Notes from the Road, A Personal Automotive History – Issue 18: “… GODZILLA!!!!!!”


Some words carry such weight that they can evoke emotion just by virtue of their appearance on a page.  In the motoring world, GODZILLA is one of these words.  Anyone stumbling across this entry and caring to read it already knows what’s coming and that says it all.  Where Honda aimed for the heavens, reached them, but like Daedalus could not sustain their flight, Nissan aimed higher, achieved escape velocity and tore free from Earths atmosphere.  If the NSX was a rapier sharp challenge to European dominance of elite motoring, the GTR is a battering ram.  Already a legend, albeit a geographically constrained one, as of the R34, the release of the R35 in 2008 turned the Nissan Skyline GTR into a worldwide phenomenon.  Kazutoshi Mizuno made a brilliant decision, in my opinion when, in taking the car global, he chose to establish it as a stand alone model.  No longer an “ultimate edition” of the conservative Skyline (ala the Evolution, STi, etc), the “GTR” was now a brand of its own.  Considering just how enormous the R35 impact turned out to be, it is clear that this was the right move.  Any similarity to the pedestrian Skyline (available in the US as the Infiniti G35) is gone at this point; even the superficial connection having been severed.  With the shortcomings of the Evolution X looming larger than its strong suits in my mind (completely personal bias admittedly), I decided that what I really needed was some sort of Frankenstein fusion of the Evo and the NSX.  A kind of Japanese meta-exotic.  The GTR was made to be that car.  I traded off the Evo, taking a fairly big hit having bought it for $38,000 only 8 months prior and getting $27,000 on trade, and took home this monster:

GODZILLA!!!!!!
GODZILLA!!!!!!

2009.  Super Silver.  19,000 miles.  Gunmetal wheels.  Cold package.  67 grand.  She was a one owner and was actually the first GTR to be delivered in Pennsylvania to a fellow old guy like myself.  He had driven her for 3 years and then felt the strong pull back to Porsche and had to move on.  His loss (such as it is… moving into a 911 GTS isn’t exactly a “loss”), was my gain.  Leading up to the purchase I had done a ton of research spending countless hours on NAGTROC and, riding high on a mod frenzy from the Evo, had bought a Cobb Accessport (with TCU support) and uploaded the tune at pickup.  During the test drive I had noticed that the 2010 LC2 transmission software (the farthest you can go with an 09 using officially supported dealer installed software), was still too clunky for my tastes and featured too many of the “dual clutch features” too prominently.  From what I had learned, the latest versions of the TCU software present on the 2012 models (LC4), had created what was possibly the best possible dual clutch setup on the market.  More than even the power, tuning the transmission is what I was after.  So as it turns out I pretty much never drovebone stock 09.  Most of my impressions below as it relates to power and performance are going to be based on the latest version of the Cobb Accessport GTR software.

Build Quality, Design and Ergonomics

Where the Evo disappoints in build quality, the GTR pleasantly surprises.  It comes far closer to its European rivals than I thought it would and is what I’d imagine an updated NSX might be.  Oddly enough it isn’t quite the equivalent of the best of Infiniti in terms of materials quality and cabin design, but it is superior to any other Nissan.  Some of the design choices are odd (the strangely plain central console trim for example), and I would have liked to see an interior closer to the German rivals, or even closer to the higher end Infiniti’s, but sacrifices have to be made somewhere to get this kind of performance at this price point and the Nissan certainly cuts fewer corners than the Corvette.  Like the Evo, the seats are a Recaro design but unlike the Evo, they are plush, power and fully adjustable.  The GTR seats are about as good as luxury sport seats can get and I rank them right up there with Porsche and BMW.  The ergonomics are also excellent and it is clear that the GTR is a drivers car in every way.  The driver position and visibility are fantastic and the controls for the absolutely awesome central control system LCD are easy and intuitive.  In some ways that system is the star of the interior really.  Basically Nissan has included a full function, customizable, onboard diagnostic system into the entertainment and nav pod.  Boost, transmission action and efficiency, detailed fuel system metrics and a plethora of other options can all be monitored graphically in real-time.  I will forever miss this system since I doubt I will see it’s like on any other car as a standard feature (similar systems are available aftermarket but nothing beats OEM integration in my opinion).  The nav unit and entertainment system were also excellent and sound was surprisingly good considering the tight interior (room for 4, but similar to a 911).    Everything in the cabin was well put together and tight with few rattles or vibrations to speak of.  In a car as complex as this one, loaded with technical gadgets, it is a nice touch when all of the controls are in reach and intuitive.  I found the Nissan approach to complex controls like adjustable AWD, suspension and dual clutch transmission better than Mitsubishis.  Nissan presents these controls through 3 toggle switches on the center console that can be shifted from normal to comfort to “race” (normal being the default setting).  Outside, the design is aggressive and masculine.  Some love it, some hate it.  I will say that it looks much better in person and that the car grows on you.  If there was one thing I didn’t like about the GTR is that the car feels big to me.  That intimate driving experience that I value so highly, and was present in all of my prior favorites from the NSX to the 3 series to the 911 and even the Evo, was gone in the GTR.  As phenomenal as it is at everything it never really loses that big heavy feel.  It isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all, and it certainly doesn’t get in the way of driver enjoyment or impact real world performance, but for me it is a big deal.

