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A good car on a winding road puts you in a state of near nirvana, but the 2012 Nissan GT-R opens up a new level of enlightenment. Out on a particularly good road in the San Francisco Bay Area, one that winds through a valley and up a mountain topped by an observatory, we found that new level with the GT-R.
Over an unrelenting course of turn after turn, hairpins and broader esses snaking their way up a mountain, as we worked the paddles between second and third gear, cranking the wheel right, then left, then right again, modulating brakes and gas, the car brought us to a new level of consciousness. There was no past or future, just the next turn. The Buddha would have been proud.
There are other types of roads in the world, but the GT-R was clearly meant for the twist and shout. It did unbelievable things on this particular testing ground. At first, it seemed impossible to find its limits while driving with some shred of sanity. But pushed faster, it began to betray a slight four-wheel drift, which its complex electronic road-holding systems quickly reined in.
On the really sharp turns, the whip snap across the GT-R's body began to break the rear wheels loose, but all it took was a nudge of the accelerator and power coursed to the wheels with grip, the vehicle using its all-wheel-drive system to get back under control. Despite racing equipment such as its twin-turbo V-6, 20-inch Rays wheels, custom tires, and performance computer in the dash, the GT-R is a very forgiving car.
But even so, you have to work the paddles for the six-speed dual-clutch transmission to avoid embarrassing power dips. The power overlap between second and third gears isn't much, and dropping to 3,000rpm puts the GT-R in lag territory. By contrast, the BMW M3 offers a wider power band in third.
On long, straight roads, the GT-R can still deliver a thrill, with the 530 horsepower and 448 pound-feet of torque from its twin-turbo 3.8-liter V-6 taking it from zero to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds. Yes, that's right, 2.9 seconds. The 2011 model did it in 3.3 seconds, which seems leisurely now.
Technology makes this type of performance from a V-6 possible. Beyond sheer horsepower, the GT-R's secret weapon is launch control, which has been improved for the 2012 model. This system runs the engine up to 4,000rpm before putting power to the ground, then monitors each wheel for slip, making corrections so as not to burn off speed.
The dual-clutch transmission significantly helps the acceleration, with gear changes that waste no time. This transmission has two modes, automatic and manual, the latter serving as a row-your-own sport mode. In automatic, the transmission favors high gears, looking for fuel economy.
And, surprisingly, the GT-R is not subject to the gas guzzler tax, as it earns 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway in EPA testing. Even more surprising is its Ultra Low-Emission Vehicle rating under California Air Resources Board regulations.
But while you might get above 16 mpg by keeping it in automatic mode, we came in with a tank average of only 12.7 mpg after a combination of freeway, traffic, city, and glorious mountain road driving.
Although the GT-R is an incredible performer on track and twisty road, it has always been a little too noisy and rough for commuting or trips to the grocery store. Nissan said it would refine the 2012 model, and it has, to some extent. Where the 2011 GT-R's transmission sounded like farm machinery working over your right shoulder, the 2012 model dampens it so the noise seems like it's coming from a distant valley.
The GT-R's engine never had the musicality of a Ferrari's, or the bark of a Mercedes-Benz AMG's. And in the 2012 model, it still doesn't. Instead, it sounds like a lathe whittling out table legs. The most enjoyable sound from the engine is the turbos sucking in air.