Perhaps you remember the original Nissan GT-R as easy to drive but uninvolving. You might have surmised that, like a digital coffee maker or fancy toaster, it got the job done but lacked personality. Maybe you even read enough Internet forums to convince yourself that it was an appliance — warmed over electro-mechanics turned into speed. Technology, you probably concluded, can be so dull. Yawn.
Kazutoshi Mizuno, chief engineer for the R35, is fed up with that attitude. And he's delivered the revised 2012 Nissan GT-R with enough capability — in the way of 45 additional horsepower, bigger front brake rotors and refined suspension tuning — to extinguish your inner bench racer's technological indifference. Anyone who's still singing that tune, Mizuno thinks, hasn't driven this car.
But we have.
And what we've learned during our instrumented performance testing and numerous laps around California's Buttonwillow Raceway is convincing. The GT-R, no doubt about it, is a full-fledged and wildly capable supercar. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Certainly, there's a measure of control here that's not available in other cars with this much (or more) power, but let's not mistake control for blandness. Because, in this case, there's nothing bland about the GT-R.
You see, even in this business, where 500-hp cars come along every few weeks, the speed and control that accompany the GT-R driving experience are rare. Even more rare, however, are drivers with the ability to effectively use this much power.
Every manufacturer recognizes this. It's why Chevy offers Performance Traction Management on its 638-hp Corvette ZR1. It's why Mercedes-Benz won't allow stability control to be fully disabled on its most powerful models. And it's why the Nissan GT-R, in all its torque-biasing, electronically controlled glory, exists at all.
Because control, friends, kicks ass. Like it or not.
Just Plain Silly Fast
And we won't pretend to be the driver who can handle this car unencumbered by electronic aids on a mostly wet track. So we left them on around the road course. And despite the moisture, the 530-hp 2012 GT-R charged into Buttonwillow's 90-degree Sunset corner in 5th gear at 130 mph. That's a solid 8 mph faster than the 2011 model we drove back to back on the same track.
And then, thanks to larger 15.4-inch front rotors (previously 15.0 inches) and redesigned calipers, it hauled down to a reasonable 80 mph before once again crushing our soul with relentless acceleration. There's more than enough power here to balance the GT-R's chassis with the throttle, and understeer is noticeably reduced at lower speeds while stability remains high in triple-digit corners.
The chassis feels largely the same. There's the same heavyweight steering — even at low speed. There's the same sense that you're managing a lot of mass every time you ask the GT-R to accelerate, brake or turn. And there's the same confidence when opening the throttle at corner exit. Only one thing is different: There's more of everything. And it is good.
By the Numbers
According to our test equipment, the 2012 GT-R is both quicker and faster than the car it replaces. It hit 60 in 3.1 seconds (2.9 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and stomped through the quarter-mile in 11.1 seconds at 124.1 mph.
We've tested multiple GT-Rs in the three years since the car's introduction and the best acceleration we've recorded to date came from our long-term test car with the VDC switched off. It hit 60 mph in 3.6 seconds (3.3 seconds with a 1-foot rollout) and completed the quarter-mile in 11.6 seconds at 118.9 mph.
For perspective, the last Porsche 911 Turbo we tested hit 60 in 3.2 seconds and finished the quarter-mile in 11.1 seconds at 125.4 mph. Chevy's insane Corvette ZR1 wasn't as quick in our last test. It needed 3.9 seconds to hit 60 and 11.7 seconds to complete the quarter-mile (at 126.7 mph).
Handling numbers are similarly improved. The GT-R stormed through the slalom cones fast enough to rival the record for production cars at Inside Line. Its 74.7-mph speed with its VDC disabled was impressive, but it still managed 74.2 mph with VDC active. Porsche's GT3 and GT3 RS hold the record at 75.3 mph.
The GT-R generates 1.02g of cornering force with VDC off — a stunning number considering its relative tire size and substantial weight (3,888 pounds). Switch the electronics back on and it's still good for a very solid 1.0g performance.
