2009 Nissan GT-R Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
September 9, 2008

You could pilot the Space Shuttle with a PlayStation controller—or you could just sample the 2009 Nissan GT-R, one hellish lightsaber of a supercar.

TheCarConnection.com's car experts researched Web reviews for the 2009 Nissan GT-R to compile this full review. TheCarConnection.com's editors also hammered away on the back roads of northern Georgia in the 2009 Nissan GT-R to bring you firsthand driving impressions that help you sort through the opinions found on the Web. This review combines those opinions with the consensus among online car-review Web sites.

The 2009 Nissan GT-R is utterly unlike any other car in the Japanese automaker’s lineup. With its scaldingly powerful twin-turbo V-6 engine, all-wheel drive, and automated manual transmission, it’s a supercar in all but price tag—a bargain Bugatti Veyron at less than one-tenth the price, though admittedly without all the cachet to spare.

The GT-R descends from a long line of Japanese Skyline sportscars. It’s one of the best-looking versions yet; the rakish roofline cuts into the rear end with tomahawk clarity, while the arching, reaching front fenders imply animalistic urges under the hood. It’s completely unlike the sensuous Italian offerings and the all-business German exoticars—an Ultraman among ultra-sportscars.

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In its latest iteration, the four-seater brings with it a twin-turbo, 3.8-liter V-6 that pumps out 473 horsepower. That’s if you listen to Nissan’s official estimates; enthusiast magazines have tested the GT-R on a dynamometer, which measures horsepower, and come up with figures far higher. Coupling that amazing power to a stout paddle-shifted automated manual transmission (no clutch pedal here) and a variable-power-split, all-wheel-drive system, the GT-R achieves the unthinkable: It outraces the likes of Porsche 911 Turbos and Chevrolet Corvette Z06s, while ringing in at a price tag in the low-$70,000 range.

Its handling is brilliant, and its adjustability gives the GT-R something of a cushion on public roads—but you’ll never mistake it for an Infiniti G37. The GT-R’s somewhat punishing ride and noisy transmission remind you constantly that you’re in charge of a machine that can rocket to 60 mph in about 3.3 seconds and spin around the world's most difficult racetracks faster than any other car ever has.

There are some compromises to the GT-R package to make it usable on the street. You'll find two real rear seats, though adults won’t be happy to be scuttled in back. Some interior materials are merely acceptable—there are none of the exotic woods and swirled-aluminum finishes of the truly upper-crust sportscars. However, having a backseat at all is a bonus for drivers, even if those passengers end up at the wrong end of an airsick bag.

The 2009 GT-R hasn’t been crash-tested, and it almost seems a blasphemy to even contemplate the tests. Nevertheless, the Premium versions come with every safety device imaginable. You can even shut off the traction and stability control for track-time fun. However, be warned that base versions do not offer side and curtain airbags, likely to make them less costly for drivers who might use them exclusively as race cars.

Nissan has set an impossibly tough price-to-power ratio with the new GT-R. It’s the performance equal of cars costing twice as much. And though there’s a bit of detachment from its driving experience—its capabilities are so awesome and user-friendly, it’s a bit like driving a video game car—it’s absolutely stunning to be at the helm of such mechanical magnificence.

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2009 Nissan GT-R

Styling

The 2009 Nissan GT-R’s unconventional shape injects new style in the supercar class—from the outside, mostly.

The 2009 Nissan GT-R makes an indelible impression on drivers—and everyone who catches a glimpse of its sharklike silhouette—with its styling. It’s no knockoff of historical shapes or classic themes; the GT-R is a wedge attack on the road ahead, with a rakish roofline and angular fenders.

Edmunds explains the GT-R is “a high-performance sports car available only in coupe form with a 2+2 seating layout,” and Popular Mechanics points out the GT-R is “huge” by supercar measures: “at 183.3 in. long, it’s almost a foot longer than a 911, and it’s half a foot wider than a Honda Civic, at 74.6 in.” The sheer size, they say, is “striking.”

