Sometimes change is good. Other times change is for the worse. And then there are those rare occasions when change amounts to, well, squat. That's the story with the 2013 Nissan GT-R Premium — squat.
And by "squat" we mean it's virtually unchanged from the 2012 model — at least when measured solely by the cold, unforgiving hundred-units-per-second standard set by our test equipment. Fortunately, there's more to a sports car — especially one this unique — than can be gleaned from sheer ones and zeros.
"The GT-R is boring to drive" and "The GT-R is easy to drive" are statements trotted out by the Internet infidel crowd so often they've become trite. Quite apart from the fact that one must actually have driven a GT-R to make such an observation authentic, these claims are simply no longer true.
And they haven't been for nearly a year.
New Year, New Updates
There's a simple reason for this. For the 2012 model year, Nissan brought about a sea change in the GT-R world, adding 45 horsepower, bigger brakes and refined suspension tuning. And for 2013, the changes keep coming.
Nissan told us the 2013 GT-R would feature "a number of engine and suspension refinements...all designed to enhance its already legendary performance." This is in addition to last year's dramatic changes. Who could blame us for being excited?
But after putting the 2013 Nissan GT-R through our test regimen, we won't waste precious bandwidth waxing on about how this fifth-year GT-R is a much better machine than last year's. But we will tell you this: It's still awesome — even if its performance numbers have changed no more than a fraction of a second.
More Power, Same Thrust
The GT-R's otherworldly goodness begins with its incredible 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6. For 2013 this hand-built all-aluminum engine has been massaged yet again. Engineers improved the effectiveness of the intake, enlarged the air intake ducts for the intercoolers and increased the efficiency of the exhaust emissions. Output jumps from 530 horsepower to 545 hp at 6,400 rpm. Torque increases 15 pound-feet as well, now at 463 lb-ft from 3,200-5,800 rpm.
But when we got to our test track, this pre-production GT-R proved slow — anywhere from three-tenths to a full second off last year's 3.1-second run to 60 mph. Launch control (race mode start in Nissan speak) appeared to be working properly, as it would hold revs at 4,000 rpm before we'd release the brake. But it couldn't spin the tires, and twice it balked just slightly after the 1-2 shift.
So we let it cool down, and then on the first run back (seventh overall), suddenly all was right in GT-R land. A dramatic all-four-tires-spinning launch netted 60 mph in 3.1 seconds (2.9 seconds with a 1-foot rolloutlike at a drag strip) and finished off the quarter-mile in 11.1 seconds at 123.3 mph, identical to the 2012 model, other than that car's slightly higher trap speed of 124.1 mph.
But Where's the Sound?
The 2013 Nissan GT-R is a blast to drive because it's so fast and so capable. And, yes, a four-tire-spinning launch is something to experience, but there's no pretending the GT-R offers the orchestra of tones offered by a Ferrari, Lamborghini, Corvette Z06 or a Porsche 911. In fact, intake noise so dominates the GT-R's twin-turbo V6 that it sounds like the world's fastest vacuum cleaner. And between the paddle shifting and the all-wheel drive, the GT-R can still, at times, seem clinical. But remember, with this antiseptic nature comes immensely accessible speed and control.
Speaking of the GT-R's six-speed dual-clutch transmission, it's been dinged from Day 1 for its noise and clunkiness. The engineers addressed the noise issue with a stiffer shift fork arm and a stronger fixing bearing for the flywheel housing. They also made motorsports-level differential oil standard.
If there's a difference, it's barely perceptible. There's still a decent amount of clatter from the transmission, and it can still be clunky, especially in stop-and-go traffic, in full Automatic mode. We're not weenies, so we usually kept full control over the gear selection using the leather-covered steering-column-mounted magnesium paddles. Upshifts are ridiculously quick, and the downshift throttle blips are perfect every time.
It's a Stiffie
The GT-R development team stiffened up the car's structure for 2013, including reinforcements around the engine bay and dash panel to "create a better sense of grip from the driver seat." We asked for more specifics, but we were told that "the GT-R is a very closely held development process."
