2012 Nissan GT-R Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
August 17, 2011

The 2012 GT-R outraces some of the world's top sports cars, at a fraction of their price.

The 2012 Nissan GT-R is a magical piece of metal, though it doesn't entirely look like one at first glance. Nothing rivals its straight-line performance even at five times the price, and brilliant handling makes its 0-60 mph times of under three seconds all the more thrilling.

The brilliance begins with the GT-R's thundering twin-turbo six-cylinder engine. It's no homage to the 300ZXs in Nissan's past--it's a blistering performer with 530 horsepower and 448 pound-feet of torque, enough to slingshot the GT-R to epic speeds, and to make it quicker than a Porsche 911 Turbo or a Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. Awe-inspiring traction from a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system and big wheels and tires produces seemingly endless amounts of grip and beautifully balanced handling, with a slightly softer ride or a launch assist available at the tap of a switch. The clunky-sounding automated-manual six-speed transmission fires off upshifts and downshifts at the click of a paddle, perfecting the GT-R's videogame feel while giving some room but no cover to critics who believe all supercars need to be rear-wheel drive, manually shifted, and powered by V-8 or V-12 engines.

The GT-R's styling doesn't exactly press its exotic-car case. Tomahawked sheetmetal cuts an interesting, not gorgeous, shape, and carbon fiber trim gives the plain interior just a dab of intrigue. It's all put together with care, though, and unlike some other supercars, the GT-R has great room for people in front, and a bit of room for small people in back, as well as a useful trunk.

Standard features include stability control with an all-the-way-off mode, and all the usual airbags. A rearview camera, offered as an accessory, addresses the GT-R's blind spots. Also on the standard-feature list: a Bose audio system that wages war with the GT-R's considerable drivetrain noise, perforated leather upholstery on power seats, and a DVD navigation system with plug-in USB connectivity.

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Priced unlike few other cars of its performance range, the $90,000 GT-R has some obviously bargain-priced bits and pieces, but none of them are remotely involved with its NASA-grade performance. To feel the magic, and see why it's so incredible as a supercar, you can't just sit in it. You have to flog it, push it, and let it remind you--almost gently--that it always has more grip and more power at hand.


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2012 Nissan GT-R

Styling

The 2012 Nissan GT-R is much more exotic than its styling.

The Nissan GT-R has been on offer in its home market of Japan for decades, but it's only a recent arrival in the U.S. Its home-crowd appeal is reflected in its styling, which doesn't hit any of the high points you'll see in cars that barely rival its performance--Ferraris, Lamborghinis, even Corvettes.

Its digital-age styling isn't falmboyant like the Italians, or monstrously familiar, like that of the 911 It's conservative, though big fender flares and a deep set of air intakes in front drill home to racing fanbois exactly what it's capable of. It's more recognizable from the side, where the roofline chops into the rear end like a tomahawk. A big rear wing caps an abbreviated tail; from the rear quarters, the circular taillamps give it at least one grabby styling cue to pick out.

Inside, the GT-R looks quite different than other current Nissan products in the United States, with a definite cockpit feel, including center-stack controls angled toward the driver and heavily bolstered seats. The fit and finish seems a little cobbled together, nowhere near the integrated look that even a Corvette can muster, and far down the fabulous scale from the likes of fully optioned, leather-lined 911s.

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2012 Nissan GT-R

Performance

A certain emotional connection may be missing for nitpickers--the rest of the world is just astounded by the 2012 Nissan GT-R's shattering acceleration and grip.

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.

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2012 Nissan GT-R

Comfort & Quality

Adults in front, little people in back: the 2012 Nissan GT-R beats most supercars in space, even if it's finished a little dully.

With an actual pair of rear seats and discernible leg room to go with them, the 2012 Nissan GT-R is somewhat of an oddity among supercars. Sure, the Porsche 911 has a pair of rear buckets--really, really small buckets--but the GT-R's are more usable, and nothing as fast as it can say the same.