Edmunds contends the GT-R has a “polarizing exterior design.” That shape, Popular Mechanics comments, “commands respect in a way that no swooping Italian supercar can.” Their favorite design element? “A uniquely creased C-Pillar, has an in-house nickname: 'Sword Pillar.'” The Los Angeles Times reports Nissan’s designers aim to “reflect Japanese culture and avoid aping the razor-cut European exoticism of Ferrari and Lamborghini” with the car's shape.

Car and Driver feels “Japanese cars have never been this exotic from the factory,” while the Los Angeles Times snipes that the GT-R “sure does look menacing in person…like a Kabuki mask (or Cindy McCain).” They say it’s inspired by robots and observe that “words cannot describe how awesome this is, if you are 11.” Cars.com, meanwhile, contends “it's like your 350Z left middle school for the summer and reappeared after it hit puberty and then the gym.” Is it beautiful? Not to them: “To the average American, this just doesn't compare to the best of the Germans and Italians, and even, I daresay, the domestics.” Edmunds concludes “the angular exterior styling isn't for everyone—but then, when a $70,000 car can get you to 60 mph faster than any Ferrari or Lamborghini currently in production, does it really matter how it looks?”

Inside, the GT-R has more conventional appeal. A cockpit-themed interior wraps the major controls around the driver, while three passengers sit in a relatively plain cabin. Edmunds calls the interior “somber but appropriately driver-centric.” Popular Mechanics is somewhat distracted by “more switches, displays, gadgets and gizmos than you could ever imagine,” while Car and Driver observes it’s “graced with the same electric, futuristic feel of the film Blade Runner that pervades all of Tokyo.”

Though many of the Web reviews researched by TheCarConnection.com compare the GT-R to much more expensive and exotic cars, the styling score here acknowledges the GT-R’s unique, daring look—and likens it to its price competitors in the $70,000 range, including the Chevrolet Corvette and Porsche 911.

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2009 Nissan GT-R

Performance

The 2009 Nissan GT-R delivers shattering performance, with a bit less driving brio than its German and Italian competition.

The 2009 Nissan GT-R delivers the kind of supercar performance that stuns enthusiast magazines and consumer auto Web sites alike—at a price point that’s at least half of its true competitors. In the words of Edmunds, “The 2009 Nissan GT-R delivers true supercar performance in a user-friendly package for less coin than a base Porsche 911.”

The heart of the GT-R’s shocking performance is a V-6 engine that’s been twin-turbocharged and massaged into a near-ecstatic state. From a 3.8-liter twin-turbo six-cylinder, Nissan extracts a claimed 473 horsepower and 434 pound-feet of torque—close to the intended benchmark, the “mighty Porsche 997-series 911 Turbo,” Edmunds reports. It’s a hand-assembled engine, Popular Mechanics says, that’s also the “most powerful production engine Nissan has ever built.”

Coupled to a six-speed, dual-clutch automated manual transmission and all-wheel drive, the GT-R is capable of astonishing acceleration times. How about a cornea-peeling “3.2-second zero-to-60 mph time,” as Motor Trend records? Edmunds reports the GT-R “teleported to 60 mph in a drama-free 3.3 seconds, thanks to its launch control function, and turned in a blistering 11.6-second quarter-mile at nearly 121 mph.” Both times seem awfully fast against the GT-R’s claimed power and weight figures—indeed, when “Motor Trend's resident skeptic Frank Markus, puzzled that the GT-R was outperforming lighter and more powerful cars like the Porsche 911 Turbo, recently put a GT-R on a borrowed dynamometer,” the Los Angeles Times states, “he concluded the engine is producing at least 507 hp and likely a lot more.” No matter the power, Motor Trend attests, the GT-R “ties our best runs in a Porsche 911 Turbo and a 911 GT3-R, and trails only the Ferrari Enzo (3.1 sec) and Bugatti Veyron (2.7 sec) among production test cars,” making it a “Ferrari killer” in the eyes of the L.A. Times.

