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2009 Nissan GT-R

If you need proof that the virtual has become reality, look no further than the 2009 Nissan GT-R.

Automakers typically introduce a new vehicle during a lavishly produced press conference at one of the major auto shows, flanking it with a bigwig spouting hyperbole. Not so with the 2009 Nissan GT-R. When the super sports car was ready for its close-up, Nissan chose an entirely different platform to unveil it on: PlayStation 3. It made perfect sense.

For decades now, Godzilla, as the GT-R is affectionately known, has been the ne plus ultra terrific fantastic king of Japanese performance cars, but one they've kept to themselves. Aside from a handful of examples that have made their way to our shores — thanks to the efforts of a small group the most determined of car enthusiasts — the model has existed here only through a reputation gleaned from the pages of foreign car magazines, and the pixilated incarnations of it that have appeared in video games.

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Well aware of its target market, Nissan handed the blueprints of the first GT-R headed stateside to game developer Polyphony Digital, which introduced it to the world in conjunction with the launch of the latest version of their driving simulator, “Gran Turismo 5 Prologue.” Disguised only by black masks covering the front and rear bumpers, the car hit the Web a few days before making its real-world debut at the Tokyo Auto show, flanked there by a bigwig spouting hyperbole.

The $76,840 GT-R lives up to that hype, and stands tall among the best that the sports-car world has to offer at a relatively discount price. It's a goal achieved through a mix of technology and, well, mystery.

The GT-R can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in as little as 3.2 seconds and has been seen turning quarter-mile times of 11.5 seconds, which is blistering to say the least. A 190-plus mph top speed is icing on the cake, and all of it is even more impressive considering the car weighs nearly two tons, crushing the scales at 3,836 pounds. That's several hundred pounds heavier than competitors like the Porsche 911 Turbo and Corvette Z06, each of which have significantly more horsepower, or so they say.

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Nissan lists the power of the GT-R's 3.8-liter twin turbocharged V-6 at 480 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque, but when all of the above is taken into account, no one believes them. Independent tests indicate that those figures are short by baker's dozens.

Press the start button, put the GT-R in drive and you are immediately doing 30 mph over the speed limit — whatever that may be. The car is so effortless in the way that it gains momentum that you have to actively try not to drive it illegally all the time.

I found myself leaving the windows down even in wet, 30 degree weather just for the extra reminder of how fast I was going. An automated 6-speed gearbox with dual clutches is largely responsible for the ease in which it does this, but there is so much technology stuffed into this car that it exists for the singular purpose of easy speed.

The all-wheel-drive system is unique, delivering the power from the engine to a rear-mounted transaxle, which in turn sends up to 50 percent of it back to the front wheels through a secondary driveshaft when required. This isn't intended for getting to school on snow days, but purely for performance.

When you shift the transmission into manual mode and engage the GT-R's launch control for sprints of maximum acceleration, it lets you hold down the brake, floor the gas pedal, which spools the engine up to 4,500 rpm, then sidestep the brake.

Even on damp roads the tires spin for maybe a foot before full traction is achieved and the engine is hitting the rev limiter asking for a shift to second gear, which it does the first couple of times you try it because it happens so quickly, with so little drama, that a bit of mental reprogramming is in order before you get the timing right.

From there, you can leave the transmission in manual mode and use the leather trimmed magnesium paddles behind the steering wheel to shift for yourself, or slap the console-mounted lever back into automatic and hang on for the ride. Gear changes are smooth, even under full throttle, without the butt-kicking harshness that some of these systems can dish out.

When left to its own devices, the GT-R always finds the correct gear for any situation. Slowly pull away from a stop and by 30 mph it has already shifted up to sixth gear to maximize fuel economy, resulting in an EPA rating of 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway. Impressive numbers only in the company of other cars offering this sort of performance.

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When confronted with turns, an electronically adjustable suspension works with the traction control and all-wheel drive to keep the GT-R planted like it was on an AFX slot racing track, the cool kind where the cars can drive up walls. You have to subject it to unspeakable atrocities just to make the tires squeal, and if you actually manage to do something so extreme that it causes it to slide, you should be prepared to register as an offender in your community.

Despite its very slippery aerodynamics, a collection of spoilers, diffusers and underbody coverings produce downforce at speed, shoving the car harder into the ground the faster you go. You can practically feel bumps when you drive over painted lines, and every nuance in the road surface is transmitted through the steering wheel to the point where you start saying to the car "OK, OK, I get it, I don’t need to know we just hit a cigarette butt … or do I?”

Unfortunately much of that feedback is thanks to a firm ride that even the "comfort" setting can't do much about. I actually got air while driving the GT-R. No, the car didn't jump off of the ground, but going over a small hump in the road, my backside bounced far enough off of the seat that I could have fit a Stephen King novel under it. On a freshly paved two-lane, the car is a sublime marvel, anywhere else and you had better be ready for a beating, but that's the trade-off for such superb performance. Live with it. I gladly did.

It does try to coddle you, though, with an interior that's on par with the best from Nissan or its luxury brand, Infiniti. The design is on the boxy side, like it’s been to the custom shop for a couple of add-ons over the years, but the leather trim is sharp and the pieces fit together perfectly.

The dominant feature is a multi-functional display on top of the center stack that was programmed, quid pro quo I imagine, by the “Gran Turismo” team. It can be configured to track a number of the GT-R’s parameters, including transmission oil temperature, turbo boost and throttle position. It isn't just a massively entertaining distraction, but also makes it difficult to convince a police officer that you didn't know how fast you were going when you know exactly how much g-force the car was experiencing when you braked to pull over for him.

If Smoky searches the car, he may be surprised to find four people on board, because the GT-R does have rear seats. The buckets are rather large given the lack of head and legroom to go with them, but if you happen to be buddies with Verne Troyer, he can mooch rides all of the time. In fact, don't be surprised if you end up taking him on a long road trip or two.

The specifications say the trunk is just 8.3 cubic feet, but it's wide, flat and more useful than that sounds. Two golf bags will fit, but unless you fill them with a racing suit and fireproof underwear, don't even think about putting them in there.

You can always play Tiger Woods on PS3 when you get home.

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Base Price: $76,840

Type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, 2-door coupe

Engine: 3.8-liter twin turbocharged V-6

Power: 480 horsepower, 430 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic

MPG: 16 city/21 highway

What do you think of the GT-R?

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