Nissan unveils new supercar
CEO Carlos Ghosn gives us a sneak peek at his new dream car, the GT-R, on the streets of Tokyo.
(Fortune) -- "You can't plan your life, because if you do, it will be too narrow," shouted Carlos Ghosn over the bellowing baritone of a twin-turbo V-6.
We were tearing around Tokyo on an unseasonably warm and sunny winter morning in Ghosn's personal chariot, the first production GT-R, Nissan's new supercar.
Ghosn (or Sir Carlos, since his knighthood in 2006) was no doubt referring to his unprecedented turn as dual CEO of Renault and Nissan, but he might as well have been speaking about the GT-R itself, a car he wanted to prioritize but couldn't when he first took the helm at the No. 3 Japanese carmaker in 1999.
Instead, the latest iteration of this iconic performance car (the first GT-R surfaced in 1969, the most recent in 2001) had to marinate in his mind while he revived the company's bread and butter: compact cars, SUVs, and crossovers. Even the relaunch of the Z sports car had to come first.
In the end it took nearly a decade and more than a few bumps along the development road to create the $70,000 four-seater GT-R, a bullet that will go on sale in the United States in June. Ghosn insisted that the car be created from the ground up in order to be unique in the crowded high-end sports car segment.
The other bars he set for the project were equally lofty. First, the GT-R had to match or beat the performance of Porsche's 911 Turbo, a $126,200 heat-seeking missile. The engineering team took the target so seriously that 30 of them set up shop at Germany's famous 14-mile Nordschleife loop at the Nürburgring for six months of testing.
Second, the development budget was, to be kind, hamstrung: "Great engineering is about being frugal - it's easy to make great cars with a lot of resources," Ghosn told me (though he wouldn't disclose a figure). Condition No. 3: Ghosn wanted a car that owners could drive every day.
"A supercar should not be punishment," he explained. "When it rains, when it snows, when you want to go shopping, you should not have to choose another car." And lest you think Nissan is shirking its environmental responsibility with such a hot rod, he also insisted that the car meet tough Japanese emissions standards, making it one of the cleanest supercars available.
Was he successful? Climbing in, I initially had mixed feelings. At first glance, the interior wasn't awash in the fancy leathers and hand-honed touches that you'd find in a European sports car. And yet the GT-R fit me like a glove.
The seat hugged snugly, and the controls wrapped around and tilted toward me, all set at the same level to minimize the need for extraneous head movement. I could select 11 real-time performance readouts on the center display, from cornering and braking g-force to turbo-boost pressure - the ultimate videogame come to life.
With all that race-ready technology aimed at me, I had the impression that the car was staring into my eyes to make sure we were on the same page before blastoff. The last decision before launch: Three toggles lie behind the chunky old-school shifter, marked "normal," "comfort," and "R"- a performance option that I'm sure stands for "rock your world." (The GT-R also has a smooth automatic mode and a paddle-shift manual mode for screaming. It's an automotive Sybil!)
I selected the red "R" (duh) and took off, heading straight to the loop around the Imperial Palace. As I wove through traffic, I felt a growing sense of awe: At stoplights I was able to strangle the throttle; the car never squealed but instead lightning-launched into jet mode with no turbo lag. When I backed off, the GT-R gracefully settled down.
Such a vehicle touts performance, sure, but ultimately is more than the sum of its highly engineered parts. Very few cars I've driven feel so well sorted.
As we parked at the end of our drive, a throng of admirers ten deep collected around Ghosn. One twentysomething Japanese fashionista, whom Ghosn invited to sit in the front passenger seat, actually cried with delight. To my mind, Ghosn has created the product equivalent of himself: laser-precise, seriously powerful, freakishly fast.
Though it's not an automotive image statement like some European supercars, you don't have to mortgage your life to own it, and it stands up to cars three times its cost. Indeed, when the GT-R hits streets this spring, I predict it will prove as popular as its progenitor.