More on that special transmission and launch-control feature: The Times reports the launch-control system “allows the mother of all torque-brake takeoffs: There's a brief moan as the highly excited gear packs sluice torque fore and aft, but there's no drama, no wheel spin, no choking incense of clutch. The GT-R simply begins moving like some pneumatically powered experiment in a physics lab.” Car and Driver explains how to access the program: “Flip the transmission switch into 'R' mode. Flick the suspension into the firm 'R' setting. Turn off the stability and traction control. Almost ready for flight. Put the transmission into manual mode, left foot on the brake, right foot on the gas. Get it right, and the GT-R spools up to 4400 rpm and dumps the clutch when the brake is released.” The combination of transmission and all-wheel drive means the GT-R is up to the brutal task of launching all that power; the transmission, Edmunds says, “ranks right up there with the best in the business,” and Popular Mechanics points out it’s “hand built too,” and “mounted in the rear of the car with the transfer case.” Edmunds adds, though, “as good as the GT-R's exclusive clutchless manual is, you can still shift many competing models the old-fashioned way if you want, and we wish the same were true of the GT-R.”

The GT-R’s handling is rendered dramatically stable by its all-wheel-drive system, which “Nissan calls ATTESA E-TS,” Popular Mechanics reports. “Though the AWD system has a rearward torque bias, up to 50-percent of the torque can be sent through the computer controlled center differential to the front wheels. How much torque depends on speed, lateral and transverse acceleration, steering angles, tire slippage and yaw rate.” MSN Autos proclaims the system gives drivers huge doses of confidence: “At prudent highway speeds drivers feel a level of control and overall balance that is no doubt an attribute of the high-tech all-wheel-drive system. Even under full-throttle acceleration at low speeds there is never more than a hint of slip before the GT-R hooks up and rockets forward.”

Handling is also aided by adjustable electronics that control the shift quality, suspension firmness, and steering response in the GT-R. Three switches allow drivers to fiddle with settings: “One controls the suspension, another adjusts how quickly the transmission shifts and the last determines the intrusiveness of the VDC-R stability control,” Popular Mechanics observes. “R” mode “is the most aggressive setting possible, short of turning the stability control off,” they add. There is a “perceptible difference between the 'R' and 'Comfort' suspension settings,” they note, while Edmunds reports “as capable as the GT-R is at the racetrack, it nonetheless manages to be bearable on the street, even if no one will mistake it for a luxury coupe…although the GT-R's ride is never less than stiff, the suspension settings can be fiddled with so pavement imperfections need not be treated like land mines.” MSN Autos says the GT-R’s “steering is very direct with a level of feedback rarely found in even today’s best high-performance offerings, keeping the driver in control and informed about what the car is doing. The same holds true for the brakes, with a solid and direct pedal connecting the driver to the massive Brembo calipers,” while Cars.com feels “this car rides impossibly smoothly.”

A small minority of reviewers ignores its world-class capabilities and labels the GT-R as emotionless. The Los Angeles Times calls it “Godzilla on Prozac” and says it’s “not all that exciting to drive”; Cars.com also feels “it’s not engaging to drive in day-to-day circumstances.” However, nearly all reviewers are flattened by the GT-R’s performance. “This is a nearly foolproof chassis with supernatural balance,” Car and Driver declares. “It makes any driver seem smoother and faster.” On the challenging Nurburgring racetrack in Germany, the awesomely capable “GT-R lapped the Nurburgring in 7 minutes 38 seconds with a pro driver in partially wet conditions,” Popular Mechanics points out. “That’s quicker than anything this side of a Porsche’s now discontinued, nearly half-million dollar Carerra GT.”

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2009 Nissan GT-R

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Nissan GT-R has more seats and room than expected from supercars, with good fit and passable finish.

It’s no plush luxury coupe, nor is it an exotically trimmed supercar like those from Maranello or Sant’Agata, but the 2009 Nissan GT-R outshines other blistering performance machines with a tightly fitted cabin and four actual seats for adults.