Driving Impressions

What can I say here… I am pretty sure I will never own a car this absolutely quick again.  Even tuned to the max, there is still some of that dual-clutch lag at certain points and occasionally off the line if you catch it wrong, but physics sort of prevent that from ever being dialed out entirely.  As dual-clutch transmissions go, it is true that really none can match the 2012 GTRs blend of streetability and absolute performance.  You’ll never mistake it for an auto, but you are less likely to curse it as well.  I have heard that Porsche PDK is fantastic also, but I have not experienced that transmission first hand.  With the Cobb 17 PSI map pushing the car to nearly 600HP, the numbers were staggering.  Without launch control I recorded a 3.02s run to 60 just flooring the car on the street.  I am absolutely sure that under the right conditions, an ideal run would bring that number to the low 2’s.  On a quarter mile run test I had done on a country back road I managed to pull an 11.2 at 124MPH as measured by the Cobb.  These are just ludicrous numbers.  The GTR, especially tuned, really is in just a whole different dimension of performance.  Given a long onramp it is very easy to sail to well into the triple figures without realizing it.  Many times after a casual glance I would realize that I was in arrest and seizure territory, but you would never know it from inside the cabin.  The GTR is capable of hitting 100+ MPH so quickly and so smoothly you can actually fail to notice it.  When it comes time to stop, it does that perfectly as well with incredible brake feel, almost no fade, and massive stopping power.  Cornering, the AWD system, all of it works supremely well.  It is a car with technically almost no flaws.  So in the last entry I made the controversial statement that I felt that the Evolution X was the car I felt most comfortable going fast in and here is why…  In some ways, the GTR almost has too much power.  Even with the telepathic AWD system, you have to watch yourself going hot into a corner.  The car also is very very heavy (3800+ lbs) and as impressively as it can fight physics, at some point they do forcibly intrude. There are certain quiet mountain twisties where I like to unwind on a quiet Sunday morning and I found that, in the Evo, I was much more comfortable carrying more speed through those than I ever was in the GTR.  Take that for what it is worth, and I am sure that for a professional driver things would be different, but those are my observations from real ownership.  Day to day in the street though, it was no contest.  The combination of ridiculous power on tap, Nissans masterful tuning of the dual clutch, and the overwhelming torque meant that the GTR both felt much faster and absolutely was much faster than the 400HP modded evo.  Much faster.

Issues

No issues at all.  Just regular service.  In some ways though, regular service is an issue.  Similar to the NSX, it is not easy to get a GTR serviced.  You need to get intimate with the community and learn the landscape of local Nissan dealers.  You need to find the certified techs, and then find the good certified techs.  You do not walk blindly into a Nissan dealer with a GTR.  That part can really become a pain.  I am fortunate that my local Nissan dealer, while mediocre in every other way, has a fantastic GTR tech (shout out to Doug at Rothrock!)  GTR service is a bit expensive, but not by any European standard.  The problem is that many come to the GTR from a history of cars like the Evo rather than cars like the 911.  Compared to an Evo it breaks the bank, but compared to a 911 you’re saving money.  The trans fluid change is probably the biggest expense and that is a couple of grand once every few years.  Brakes can be a hit as well, but no worse than any other Brembo setup.  I did front and rears on the Evo and that ran me $2500.  Brembos are Brembos.  On the mod front, as discussed I did the Cobb Accessport ($1500) and I also added a 2012 carbon fiber overlay to the center console bezel to mimic the look of the newer cars.  It adds just a bit of personality and it is OEM so I decided it was reasonable.

Conclusion

So why did I sell the GTR?  How could I sell Godzilla?  And what could I possibly trade it for?  The answer to these questions is really very personal.  It was a combination of factors really.  One was that I really didn’t like having that much money tied up in one car and then having to use that car as my primary transportation (remember, we had returned to just a “his/hers” setup by this point).  Also, we were missing having some sort of utility vehicle.  A sports sedan and an exotic supercar was an odd combo for a middle aged couple with a kid to have.  It seemed we needed some kind of truck, minivan (ack!) or SUV, but the budget really didn’t allow me to have  a really high dollar car like the GTR and a 3rd car.  Another factor was the fact that I am not an absolute speed junky.  I am really more about the overall feel and experience of the car.  It was hard for me to get past that lack of intimacy I felt because of the size and weight of the GTR.  Also, the entire thing just struck me as a bit less visceral than the Evo, NSX or 911.  It was so good that it was maybe a bit too good.  It’s not that it “lacks soul”, as some like to say, but it is more that the cars “soul” is in making everything really neutral.  It’s not what I would call a particularly “quirky” or “communicative” car.  It is a razor precise car.  It is an incomprehensibly powerful and capable car.  But it is almost like a racing appliance.  Anyone who reads this and either things “huh?” or reads it and thinks “F that!” would almost certainly find the GTR the last car they’d ever need to own.  Anyone who reads this and says “I think I get it…” will almost certainly see what I mean if they drove it.  The last thing that made me decide to move on was the sheer volume of attention this car attracts.  And the amazing thing was all of ti was good.  I had thought the NSX was a parade float, but the GTR makes the NSX look like a Kia Sedona!  Everywhere you go people stop you, take pictures, honk, wave and chase you down.  Driving the GTR around is the closest a normal person can come to feeling like a celebrity and, you know what?  I understand why celebrities sometimes bitch and want to run and hide!  In the end the GTR is a titanic automotive achievement in every way.  I am glad they built it.  I am thrilled it continues to exist.  I am privileged, awed, and honored to have been able to own it.  I am ecstatic that I drove it for the time I did.  But in the end, I don’t really miss it which is something that surprised me honestly.

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