Along with the body reinforcements came slightly stiffer spring rates, while the shocks have newly designed bypass valves. A Nissan official told us the goal was to "make the car more drivable in the real world without sacrificing performance." But on the road, the GT-R rides as harshly, or harsher, than ever — even with the cockpit-adjustable Bilstein DampTronic shocks set to Comfort. Just how stiff is it? Check out the photo of our test car lifting its inside front tire off the ground at the racetrack — no curb needed.
To our seat-of-the-pants sensibilities, the suspension changes make the 2013 Nissan GT-R more lively than ever, with a new willingness to rotate under drop-throttle or braking in medium-to-high-speed corners. It's engaging and genuinely controllable — a combo not often found in cars this quick.
The changes, although seemingly conflicted for making the GT-R more drivable, had little influence on handling from a pure numbers standpoint. Its slalom time of 73.7 mph was actually a smidge off the GT-R Black Edition we tested last year, although it's still in the very upper echelon of sports cars. Same story on the skid pad, where it turned 0.99g with ESC off (slightly worse than last year), while its 1.01g with ESC on is better.
Translation: The GT-R has outrageous grip.
Last year's GT-R received larger front brake rotors: 15.4-inch Brembos up front clamped by six-piston calipers. For 2013 everything remains the same, including the 255/40ZRF20 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT 600 tires up front, with 285/35ZRF20s at the rear.
Still, the 2013 GT-R stopped 2 feet shorter from 60 mph (106 feet) and a foot shorter from 30 mph (26 feet). Stops were incredibly stable and the pedal has a firm feel, but distances were quite erratic, varying by as much as 7 feet.
Don't Confuse Awesome for Uninvolving
Early GT-Rs were built to understeer. It was a sad but true reality designed to keep owners on the road and alive. This conservative tuning strategy might have preserved a few GT-Rs (and possibly their occupants), but it consumed front tires at a rate that made owners question this car's value equation.
Because of its conservative chassis tuning and the fact that it produced only 480 hp, it was difficult to drive with the throttle. As Nissan has added power and livened up the suspension tuning, it's become ever easier to achieve power-on oversteer exiting corners. And with 545 hp the GT-R's attitude changes awfully quick if you get greedy with the throttle, so you'd better be ready to catch it with countersteer. In fact, everything about the 2013 GT-R is immediate and carries a welcome degree of edginess.
Steering is quick and precise and the GT-R is wonderfully communicative. And we love the fact that it is no longer the stubbornly planted machine it was originally. It now has some sass while it hauls ass. It's like a Mitsubishi Evo on 5-hour Energy when driven on twisty back roads.
Still, everything about the 2013 Nissan GT-R is designed to keep you on the road. You can hate Nissan's engineers for making this car so capable for so many drivers. Or you can appreciate and stand in awe. Which is what we generally do.
There has to be a difference for there to be a difference. Granted, we didn't drive the 2013 Nissan GT-R back-to-back with the 2012. And physics being physics, 15 extra horses should make little to no difference in a car weighing almost 4,000 pounds. And it didn't.
And so it is that, despite a few changes, the 2013 Nissan GT-R performs pretty much identically to the '12. Is that a problem? Not for us.
We drove our pre-production GT-R some 400 droning highway miles from Phoenix back to Southern California. Then we put it through our instrumented testing, drove it around town, trundled in traffic on the 405, did hot laps at a racetrack and absolutely destroyed a couple of gnarly back roads. It proved equally adept at all.
The GT-R remains what it was when it entered the market five years ago: an engineering masterpiece of a supercar that you can drive every day, in the vein of the Audi R8 and Porsche 911 Turbo, albeit for considerably less money than the Germans.
And with each year's evolution, minor as this one might be, the 2013 Nissan GT-R becomes ever more capable and, more importantly, fun to drive. Sure, the numbers this year might not add up to squat, but Nissan knows what's most important.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.