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.
A clear day and a mountain road make for a brilliant time in the GT-R.
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.
Part of the GT-R's high-tech gear, this dual-clutch transmission never misses a beat.
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.
Four big pipes vent exhaust gasses from the GT-R's 3.8 liters of displacement.
Part of the GT-R's handling expertise comes from its electronically controlled suspension. As in the previous model year, it includes a comfort setting. And while there is a noticeable difference between Race, Normal, and Comfort modes, there is not particular softness in the last. The GT-R's Comfort mode gives it a ride like a typical sports car, similar to the fixed suspension in the.
If you want a car you can drive fast on the weekends that can also serve as a commute vehicle, and you don't care if it can't hit 60 mph in 2.9 seconds, a BMW is a better bet. The GT-R is a little too rough for dual duty. But its dual-clutch transmission handles the boring low-speed stuff just fine, without clunky shifts.
Despite the fact that loved ones won't want to ride with you on a leisurely cruise down to the coast, the GT-R comes with the full Nissan cabin tech suite, with all sorts of useful electronics for road trips. The hard-drive-based navigation system is the same one used by Nissan for a few years now, showing traffic and 3D maps. For the GT-R, topographical maps would have been a huge improvement, useful for checking out the upcoming terrain when racing down lonely canyon roads.
The navigation system stores its maps on a hard drive, leading to quick refresh times.
The system's touch screen works as well as ever, and it also supports very good voice command. It actually understood when we said "Tehama," the name of an alley street near CNET headquarters, something most voice command systems struggle with.
A Bluetooth phone system also comes standard with the GT-R, and supports dial-by-name through voice command.
Nissan added a few audio sources for 2012. The GT-R can now integrate with iPods and play music from Bluetooth streaming devices. There is also the onboard hard drive, to which you can rip music.
The Bose audio system, with 11 speakers, sounds very good. It has to compete with the sound of the engine, transmission, and road, but has enough watts to pump out the volume. Two subwoofers don't hurt either.
But the piece de resistance is the performance computer. It gives you seven preset and four customizable screens showing every aspect of the car's performance tech. Graphs show acceleration, braking, and lateral g-forces. Gauges display oil temperature, torque split, and turbo pressure. One screen advises when to change gears.
The performance computer shows useful data for track performance.
The graphics difference between the standard cabin tech suite and the performance computer is a little jarring. There was no attempt to give them a common theme. Also, a driver's notes function in the performance computer records what roads you've driven, but you can't port roads from the driver's notes into the navigation system.
The technology that goes into making the 2012 Nissan GT-R such a good sports car is truly amazing. An adaptive suspension and all-wheel drive keep its big tires sticking to the pavement. The twin-turbo V-6 and dual-clutch transmission ensure that the power comes on when you want it.
The cabin electronics, featuring a useful navigation system and Bluetooth phone system, are solid. The Bose stereo is powerful enough to compete with the engine noise. And giving the GT-R a big boost in the electronics is its performance computer.
The design of the GT-R is surprisingly subtle. People in the know will stop and gawk, or come up and ask questions. But most civilians will walk blithely along, unaware of the monster sitting at the curb.
|Model||2012 Nissan GT-R|
|Power train||Twin turbocharged 3.8-liter V-6, 6-speed dual-clutch transaxle|
|EPA fuel economy||16 mpg city/23 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||12.7 mpg|
|Navigation||Hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Onboard hard drive, Bluetooth streaming audio, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Bose 11-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Racing diagnostics computer|
|Price as tested||$91,230|