Dunlop developed the GT-R's proprietary tire — the SP Sport Maxx GT600 (255/40ZRF20 front, 285/35ZRF20 rear) — with Nissan. The 522-pound-lighter Corvette ZR1, which packs around 285mm front and 335mm section-width rear rubber, yields the same lateral grip at 1.02g.
Braking from 60 to zero requires 108 feet — a few feet more than most of its competition.
The Critical Tweaks
The transformational difference here is engine output, which climbs from 485 hp to 530 and 434 pound-feet to 448. Primarily, this is achieved via a bump in peak boost pressure from 10.9 psi to 13.1 psi. Valve timing has also been adjusted, while intake and exhaust flow are both improved. Better flow through the radiator also adds a measure of thermal efficiency to handle the additional power.
But Mizuno isn't all about power. He's a handling guy and his changes to the GT-R's suspension are not insubstantial. The front spring/damper assembly now mounts further outboard on the lower control arm, which changes the suspension's lever ratio. Caster is increased from 5 to 6 degrees to improve high-speed stability. Even the rear suspension's roll center was lowered. All four dampers now utilize an aluminum piston (previously plastic), which ensures that they function as designed during the high loads the car generates in places like, well, the Nürburgring, where development continued for this model.
There are two new structural braces — one carbon-composite brace mounted along the firewall between the shock towers and another dashboard-support member which is part of the car's body structure and is oriented vertically on the inside of the firewall. Even the stock wheels — now 10-spokers — are 20 percent stiffer and 6.6 pounds (per car, not per wheel) lighter. The Rays six-spoke wheels that come as part of the Black Edition scrub another 3.5 pounds (per car).
Subtle but effective changes to the body resonate both in the wind tunnel and on the track. A redesigned front bumper directs more air around the side of the car — improving brake cooling efficiency and eliminating some airflow over the hood and roof. This results in a 10-percent increase in downforce and yields a marginally better drag coefficient (0.27 to 0.26).
Don't Call It Launch Control
The six-speed dual-clutch transmission is mechanically identical but benefits from reprogramming to increase shift speed in R mode and smooth shifting in normal mode. R-Mode Start, or Nissan's name for launch control, remains functionally the same as in 2011 GT-Rs. Bump the transmission and VDC setup switches into the R position (the suspension switch can remain in the "normal" position), then pin the brake, wood the throttle and release the brake.
It's that simple, and the result is more like the 2009 cars before the reflash: The engine revs quickly to about 4,000 rpm and when the brake is released there's an honest clutch drop, which results in wheelspin if the tires are cold. Still, because the feature is easy and quick to activate, it's a genuine Corvette-killing weapon for those not accustomed to launching a 530-hp supercar. And, really, who is?
Power is fed rapidly to the front wheels and rear wheelspin ends almost immediately. Unlike in the original 2009 GT-R, VDC always remains on — a measure Mizuno says was taken to ensure safety if the car is launched with one tire on a slippery surface. There's another change, too: 2012 GT-Rs are limited to four launches in a row before the system requires a 1.5-mile cool-down drive.
The Critical Test
That the 2012 GT-R is insanely, stupidly fast is evident. But perhaps more impressive are the new fuel economy numbers that accompany the increased speed. City fuel economy jumps from 15 mpg to 16 mpg, while both highway and combined numbers see a 2-mpg increase (21 to 23 mpg and 17 to 19 mpg, respectively).
Largely, this is due to the same engine recalibration that yields the additional power. It also substantially improves combustion efficiency, according to Mizuno. Also, replacing the "Snow" mode on the transmission setup switch is "Save" mode, which utilizes a different shift map to save fuel during long-distance driving.
Unsurprisingly, all these changes aren't free. Our test car, a Black Edition, which includes the six-spoke Rays wheels and unique Recaro seats with red inserts, will set you back $96,100. A Premium GT-R (there is no base model) costs $90,950 — about $5,900 more than a 2011 Premium model.
The real question however, isn't the GT-R's price tag, which has always been far below that of the cars with which it competes. Rather, it's the experience, which is more accessible and comes with less risk than all of those cars. To our minds, the GT-R will not only give its German, Italian and American competition an honest run in any performance test, but it's every bit as engaging as well.
Mizuno, we'd guess, would agree.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of this evaluation.