If You Thought the Old GT-R Was Impressive, Stand by To Think Again
Dirk Schoysman is one of those people whose appearance belies his profession. Tall, quietly spoken, gently humorous and perpetually affable, he looks like he should be employed in a thoroughly wholesome occupation. A veterinarian perhaps, or a charity worker. What he absolutely does not look like is the man who, in all probability, knows the Nürburgring Nordschleife better than anyone else alive or dead. When we met him he was about to complete his 19,000th lap of the most terrifying and challenging racetrack on earth, and as that lap measures close to 14 miles, that means he's driven the distance from the earth to the moon on this track. If there is a better man to introduce me to the 2012 Nissan GT-R, I've not met him.
It's hard to believe it was back in 2007 when the GT-R's creator Kazutoshi Mizuno first threw the cover off his new hypercar. Harder still to remember is that, at the time, he specifically warned that the car he referred to as "the real GT-R" was still three years away. It all got forgotten, swept away on the ocean of purple prose that greeted his 480-horsepower Porsche-crushing powerhouse. Soon it became known simply as "Godzilla," a ferocious, insatiable monster before which all bowed.
Except that nothing lasts forever. Rightly or wrongly, the scale of the GT-R's achievement became measured not by how it felt or looked, but how swiftly it could lap the Nürburgring. At first few could get close to it, as it posted times that would have been respectable for a purpose-built racing prototype when the 'Ring was still used regularly for racing back in the early 1980s. But others, notably contenders from Chevrolet and Porsche, were quick to meet and then beat it.
Something had to be done and this, the 2012 Nissan GT-R is it. The plan had been to attack the Nürburgring record on the day I drove it and Nissan's pilot of choice, ex-F1 driver Toshio Suzuki was pacing the pit garage waiting for the weather to come right, which it never did. So instead I went out with Schoysman to find out more.
Changes Across the Board
So often when a car is refreshed midlife, designers concentrate on modifications that are cheap and can be seen easily, resulting in a car whose changes are more perceived than real. But this is a GT-R and none of the normal rules apply. In fact you'll have to squint to notice the front air intake is now 60mm wider and that a strip of daytime running lights has been added. More notable are those smart 10-spoke alloy wheels while around the back a larger carbon-fiber diffuser has been fitted. Inside it's more subtle still, the biggest alteration being the use of carbon fiber for the material around the center console.
But underhood, the changes are myriad. Most tellingly the 3.8-liter V6 receives another slug of turbo boost, a less restricted air supply and revised valve timing to liberate a lot more horsepower. Nissan refuses to talk specifics yet and is only saying that the engine will have "at least 40 hp more" than the existing car.
Next the team turned its attention to the car's structure and fitted a carbon-fiber cross brace between the suspension turrets under the hood to bring greater rigidity to a structure that was hardly floppy to begin with. The dampers have been uprated and the front brake diameter increased 0.4 inch to 15.4 inches. Curiously, carbon-ceramic rotors remain off the menu. As for the tires, a completely new design has been used with a different pattern, construction and compound designed to make the car more progressive in a wider range of conditions with no loss of outright adhesion. Finally, that rear diffuser proves to be for more than mere show: It helps improve aerodynamic downforce by up to 10 percent.
What It's Like
With Schoysman behind the wheel, the rivers of water crossing the track on our test day presented little challenge. The 2012 Nissan GT-R felt imperious in these conditions, as if it really could walk on water. Schoysman said the extra power was nice, but it was the less obvious changes to the chassis setup that most improved the GT-R.
Even so, a driver of Schoysman's skills is capable of covering an entire litany of sins so the only way to find out if what I was feeling was a true reflection of what the GT-R can now do was to evict him from the driver seat, head out onto the track myself and try to keep it out of the Eifel mountains.
Certainly the extra power is there, but without being able to jump out of the current car into the new one it was difficult to prove: It always felt ludicrously quick and it still does. Most obvious is its response from low revs: This is a small engine throwing out a huge amount of power and it should need big revs before it can really perform. But it doesn't. In fact, it pulls relentlessly from below 3,000 rpm in any one of its six gears. This has a two-fold effect: It makes it drivable for mere mortals and provides a touch of real-world speed that was previously absent.
But Schoysman was right. The real revelation of the new GT-R is the step forward made in its chassis development. Conditions at the Nürburgring during our drive were as bad as we've seen. The track was merely damp in some places and partially flooded in others. Grip was impossible to predict, but the GT-R — through its steering and seat — wasn't just reassuring, it encouraged us to push harder.
Why It Matters
Past GT-Rs have come across as remote and almost aloof devices, keen to exclude the driver from the action and relegate him to a directing role, but with this car we felt much more part of it, a talent that may or may not make it a quicker sports car. And being an involving driving machine makes it substantially superior to its parent.
The real achievement of this new GT-R is not that it has been made faster but that it is now both easier to drive and more entertaining. In short, the one missing piece of the puzzle, let's call it the human factor, has been found and added. The 2012 Nissan GT-R is, at last, complete.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
Price and Build Your Own 2012 Nissan GT-R at Edmunds.com