ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: The first thing you notice when you slide into the 2014 Nissan GT-R Track Edition and press the ignition button isn't the exhaust note -- if you want a reassuring snarl and roar on startup, you're better off buying a Chevy Camaro or two or maybe something Mercedes-Benz AMG.
No, it's the infotainment system that jumps out at you, at least if you're familiar with Nissan's lineup -- the GT-R features the same screen setup that we all stared at in our long-term Quest. Of course, the GT-R's system is capable of displaying braking force, steering angle, throttle percentage, boost, oil temperature, etc., but it's still a hilarious reminder that the same company that builds the GT-R cranks out other heart-pounding performance machines like a CVT-equipped minivan and the bare-bones Versa.
That's about the only thing hilarious about the GT-R, though.
Actually, I take that back: It's hilarious to hand someone the keys to the 545 hp, AWD monster that journalists and enthusiasts alike can't seem to stop calling “Godzilla” and expect the power those keys represent to be used for good, not evil. The urge to flip all available switches to “R” mode, stomp on the accelerator and allow myself to be boosted into license-confiscation territory was almost -- almost -- impossible to resist.
I had to wait until an errand took me to an industrial park, deserted after hours, to get a tiny hint of what the GT-R was capable of (0-60 in a surreal 2.7 seconds, for starters). It's certainly more capable of going fast, whether in a straight line or around a corner, than I am. Than the vast majority of people are.
At speed, concerns about exhaust note fade into the background -- a background that, incidentally, remains full of mechanical whirrs and clicks even as the engine emits its higher-rpm roar. As far as I can tell the rear transaxle is responsible for a lot of the racket (a transaxle on an AWD car? What a strange beast).
The downsides? It's all relative, but relentless price hikes seem to be steadily eroding the incredible value proposition that this car represents. It's still an absolute bargain at under $120K. The dual-clutch transmission does listen to driver input, but it seems to think it knows best when to permit an upshift or, especially, a downshift -- dual-clutch German cars feel quicker and crisper on this front (though I'm sure the differences can be measured in fractions of a second).
Beyond that it's not really a raw, emotional sports car; from the sound to the styling to the engineering that makes its feats of performance possible, it evokes admiration more than lust. And as with any car boasting supercar performance, you're only ever going to be able to tap a small fraction of its potential unless you happen to live on a racetrack.
But those all seem pretty minor compared to the upsides. For certain people, the GT-R hits all the right buttons, inspiring the kind of passion you'd only expect to find amongst the Ferraristi. Case in point: Two high-school guys stopped to gawk at the car just sitting in my driveway. One pelted me with questions despite knowing more about the car off the top of his head than I did. They begged me to take them for a ride around the block and then completely geeked out when I agreed.
I'm pretty sure those few minutes made their evening, and it was totally rad to find that kind of unbridled enthusiasm coming from an age group that, we're repeatedly told, couldn't care less about anything that burns gasoline.
Anyway, the GT-R is just that kind of car. I started looking at used GT-R prices immediately after turning in the keys…and it turns out that they're holding their value surprisingly well. Status-seekers may not know the GT-R from Adam (or Altima, as it were) but enthusiasts can't seem to get enough of 'em: they're holding their value better than comparable Porsches.
ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: Another year of the GT-R and not surprisingly Nissan engineers once again tinkered with it. For 2014, they've made the twin-turbocharged V6 more responsive between 4,500 and 6,000 rpm with new fuel injectors and added a new oil pan baffle to stabilize the oil that “reduces rotational friction, which contributes to the increased responsiveness,” according to Nissan. OK, that's fine and dandy, but it's not a groundbreaking improvement by any means. Instead this is yet another example of Nissan's tireless efforts with each passing year to push the boundaries of its legendary Japanese supercar even if it's just ever so slightly. And that's something I respect, but it would drive me bonkers if I were plunking down money on a GT-R of my own (which I'm definitely not in a position to do) because I would be nervous about how much better it would get next year.
Anyway, back to this special GT-R Track Edition we have. It's the most exclusive GT-R Nissan has offered in the U.S. to date, with only 150 examples coming here. Setting it apart is an exclusive suspension with specific Bilstein DampTronic shocks, stiffer springs, improved brake cooling ducts, and a front lip spoiler with integrated carbon-fiber air ducts. From the Black Edition, there's a carbon-fiber rear spoiler.
Inside, the rear seats have been removed in the name of weight savings, and the seats get grippy fabric inserts to better keep occupants in place.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it out to a track to play with this GT-R Track Edition, which bums me out, but it was still a ball on the decent roads I frequent when I have something interesting to drive. Of course, the GT-R is more car than any public road around here in Michigan can handle and it was unfazed by anything it came across. It's incredible shooting around and complies with any commands you throw at it. For a car that's not exactly small dimensionally and almost weighs 3,800 pounds, it behaves like a smaller and lighter car.
There are many car writers who complain about the GT-R feeling too much like a video game with all the computers and sensors taking steering angle readers and throttle position to adjust the car's behavior accordingly. It's true that the GT-R experience is different and isn't as tactile as a lot of sports cars out there, but instead it's exhilarating in its own way. Throw it into a corner hard and it will initially understeer briefly before all the computers go to work and route power to the appropriate wheels to suck you into the apex. It's almost too easy. It will make you look like you know what you are doing behind the wheel even if that's not necessarily the case.
Steering is direct and communicative, and offers a fair amount of weight tuned in. The suspension keeps the body tied down with minimal roll and virtually no dive under braking, it seems. The Brembo carbon ceramic brakes are always there to slow things down with ease with a firm and confidence-inspiring pedal under foot.
The twin-turbo V6 is a hammer and pulls wildly throughout the tach. It doesn't have a great exhaust note, but you can't argue with its output. As for the dual-clutch gearbox, it's a great piece with seamless shifts when you idle around the city driving normally, and is quick and efficient going through the gears when you opt to manually select gears yourself during more enthusiastic affairs. I couldn't speak highly of the transmission early on because it was horrendous when this generation GT-R landed, requiring you to lift off the throttle during gear changes to make it even remotely smooth. Today, you just need to keep your foot buried and it's all good.
I'm not about to say I could tell you how big of a difference the Track Edition equipment makes on the street. That would require back-to-back drives of it and a base model GT-R to see and even then I don't think it would be that drastic of a difference.
What I can tell you is that I like the fabric seat inserts that do a better job of clinging onto you in corners and not having the backseats was a bummer when I had to give a ride to a couple of friends. One of them was perfectly fine up front and the other was a little less comfortable scrunched up in one of the cargo shelf dips in the rear.
Still, I adore the GT-R. Call it a video game if you want, but I've bombed around racetracks in them before and have had plenty of late night excursions with them over the years and the experience behind the wheel is like nothing I've ever felt holding a Sony Playstation controller in my living room. Needless to say, I am and always will be a player of this car.
2014 Nissan GT-R Track Edition
Base Price: $116,710
As-Tested Price: $116,995
Drivetrain: 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V6; AWD, six-speed dual-clutch sequential manual
Output: 545 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 463 lb-ft @ 3,200-5,800 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,796 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 16/23/19 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 16.1 mpg
Options: GT-R logo floor mats ($285)
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