If a glance at the Nissan GT-R doesn’t register at least a modest increase in your heart rate, you’re probably due for a visit to the emergency room. Or, you could strap yourself into Nissan’s twin-turbocharged monster machine for a few acceleration runs on your local suburban autobahn. Who needs a defibrillator when there are GT-Rs roaming the streets?
What is it?
Sticking out of a lineup that’s otherwise a bit short on mechanical inspiration (Z-car excepted), the GT-R is the ultimate manifestation of Japanese performance enthusiasm, bringing with it all the technological advancements the land of the rising sun has long cultivated.
The GT-R seen here succeeded a range of Skyline-badged performance coupes first introduced in the late 1960s but revived with a passion 20 years later. Made famous in North America in part by the Gran Turismo series of video games, these sported-up coupes eventually gave way to the dedicated platform GT-R you see here.
Of course, Nissan is hardly content with status quo; the GT-R has received numerous performance bumps since hitting our roads in mid-2008. It now boasts 520 horsepower from its 3.8-liter twin-parallel turbocharged V6, which sends power to all four wheels through a rear-mounted Borg Warner six-speed dual clutch transaxle and a high-performance all-wheel-drive system that employs two driveshafts for optimal traction. Making things even more interesting for 2012 is a new launch control system designed to optimize the car’s traction systems for perfect sprints with only the tap of a toggle switch and a press of the skinny pedal.
Our tester is a 2012, but a modest power gain is set to hit the market late this year with the updated 2013.
What’s it up against?
We doubt there’s much cross-shopping in the GT-R’s performance segment, but those who must have a list for everything won’t find many rivals that offer such a strong value equation.
The Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 matches the GT-R’s brute force but not its all-wheel-drive traction. Porsche’s 911 Turbo is a dainty slipper compared to a mythical Doc Marten running shoe like the GT-R. Ferraris have waiting lists and their owners would never consider visiting a dealer that also sells Versas.
To find a vehicle that bests the GT-R’s performance in nearly every category, you’ll have to step up to a Bugatti Veyron.
How does it look?
There’s a reason the GT-R has earned its “Godzilla” nickname. In photos, it looks like a right-sized performance car, but its roofline sits nearly four inches higher than a Corvette’s. As a result, the GT-R offers more of a commanding presence than a sensuously curvy one.
Viewed head-on, which is how most drivers will initially glimpse the GT-R as it approaches in their rearview mirrors, the two-door features a gigantic front opening broken up by a horizontal bumper bar and a stacked GT-R logo. A pair of heavily swept-back headlamps wrap half way up the fenders. From the side, the GT-R’s cockpit peaks above the A-pillars before aggressively sloping back. Black-painted A-pillars give the greenhouse a helmet-like effect.
It’s the tail end of the GT-R that inevitably leaves the most lasting impression. Quad tail lamps and a quartet of large exhaust pipes are perhaps the coupe’s best attributes. Its functional boy-racer spoiler is not.
And on the inside?
With all of the performance technology on board, you could easily be forgiven for assuming that the GT-R’s sub-six figure price point would include a chintzy interior. Instead, this 2+2 (or really 2+0.5, since no human should be subjected to its rear seat) features a surprisingly comfortable cabin wrapped in premium leather and carbon fiber trim.
The firm, heavily bolstered seats mean business, as do the simple gauges and meaty three-spoke steering wheel with what might be the world’s best paddle shifters.
But if you keep moving your eyes toward the center of the vehicle, you’ll find a large LCD screen with a seemingly infinite number of customizable screens. Designed in conjunction with Polyphony Digital – the same firm behind, you guessed it, the Gran Turismo Playstation games – this display can be configured to show a wide variety of video game-like functions. In addition to showing pertinent details like oil temperatures and boost levels, the digital gauges can be configured to display acceleration, gravitational g’s, throttle and brake positions and torque splits.
But does it go?
Clocked at a hair under 2.9 seconds for the sprint from naught to 60 and a hair over 11 seconds through the quarter mile (at more than 120 mph), the GT-R is blindingly, almost unnervingly fast.
Should normal people really be allowed that much performance?
Luckily, the GT-R makes hard driving almost too pedestrian an affair. A new-for-2012 launch control (called R mode) makes those sub-3 second sprints attainable for anyone with a heavy foot and a vague understanding of paddle shifters, while 15.4-inch six-piston front Brembo brakes bring things to a halt in almost no time. To reduce wear and tear, Nissan restricts drivers to four R mode launches before a mandatory cool down, but we were perfectly content to wait for another go around.
In real-world use, the GT-R’s gigantic turbos spool up increased power lower and more broadly spread across the rev range than the outgoing model for ferocious passing grunt. Entering R mode means a slap of the paddle engages the next gear in a mere 0.15 seconds, compared to about 0.3 seconds otherwise, thanks to careful preselection made possible by the dual clutch transmission.
All this high-octane fuel burning delivers a screaming wail through the tailpipes that could easily wake the dead. We know we’d want to come out of eternal slumber for this car.
Straight line performance and upchuck-inducing braking runs are only part of the GT-R’s fun, however. Linear steering and an utter lack of body lean make it a delight to throw into corners. Brilliant suspension tuning leaves a driving experience that belies the GT-R’s 3,900 lbs. curb weight and hefty proportions, even as the adjustable suspension’s normal mode takes most bumps in stride. Selecting R mode stiffens things up for track use, where a bit of understeer can easily be dialed in with the accelerator pedal.
And that’s just where the GT-R is best appreciated: On a closed course. At low city speeds, the dual clutch transmission is clunky and balky, while the powertrain makes sounds better suited to Peterbilts.
But open up that throttle on a track and hold on – this GT-R is as wild a ride as you’re ever going to experience.
Why you would buy it:
Less than 100 grand gets you supercar performance in every measurable category.
Why you wouldn’t:
You think a supercar should come with a prestigious badge.
Leftlane’s bottom line
If Nissan could channel even a little of the GT-R’s mojo into all of its mainstream products, it would create the world’s most ridiculously enthusiast-oriented lineup (if only there were more enthusiasts to buy such cars).
Instead, we get the technological tour de force that is the GT-R, an absolute stand-out of a performance machine made even better for 2012. If anything, it’s simply too easy to enjoy since Nissan has carefully engineered out any of the driving idiosyncrasies (or “character,” depending on your definition) that send Porsche 911 Turbos into walls when driven by mere mortals. Either way, sign us up.