For Kazutoshi Mizuno, the eccentric godfather in charge of the GT-R project, the Nurburgring test track in Germany has become a favorite playground. It all started in 1996 when the R33 Skyline GT-R V-Spec became the first production car to lap the 'Ring in under 8 minutes. Today, the launch of a new GT-R isn't complete without a trip to Germany and the establishment of a new 'Ring time.
So today we're trackside to witness Toshio Suzuki's attempt at a new lap record in the 2013 Nissan GT-R. It looks identical to the 2012 car, but this version of the R35 boasts an extra 15 horsepower, a stiffer body shell and a revised suspension.
Suzuki's record attempt isn't for another few hours, so he's letting me have a go in the meantime. Having already driven the car on the road, I'll be given a handful of laps of the world's most iconic circuit. What could go wrong?
Sizing up the 'Ring
I've driven the 'Ring many times, in everything from a Honda Civic Type R to a Lotus Exige, but unless you've completed hundreds of laps, you can never really know it. To counter the problem, Nissan has hired a local racer to sit next to me and point the way. Clearly he's in need of cash — there's no way I'd sit next to me in a GT-R.
When the R35 was introduced in 2007, it was initially criticized for being too anodyne. It was as if the Japanese passion for electronics had subsumed the role of the driver. Stung by the criticism, Mizuno has evolved the car to reveal its soul. "It is very important that a supersport should be challenging to drive," he says. "There should be communication between the car and the driver."
The results of these changes can be felt within the first few corners. At 3,829 pounds, the GT-R remains excessively heavy, but it's remarkably effective at hiding its bulk. The steering has a crisp linearity that makes it easy to place, which is just as well when you're passing through the Flugplatz on the high side of 130 mph.
Most road cars feel soft around here, but the 2013 Nissan GT-R offers effective resistance to roll. The tires chirrup when they're asked to work, and if you push too hard there's a predictable transition to understeer. It's hard to think of another supercar that would inspire this much confidence around here while carrying such speed. A Porsche 911 GT3 RS would sound better and feel more heroic, but I'd be sweating harder.
Asymmetrical Suspension, but Only for Right-Handers
Although the double-wishbone front and multilink rear suspension remains, Mizuno says they've tweaked the geometry along with the spring and damper rates. On right-hand-drive cars, the setup is asymmetrical to take account of both the GT-R's left-to-right weight distribution and the effects of the engine's rotation.
For the front suspension, there's a harder spring rate on the left side, while at the rear the suspension arm has been installed upward on the left side and downward on the right. This detail, which Mizuno describes as "my new logic," is not applied to left-hand-drive cars, where the weight distribution is better balanced.
Common to every 2013 Nissan GT-R is an improvement to the rigidity of the body. Reinforcement of the area around the rear of the engine and the dashboard has, says Mizuno, improved the handling. Moreover, every GT-R produced is checked at the Tochigi manufacturing facility for its rigidity and damping performance. Officially, the weight is unchanged, but Mizuno reckons the 2013 car is actually a tad lighter than before.
Just What the GT-R Always Needed: More Power
While the core focus was on the suspension design, Mizuno couldn't resist the temptation to improve the engine's efficiency. "We do not do things the tuning shop way," he says. "We refine everything."
The breathing's been improved at both ends. The 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6 now has an enlarged air intake duct for the intercooler at the front and reduced backpressure in the catalytic converter. The boost pressure of 0.8 bar remains the same but the changes have been enough to achieve a modest increase in power from 530 horsepower to 545. The torque output is up by 15 pound-feet to 463.
Nissan is now claiming zero to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds (down from the 3.1 seconds we achieved in the 2012 GT-R), although the 193-mph top speed is unchanged and is defined by the car's gearing. These are the only figures officially released by Nissan, but Mizuno admitted he's hoping that independent testing will show a standing quarter-mile in 10.6 or 10.7 seconds. The fuel consumption is also marginally improved if you're into that sort of thing.
The Road-Going Experience
The difference in horsepower may be marginal, but on the road, the 2013 Nissan GT-R really does feel faster than before. It may not have the sonorous soundtrack of a Ferrari or Porsche, but it gathers pace with a brutal, savage simplicity. You might even call it crude, were it not so fabulously capable. Mizuno talks about a philosophy of "power for life," presenting the GT-R as a car for all conditions. Maybe only the Porsche 911 Turbo comes close to matching the GT-R's everyday versatility.
The suspension tweaks have also delivered a GT-R that's more nimble than before. This is a car with the bulk of Klitschko and the agility of Pacquiao. It might not wag its tail like an old-school muscle car, but getting the most from it still requires skill and not a little finesse. It's an extraordinary piece of engineering that's still entertaining even if you don't understand how it all works.
The setup switch that adjusts the transmission, dampers and stability control still offers three modes — Normal, Special and "R." Thankfully, each element can be set up individually. For road use, our preference was "R" for the stability control and transmission, and "Normal" for the dampers to provide greater compliance on the undulating road surfaces around the 'Ring.
The six-speed dual-clutch transmission has also been refined for the 2013 model year with a strengthened shift fork arm and a firmer fixer bearing for the flywheel housing. The system still has a nice mechanical feel. For a car so reliant on electronics and automation, it's nice to be able to feel the cogs engage, even if the process can occasionally feel less than smooth at low speed.
Even if you don't like the feel, you might as well get used to it, as the GT-R will have a dual-clutch transmission for the foreseeable future. "You cannot do zero to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds in a manual," says Mizuno. "It is too dangerous because the human body cannot keep pace."
The Record Attempt
Mizuno gathered his forces at the 'Ring to facilitate Toshio Suzuki's attempt on the GT-R lap record. Suzuki reckons he's done around 1,300 laps of the 'Ring and drives at 98 percent on record runs. "It is important to concentrate on balancing the car on all four tires," he says.
His boss reckons he's "testing the car for the customer, not for company pride," although even Mizuno must admit it doesn't do the sales figures any harm. He takes the whole process extremely seriously, so much so that with the cameras ready and an army of witnesses, he decides to call the attempt off. Initially we're told there was a problem with the tire balance, but then the real reason is revealed.
"I have not decided on the final specification of the tires," he says. "If we change them in the future, the record run will not be accurate." So that's it. The latest GT-R will be launched without an official 'Ring time, although Mizuno later settles on Dunlop Sport Maxx GT 600 DSST CTT tires.
The new 2013 Nissan GT-R arrives in the U.S. this January. The U.S. range will consist of only two models — the 2013 GT-R Premium and the GT-R Black Edition, which gets black Rays forged-alloy wheels, Recaro leather seats and a carbon-fiber rear spoiler.
In Europe and Japan, Nissan is developing a special track pack with a small aero kit, uprated wheels, suspension, brake cooling and a tweaked interior. Sadly, there are no plans to bring this car to the U.S., although Nissan admits that might change if enough customers request it.
For now then, we must make do with the "normal" GT-R, which isn't much of a chore. While most manufacturers introduce pointless aesthetic revisions to pump life into a revised car, Mizuno concentrates on the bits that matter. The engineering changes might appear modest, but in sum they combine to provide a very real improvement in the car's overall performance. So yes, Japan's finest supercar just got even better.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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