Selling almost 44,000 units in its 5-year run, the ’89 GT-R was an unexpected smashing success. In spite of its prestige, the ’89 GT-R it does not turn heads; its humble aesthetics evoked a Nissan 240SX more than a supercar, but has aged well. Inside, the dash was a sea of hard plastic and its flimsy HVAC vents were be prone to cracking over time. The interior also raided the parts bins of other models; the map light looked identical to an ‘89 Maxima. On the plus side, all those shared parts meant the cost of replacing them was much less expensive. Good luck getting 2012 GT-R parts on the cheap.
There was a taut simplicity and beauty to the ’89 GT-R that showed it was a dedicated sports car—with no unnecessary fluff or any pretense of luxury.
In contrast, the 2012 GT-R’s interior attempts to straddle the line between luxury and sporty, never quite succeeding with either. The chunky dash looks almost truck-like, in spite of the new carbon fiber dash accents.
The old R32 GT-R was also trimmer in size. Tipping the scales at around 3,150 lbs, it’s a featherweight compared to the gargantuan 2012 GT-R, which weighs 20 percent more at a hefty 3,800 lbs. Sit in a new Nissan GT-R and you feel like you’re maneuvering a barge compared to the ‘89 GT-R. It doesn’t help that the new GT-R beeps like a cargo van when in reverse.
And while the ’89 GT-R uses ATTESA AWD like the current GT-R, its predecessor felt more raw. Rev the old Nissan’s venerable RB26DETT engine and you were treated to an aggressive, almost muscle-car growl. By comparison, the raspy VR38DETT engine sounds like a Dyson vacuum. Sure, an Aston Martin V12 Vantage or Ferrari 458 Italia may not have the brute speed of a GT-R, but they don’t sound like an appliance when revving, either. It’s odd that even the older and slower VQ engine from Nissan sounds livelier. And, performance superiority aside, you’re inevitably more detached from the drive with a dual-clutch as opposed to a manual transmission.
But where the new GT-R really takes an about-face from the old is price. In 1989, the Skyline GT-R started at around $32,000. Factoring in inflation, that’s about $55,000 today, which is in range of the base C6 Corvette. The new R35 Nissan GT-R started off with a price tag of $77,000 in 2008, and has crept upwards continually, now starting at $89,950.
The sticker price alone means the GT-R is no longer a car for “anyone.” Rumors abound that Nissan took a loss on every 1989-1994 R32 Skyline GT-R sold (a stronger yen now doesn’t help, either), but regardless, the GT-R is no longer a car within the reach of the masses, even if it still has outstanding bang-for-buck performance.
Combine the high starting price, funky exterior styling (that personally strikes me as a cyborg catfish), unsatisfying aural accompaniment to the engine, and you have a car that alienates even more prospective buyers. Sales may reflect that; Nissan sold 1,730 units of the GT-R in 2008—a decent figure given the low-volume of the car and the fact that its engines are hand-built. But sales have been tapering, dropping to 1,534 units in 2009 and just 877 in 2010.
How can a sports car that has so much performance value and engineering ingenuity underdeliver? Because in the end, how fast a car laps a track doesn’t always move buyers. And maybe that’s the Achilles’ heel with the GT-R: what looks great on paper—and in a video game—won’t always pull on the heart strings in real life.
Nissan GT-R Facts and Figures
| Sports car|
| Capacity|| Four passengers|
| Engine|| V6 DOHC twin-turbo |
| Transmission|| 6-speed semi-automatic dual clutch transmission|
| Power|| 530 hp|
| Torque || 448 lb-ft|
| Top speed|| 197 mph|
| Zero to 60 mph|| 2.9 seconds|
| Mileage|| 16/23 mpg|
| Base price (incl destination charges)|| $89,950|
| Remarkable features|| Has a slippery 0.26 coefficient of drag|
Editorial disclosure: Nissan provided a test car for a week with a full tank of gas.