2008 BMW M3 vs. 2009 Nissan GT-R vs. 2008 Porsche 911 Turbo

2008 BMW M3 vs. 2009 Nissan GT-R vs. 2008 Porsche 911 Turbo 2008 BMW M3 vs. 2009 Nissan GT-R vs. 2008 Porsche 911 Turbo
Comparison Tests

When the Spanish arrived in the New World some 500 years ago in their enormous wooden sailing ships, it is said the indigenous people standing on the shore literally did not see the great vessels on the horizon because they simply weren’t a part of their world—their visual reality. It took a few days for the wondrous ships to register, to become part of the natives’ visible existence. The story reminds us that reality is limited to what the human senses can perceive and what our neurons can process.

Like those indigenous Americans trying to grasp the new, it took us a several days to get a handle on the 2009 Nissan GT-R, to see it for what it is. We’re still in wonderment over the reality of a 3900-pound coupe that seems to break Newton’s laws. Can this be real—Ferrari performance for $70,000? Is the GT-R a good thing, or is it evil, some kind of postmodern god?

We first came in contact with a Nissan Skyline GTR in 1991. At the time, the quickest car on the road was a Ferrari F40—0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. The car, a gray-market Japanese-spec Skyline GTR tuned to deliver 350 horsepower (up from the standard 276 horsepower), would quickly rearrange the furniture in our heads. Powered by a 2.6-liter, twin-turbo inline-six, it matched the F40’s 0-to-60 time.

We’d have to wait 17 years before another GT-R arrived here. It ripped from 0 to 60 in 3.3 seconds [May 2008]. That equaled the time of the F40’s heir, the ferocious Ferrari Enzo. As to Ferraris currently being built, the GT-R is as quick to 60 mph as the 611-hp 599GTB Fiorano [June 2007] that sells for $280,295.

In ’91 we struggled with how the Skyline GTR would fit into our automotive landscape. But since it was not sold in this country, we spotted something shiny and our interest drifted off. Now it is officially here, and we’re struggling to determine where it fits in, what it competes with, and why the name “Skyline” was dropped but GTR given a hyphen.

When gathering opponents for this comparison, we fell back on a lesson we learned a few years ago: When your automotive bearings are shaken (as the GT-R has the power to do), invite a Porsche 911 to recalibrate. On paper, the closest 911 model to the GT-R, in terms of philosophy, is the 480-hp, all-wheel-drive Turbo, which is why it’s here. Yes, a Porsche Turbo costs nearly twice the asking price of a GT-R, it’s not the staff’s favorite 911 (we’re partial to the naturally aspirated models), and it didn’t win its last comparison-test outing. But the 911 Turbo is indeed the car Nissan put on its performance pedestal, the car to get. So if any car can help us make sense of the GT-R’s place in the world, it’s the 911 Turbo.

To bookend the GT-R, we decided to add a BMW M3 coupe to the mix. Unlike the GT-R and the Turbo, the naturally aspirated M3 lacks turbochargers, and should a Chubby Checker twist competition break out, it would find itself seriously outgunned. Compared with the 505 pound-feet of torque spooled into the 911 Turbo and the 430 pound-feet found in the GT-R, the M3 has a seemingly minuscule 295 pound-feet. The M3 is out of its league in horsepower, too, but it makes up some of this handicap by weighing several hundred pounds less than its brethren. The M3 also has a price advantage: Our test car rang up at $63,600, the Nissan commanded $70,475, and the 911 Turbo dwarfed them both with a $127,060 base price. Throw in the M3’s two comparison-test wins against impressive opponents—Audi RS 4, Lexus IS F, Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG—and a solid case can be made for this middleweight’s claim to a shot against the two heavyweights.

At this point you’re expecting the obligatory paragraph introducing the ubiquitous comparo star, the Chevrolet Corvette Z06, especially if your name is Larry Webster. But, alas, the Z06 lacks back seats, and it was beaten by the 911 Turbo [“The Sports Car World Cup,” September 2006]. Yes, we might have included it anyway, but this time around, we’re keeping the competition to performance cars with four seats and a modicum of civility and ­practicality.

And consider this, Corvette dudes: Maybe there is a Z06 in the test— it’s just too awesome to see. That paragraph introducing it could be hiding here somewhere, maybe there’s really a Z06 in every photograph. You just can’t see it now. It might appear. Wait a few days.