Few reviewers spend much time considering the GT-R’s interior accommodations and its fit and finish, but a few, such as Edmunds, note how its “snug sport buckets and a high center console envelop the driver and front passenger.” “The seats held me in place on the track but weren't too restrictive in normal driving,” attests Cars.com. Edmunds adds, “Ingress and egress—for the front passengers, at least—is a piece of cake by exotic-car standards.”

In back, “rear passengers won't complain as long as their legs aren't long enough to dangle off the seat cushions—which is to say, as long as they're under the age of 3,” Edmunds reports, while Cars.com advises “the backseat isn't for grownups, but it's a backseat, and that's not something you'll find in your average supercar.”

Overall quality of materials is ordinary by some supercar standards, but at Nissan’s bargain price tag of under $80,000, some concessions are acceptable.

“The materials are mostly decent quality, but no one's very keen about the carpet on the inner door panels. Maybe because it's really carpet—the same stuff that's on the floor,” Cars.com observes. The Los Angeles Times says “the car is built like the freakin' Yamato. I mean, it's solid,” while Cars.com also points out the details that go into engineering a car with such high performance levels: “the wheels have a knurled bead to keep them from spinning in the tires.”

The aural sensation of driving the GT-R is distinctly different from that of other supercars, too. “I like the exhaust note under heavy acceleration, but this is no horizontally opposed engine or rumbly V-8 or V-12. Out on the town, it's pretty tame,” Cars.com’s reviewer observes. Car and Driver notes “excessive road noise” and “interior creaks” in their example.

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2009 Nissan GT-R

Safety

The 2009 Nissan GT-R offers a host of safety devices (in Premium models), but there are no crash-test results.

The 2009 Nissan GT-R offers a host of standard safety gear—at least in its premium version—but as yet, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has had the heart to crash-test one of the rare supercars.

The GT-R does come with a stock list of safety gear to protect occupants from injury. “Standard safety features on the 2009 Nissan GT-R include massive Brembo brakes with antilock capability, stability control and traction control,” Edmunds reports, adding “front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are standard on GT-R Premiums but unavailable on the base model.” Likely, this is to accommodate owners who will only use their cars on the track.

The Los Angeles Times notes that the GT-R’s stability systems can be shut off for track driving. “You can turn off stability control, but it's plain the car's dynamics have been developed with the system ciphering away in the background. Which is to say, the car's faster around a racetrack with stability control on.”

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2009 Nissan GT-R

Features

The 2009 Nissan GT-R Premium is stacked with luxury features—and some fun toys for the road-and-track crowd.

The 2009 Nissan GT-R fleshes out its supercar credentials with features that play up its track abilities—and some that make casual driving sessions a bit more enjoyable.

The GT-R comes in two different versions, Base and Premium, which differ only in equipment and options. The base version, Edmunds says, “comes standard with 20-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, Brembo brakes, a rear spoiler, an electronically adjustable suspension, leather upholstery, power front seats, aluminum-trimmed pedals, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, Bluetooth, keyless entry/start, automatic climate control, a six-speaker sound system, XM Satellite Radio, a multifunction driver-configurable information monitor, an in-dash Compact Flash card reader and a navigation system with a 30-gigabyte hard drive, 9.4 gigabytes of which can be used for audio storage."

The Premium version, they report, “adds higher-performance tires, an 11-speaker Bose audio system with two subwoofers, heated front seats, front passenger side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Notably, side and side curtain airbags are not available on the base model.” In Premium form, the GT-R is better equipped than nearly every supercar researched by TheCarConnection.com.

The GT-R’s navigation and gauges deserve special notice. A “must-see feature,” according to Cars.com, the navigation screen hosts “a total of 11 screens” that “give more information than I've ever seen in a production car, starting with the mundane oil temperature and pressure, turbo boost gauge and fuel economy, and ranging up to steering angle, acceleration and braking in percent, AWD torque distribution, and lateral, acceleration and braking g-force.” The GT-R’s display allows users to customize those screens; Nissan wisely hired the designers (Polyphony Digital) who worked on the Sony PlayStation's Gran Turismo game to design the interface, they add.

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