Published December 23, 2011
I don’t recall ever starting a review by advising the reader not to buy the car, but there’s a first time for everything. So, don’t buy this car.
The 2012 Nissan GT-R is the best that it’s been since its 2009 debut. That’s right, the best. Find the logic to my earlier assertion missing? Keep reading.
The GT-R’s twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V6 -- assembled in a clean room by a single technician -- now pumps out 530 hp, an impressive 45 hp jump from last year thanks to increased turbo boost and freer-breathing intake and exhaust.
Ultimate car geeks can continue to rejoice in the high-tech wizardry of the GT-R’s all-wheel-drive system, which sends power to the front wheels via a carbon torque tube fed by a rear-mounted transaxle. Therein lies a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that cracks off instantaneous shifts and works with an advanced traction control system to launch the car with the violence of a sumo wrestler whose mawashi is chafing.
Tweaked bodywork helps cool all of the mechanical bits while providing both increased downforce and a slicker aerodynamic profile, which slices through the air with nearly as little drag as a Toyota Prius. There are also some nifty LED accent lights up front, as is the fashion of the day. Newly designed 20-inch wheels conspire with the active suspension to improve handling in an effort to keep up with all of the above changes.
The result is that the GT-R is, once again, the supercar bargain of this or any century. Even if its price is now $90,950, up from $70,000 or so in 2009, it remains a relative steal, because it delivers the same, if not better performance than cars costing two, three or four times as much. (Yea, I’m talking about you, Mr. $375,000 Lexus LF-A.)
The GT-R can make the trip from 0-60 mph in less than three seconds and hit a top speed is 196 mph. Some might argue that its myriad computer controls take some of the passion out of the experience, but that’s like saying bungee jumping isn’t exhilarating because you’re just along for the ride. Plus, you can always turn them off. I would not advise the same for your ankle straps.
Still, the GT-R requires a rethink in the way you interact with it compared to other cars. Sure, you can point and shoot and pretty much blow anything on the road away, and since you’re sitting in it that’s actually quite a lot of fun. But to extract the GT-R’s maximum potential, and your own personal satisfaction, you first must come to understand how it goes about its business, and then become one with its dark and mysterious ways.
This is a heavy car, nearly two-tons. Combined with all-wheel-drive you have a recipe for massive understeer, not the tail-out antics a “true” supercar is expected to deliver on command. Nissan has gone to great lengths to mitigate this effect with annual updates to the suspension tuning, and it can be overcome with practice. But during a trip to an autocross -- not exactly the high-speed GT-R’s preferred playground – I learned that it remains not a fan of tight turns exceeding 90 degrees. Then again, what does?
There, I also had the rare opportunity to compare it back to back to one of the original 2009 models that happened to be on hand at the event. It’s not often that you see two unicorns in the same place, especially the parking lot of MetLife Stadium, so that was a treat.
As it turns out, the original wasn’t truly original, it’s owner having made a few modifications of his own. The most prominent of these being a square set of tires – fronts the same size as the rears – which, surprise, surprise made it turn in quicker and get through sharper turns with more ease than the new GT-R. (That’s the part you’ll want to pay attention to, people from Nissan.)
Other than that lesson in the physics of traction, the added power in the 2012 model was evident, and welcome. But I couldn’t shake the feeling the car was disappointed that I didn’t go the extra 90 miles and take it to a proper track like the Monticello Motor Club. In that we were in full agreement.
Aside from all of the performance stuff, you’ll find a few alterations to the interior, including new seats and improved pieces of trim here and there. I was amazed at how much higher the resolution on the GT-R’s multifunctional display (get your instantaneous torque split here!) was compared to the 2009 edition, but otherwise felt very much at home.
The same goes for the ride on less than perfect pavement, unfortunately, which is stiffer than a cot on a Klingon Bird-of-Prey (just checking if you geeks are still with me. Comments section indicates “yes.”) NHTSA should fine Nissan for using the word “comfort” as one of the suspension’s settings.
The back seats, which are so well done that they could serve as fronts in many other cars, remain as useless as ever before, due to the complete absence of legroom back there. Even with my knees pressed against the dashboard my 4-year old couldn’t get his feet between my seat’s back and his seat’s bottom, forcing him to rest them on top. Funny, he never complained about it.
That’s likely because the GT-R is constantly entertaining. Yes, the layer of technology between you and the road is thicker than in any other supercar, but the engineers were caring enough to let you hear all of it at work. The clicks, pops, whirrs and wooshes make even a 35 mph romp through town an experience to remember. With the hammer down, few cars on the planet compare.
Nevertheless, I can’t in good conscious recommend that you go out and buy one. Not anymore.
The automaker has announced that for 2013 the GT-R will be getting yet an additional 15 hp, an even quicker-shifting transmission and an asymmetrically-tuned suspension that takes into account the weight of the driver and the off-center positioning of that trick transaxle. That last bit is sure to make it an even better handler, one would hope.
Pricing hasn’t been revealed, and is sure to creep up a notch or two, but if your inner car geek is weak enough not to wait for the new model, you’re not worthy of the label.
Or the car.
2012 Nissan GT-R
Base Price: $90,959
Type: 2+2 passsenger 2-door coupe
Engine: twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V6
Power: 530 hp, 448 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
MPG: 16 city, 23 hwy