In front, the GT-R has wide, comfortable sport seats that are up in Corvette territory, for their ample size. They're power-adjustable, too, and wear perforated leather that's like the rest of the interior, stark and functional.

The GT-R's interior is notable in that way. Also like the Corvette, it's less of a supercar experience in the plastics and textures used to cover the go-fast parts. There aren't any machine-turned metal trim pieces, no wood to relieve the cockpit's drabness, but there is carbon-fiber trim and some red contrast on Black Edition cars. If you consider its race-ready credentials, the interior's actually a pretty plush place.

In back, those rear seats aren't surrounded by expansive space, but two kids will be fine back there. Mostly, it's the sharply sloping roof and the sliver of leg room that limits it as an adult-free zone. Many slower machines--the Audi R8, the 458 Italia, the Bugatti Veyron--don't have the token gestures at all. The GT-R also has a trunk that will swallow a suit bag and a roll-aboard, and deep cupholders nest in the center console.

The GT-R also doesn't make much of an effort to quell ride, tire and transmission noise. The automated manual clacks and clamps all the time, making the decent Bose audio system an afterthought at times.

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2012 Nissan GT-R

Safety

No crash-test data is available, but the 2012 Nissan GT-R comes from a good safety place.

As is the case with most low-volume, high-dollar supercars, the 2012 Nissan GT-R is without objective safety data to back up its promise.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn't demolished a GT-R yet, thank goodness, and neither has the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Still, the GT-R sports all the advanced technology features you'd expect, including side airbags,  curtain airbags, and its own exotics flavors of all-wheel drive and stability control. Those features will help any driver maintain control over the GT-R's massive output. Those highly evolved traction and stability controls can also be turned off completely for track-style driving, and there's no sense in turning them off on public roads.

Visibility is a bit of an issue to the rear, because of the GT-R's thicker pillars. A rearview camera is available as an accessory.

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2012 Nissan GT-R

Features

It has plenty of gadgets and goodies, but tech toys are hardly the point of the 2012 Nissan GT-R.

The 2012 Nissan GT-R comes nearly fully stocked with all kinds of tech gadgets and features, without forgetting that its primary job is to scorch the earth, as distraction-free as possible.

Nissan's changed up the GT-R lineup over the years, dropping trim names and updating features. For 2012, the nameplate has two derivatives: a Premium model and a Black Edition with, yes, black paint and black-tipped RAYS 20-inch wheels, along with red-and-black Recaro seats and interior trim.

All versions sport a USB port for music players; leather seats with heating; an 11-speaker Bose audio system with a hard drive for music; and hard-drive-based navigation with 3D flyover mapping, an appropriate touch for this not so stealth fighter.

The navigation is controlled via a 7-inch LCD screen, surrounded by carbon-fiber trim. The mapping is nicely rendered and not too difficult to use, but it has an alternate electronic identity, as the interface for the GT-R's videogame-style performance gauges.

Tap the screen, and the GT-R reveals a set of digital gauges that let drivers record how they're performing, whether it's grip, acceleration, or elapsed times. It's customizable, too, and Nissan even hired designers who worked on Sony's Gran Turismo game to help render the interface. If it sounds gimmicky, it's not--it's an apt piece of tech for a car so Corvette-fryingly capable.

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2012 Nissan GT-R

Fuel Economy

It's not the biggest gas guzzler among supercars, but still, the 2012 Nissan GT-R won't win you any friends in the Sierra Club.

Supercars aren't expected to get excellent fuel economy--and most of them live down to that promise, with single-digit city ratings.

The 2012 Nissan GT-R's at least made an effort to improve its numbers. This year, its EPA numbers are up to 16/23 mpg, from 15/21 mpg. It's still not great, when you consider the GT-R is nominally a four-passenger car, and when today's Corvettes and Porsche 911s manage highway numbers in the high 20s

However, for a supercar, those gas mileage figures are fairly solid. Mostly, it's due to the GT-R's big twin-turbo V-6, which turns out huge horsepower while using less fuel than a comparable V-8 or V-12.

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Styling 8
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