 or Aston Martin Vantage, but it is cramped back there and no one over about 5’9” need consider trying.

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The tested GT-R Premium edition totals $103,660, which makes it a pricey Nissan, so label-seekers will need to look elsewhere. But their prestige brand options in this price range will suffer the fate of a power utility substation at Godzilla’s hands in any competition with the GT-R. Might makes right.

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