In July, the Nissan GT-R supercar starts its third year for sale in the United States. But many Americans still haven't seen one on the road.
The reason: The limited number of sleek, twin-turbocharged GT-Rs available for sale. Only about 3,600 have been delivered from the Japanese factory to eager U.S. customers since sales started in July 2008.
Even if Nissan isn't ramping up shipments, it is ramping up prices and continuing to upgrade its most exclusive model.
The 2010 GT-R, for example, has five more horsepower than the original, 2009 model, for a total of 485. This is from a V-6, not a V-8.
The 2010 coupe also has a revised race car-like suspension, new wheels, improved brakes, standard curtain air bags and new control module programming for the six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $81,790 for a base, 2010 GT-R. This is up from the $77,840 starting retail price for a base, 2009 GT-R. Nissan has already announced that the starting price for the 2011 GT-R will be higher -- $85,060, including destination charge.
2010 Nissan GT-R Premium
- BASE PRICE: $80,790 for base model; $83,040 for Premium model.
- AS TESTED: $87,320.
- TYPE: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, four-passenger, subcompact coupe.
- ENGINE: 3.8-liter, double overhead cam, twin-turbocharged V-6.
- MILEAGE: 16 mpg (city), 21 mpg (highway).
- TOP SPEED: 193 mph.
- LENGTH: 183.1 inches.
- WHEELBASE: 109.4 inches.
- CURB WEIGHT: 3,829 pounds.
- BUILT AT: Japan.
- OPTIONS: Super Silver Tri-Coat Metallic exterior paint $3,000; carpeted GT-R floormats $280.
- DESTINATION CHARGE: $1,000.
Unlike some other high-performance cars, the all-wheel drive GT-R does not incur a federal gas guzzler tax. With a federal fuel economy rating of 16 miles per gallon in city driving and 21 mpg on the highway, the sporty GT-R, which has two small seats in back, gets mileage comparable to that of some sport utility vehicles, including the Ford Flex with V-6.
And while it's difficult to describe $80,000-plus as a bargain, the GT-R has a lower starting price than some competitors. For example, Audi's 2010 R8 coupe, with 420 horsepower and all-wheel drive, starts at $117,500, while a 2010 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 Coupe, with 345 horsepower and all-wheel drive, starts at $85,050.
The successor to Nissan's Skyline GT-R performance car that was never sold in the United States, the current GT-R -- without Skyline in the name -- remains a potent driving experience.
Even after a hard day in the office, I couldn't help but be perked up and excited for the drive home in the GT-R. The deep, wonderful engine sounds, with the transmission in second gear as the car wound down to the exit of a concrete parking garage, set off the car alarms on four vehicles. I never had that happen before.
Once on the street and in the clear, the GT-R begged to go fast, and I changed my usual go-home route to add in some highway time.
Such detail is given the 3.8-liter, double overhead cam, twin-turbo V-6, it's hand-assembled in a "clean room," like those used for computer chips. Mated to the special transmission, the GT-R powerplant is relentless in its power delivery. On straightaways, there was just more, more, more power coming on and pushing my back into the seatback.
Torque peaks at 434 foot-pounds at 3,200 rpm, and the new programming in the transmission control electronics seems to have ameliorated the jerky shifts in low gears that I noticed in the 2009 car.
Sure, sitting low to the pavement in the GT-R, I couldn't see much but bumpers of the vans, pickup trucks and SUVs in front of me. And I kept a close eye on the speedometer.
But all I needed was an opening in traffic, and the GT-R went directly, with race-car precision and force, to where I steered. In seconds, the GT-R was occupying the space comfortably and responding to my pullback on the accelerator so the car settled down quickly with the traffic flow.
I had wondered if the "awe" factor of this performance car was waning, now that its much-celebrated debut is two years past. But the GT-R still has what it takes to delight drivers, even if Nissan saw fit to tame its launch control feature that could set the 2009 GT-R rocketing from standstill to 60 miles an hour in just over 3 seconds.
The problem: Some GT-R owners damaged the transmission while using launch control, and Nissan started getting warranty claims. So, the 2010 GT-R, even with more horsepower, takes a couple more tenths of a second to go from 0 to 60 mph.
The interior is noisy, though, as road sounds come through readily from the big, 20-inch, low-profile, performance tires. I had to talk louder in this car to carry on a conversation than I do in most other vehicles, and the loud thump of the tires rolling over expansion cracks on concrete roads was wearying.
The ride also is quite stiff, and passengers feel vibrations and road bumps readily, even with the revised suspension tuning and the suspension set in the "comfort" mode.
The back seats are cramped, with just 26.4 inches of legroom, and cargo space is a sports coupe-like 8.8 cubic feet.
Brakes have 15-inch Brembo rotors and stop the 3,800-pound GT-R fast.
The GT-R body has a low-hanging front, but it didn't scrape on the entrance to the driveway the way some other sporty cars do.
I wished for a backup camera, though, because it was difficult to see what was behind the GT-R's tall cargo lid as I backed up.
And a driver can get tense when parallel-parking the GT-R. Not wanting to scratch the cool-looking wheels on the curb nor leave the car sticking out in traffic, I spent time carefully adjusting into parking spaces.
And no, I wasn't about to let a valet touch this car.