Now, for the fun part. We've driven the GT-R, when it first catapulted into the supercar world back in 2008. And in the updated 2012 model, we've only rediscovered what we found in our first drive: the GT-R is the budget Bugatti Veyron, minus a thousand pounds of leather and aluminum, and about 9/10ths of its million-dollar transaction price.
The $90,000 GT-R is an amazing piece of technology capable of feats of speed and cornering that no one can begin to max out on public roads. On the track, it's a stupendous performer, turning in record-setting lap times at some of the world's most challenging race tracks. That it's also an effortless drive, thanks to advanced all-wheel drive and massive meaty treads, shears off some of the unpredictable driving "joy" you'd find in, say, a Dodge Viper--it's a supercar with so few faults, it's difficult to find its character.
Above all, the GT-R is about raw power. Initial versions had a 473-horsepower version of its 3.8-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6. This year, Nissan's cranked up the boost and opening up some breathing passages, and now the supercar exhales 530 horsepower and 448 pound-feet of torque, shunted to the ground through all-wheel drive and a six-speed, automated-manual transmission. The first-year calculations of 3.3-second 0-60 times have dropped to 3.0 seconds or less, with top speed drifting higher to just under 200 mph. That it delivers those times against a curb weight of 3,800 pounds is a physics question we still have to work out with pencil and paper.
To manage all that demonic, hellish power, the GT-R used to have a function dubbed Launch Control, which harnessed braking, throttle and the GT-R's sophisticated all-wheel-drive system in concert to deliver those unreal acceleration times. Launch Control went away in 2010, due to concerns over transmission durability. It's back in a limited way for 2012, and can be dialed in by flipping and tapping the GT-R's traction control and sport-mode buttons, by braking and by goosing the throttle. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thrill, like parachuting on a horizontal surface--only the chute is the GT-R's beefy brakes.
The speeds the GT-R can attain are so insane, Nissan's tweaked the car's aero for more downforce and for a little better coefficient of drag, which helps stability at speeds usually associated with 757s on final descent.
Brilliant handling makes all of that power usable, and thrilling. Along with all-wheel drive, the GT-R also has adjustable suspension settings to relieve its stiff ride when you're just tooling around for admiration. In "R" mode, all those reflexes are sharpened, and it's staggering to wind the GT-R into long sweepers at triple-digit speeds and feel almost complacent as it just hangs on, drama-free. That's probably the source of complaints from some non-owners who reprimand the GT-R for its peedestrian engine noises and interior, and lack of a shift-it-yourself manual transmission. The charge: it's soulless. The counterpoint? The GT-R could have rear-drive, a real manual and a blatty V-8 engine note, but to get all that, it'd probably have to slow down.