GT-R Can’t Hide Its Horses

IT seems as though the only time you hear about car companies fudging horsepower numbers, it’s when they’re busted advertising more beans than are actually present in the under-hood burrito. Mazda got in trouble for exaggerating the 2001 Miata’s power output. Ford had to recall the 1999 SVT Mustang Cobra when owners realized its motor fell about 20 horsepower short of its official numbers.

I have a theory on where all those phantom ponies went: They’re under the hood of the new Nissan GT-R.

Like those other cars, the GT-R’s stated power — 480 horsepower — is a long way from reality. But in the case of the Nissan, the car seems to have more power than they’re letting on. The question is, how much more?

Thanks to the principle of substitution, we can look at several aspects of the GT-R’s performance and deduce roughly what kind of firepower would be required to accomplish such feats.

The Nissan GT-R laps Germany’s N?rgring Nordschleife in 7 minutes 29 seconds. For reference, the Corvette Z06, which has 505 horsepower and weighs a whopping 700 pounds less than the GT-R, is 13 seconds slower, with a time of 7 minutes 42 seconds.

A clearer picture emerges at the drag strip. Basically, your quarter-mile time is influenced by a host of factors, most importantly the success of your launch off the line. But trap speed — the speed at which you finish the quarter-mile — is closely tied to horsepower and a car’s power-to-weight ratio.

It’s algebra: If you know your car’s weight, and you know the speed it reached in a quarter-mile, you can pretty much predict the amount of power required to produce that trap speed.

The GT-R can hit 122 or 123 miles an hour in the quarter-mile. It weighs about 4,000 pounds, with driver. There are many calculators and equations devoted to divining horsepower numbers, and given this weight and trap speed, most of them peg the GT-R’s output from 550 horsepower on the conservative end to 580 horsepower on the ”maybe-on-a-cool-day-with-a-tailwind” side. But I would eat my time slips if this car doesn’t have at least 550 horsepower.

So why won’t Nissan just ‘fess up? Maybe it’s for insurance reasons. Or maybe it’s because it’s just more fun not to know. It adds to the legend.