– Fast is an understatement
– Insanely great handler
– Good space for two and luggage
– Harsh noisy ride
– Computers do all the talking
– Big car with cramped rear seat
There was once a time when the Skyline GT-R was a niche product, only available in Japan with a few grey imports elsewhere. And yet, it made such an impact on the world stage that the GT-R badge got a car all by itself in 2008, separating from the Skyline range, and practically redefining what a car can do on the track. Of course, when we drove a silver one in 2009, we were impressed but not terribly surprised by its performance. Come 2012 though, and we couldn’t believe how much of an improvement the upgraded model is compared to that silver one. In fact, “improvement” would be an understatement.
From the outside, it retains the facelift that debuted in 2011, although that involves just a slightly-redesigned bumper with LED running lamps and not much else. Ours also happened to be the Black Edition, which simply adds black wheels, Recaro seats with red trim bits and carbon-fibre on the centre console. The GT-R is still interesting to look at after all these years, although it doesn’t garner the same respect a Ferrari would on public roads, on account of its badge.
The doors have pop-out handles mimicking those of an Aston Martin, leading into the familiar industrial-looking cabin. It is nicely trimmed though, with a stitched-leather dash and supple padded doors. Then, upper parts of the central console have soft-touch plastics and the area around the shifter consists of harder plastics with a rubbery texture. But panels in the rear seating area are completely made of economy-car hard plastics. We guess they’re hoping no one will ever turn behind to notice.
The semi-leather seats are tight and sporting, but the power-adjustable driver’s seat doesn’t go high enough for our liking, likely to preserve that annoying “bathtub” feel inherent in most sports cars. While the front is spacious, the rear seating area is severely cramped, although Nissan thought it appropriate to add a single open cup-holder between the rear seats, just in front of the big subwoofer. We did manage to fit a small woman in the back though, with the average-sized front passenger pushed forward a bit. For storage, the front passengers get covered cup-holders, some tiny door pockets and a glove-box, while the luggage boot out back is good for maybe one small suitcase or a week’s worth of groceries.
Features include a hands-free ‘intelligent’ key straight out of the Nissan parts bin, a starter button, a strong dual-zone a/c, a solid CD stereo with subwoofer, front and side airbags, cruise control, HID headlights and a working Bluetooth phone, as well as a prominent LCD touchscreen computer with ten Playstation-style displays to show all sorts of information about acceleration, braking, four-wheel power distribution, various temperatures and other info that you’d never have time to look at while actually driving, unless you figure out how to download it later. New features include an integrated navigation system and a rear-view camera, things that we missed in the old model.
While changes are minimal at first glance, the real upgrades are under the hood. The GT-R got a bump-up of about 60 horses since 2009, a product of constant annual refinement to extract more performance. We figured we wouldn’t notice the difference compared to the 2009 car, but boy were we wrong. The 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 now offers 542 hp on tap at 6200 rpm, and 632 Nm of peak torque at 5200 rpm, mated to a dual-clutch 6-speed automanual gearbox with paddle-shifters and a supercomputer-controlled all-wheel-drive syetem. In manual mode, the downshifts are instant, while upshifts are delayed by a few milliseconds. A host of adjustable chassis settings are accessible via various switches on the dashboard. Setup choices include ‘comfort,’ ‘normal,’ and ‘R.’ For acceleration tests, we slipped it into ‘R’ so that launch control was activated and the stability control relaxed a bit.
While most assume that “launch control” is some sort of magic button that makes the car warp into infinity, the feature has no buttons, and requires the driver to rev up in “R” mode while holding the brake pedal with the left foot, before letting go and speeding off with a sudden burst of acceleration. That netted us a 0-100 kph time of “only” 3.5 seconds during our December testing. While we didn’t break the claimed 3-second mark, we were already content — this was already the fastest-accelerating car we’ve ever tested, and a second quicker than the car we tested in 2009. We were cussing the entire 3.5 seconds, overwhelmed by the g-force of what we were experiencing.
The launch control system now allows maybe four tries before forcing some cool-down driving, in order to protect the drivetrain. This all-wheel-drive rocket takes off with neck-snapping spontaneity, with no wheelspin whatsoever. Interestingly, our as-tested fuel consumption figure of 15.8 litres/100 km using RON98 petrol is 25% better than the older car we drove, rather amazing considering the power upgrade.
But more than the engine, it is the handling that practically destroys most other cars. With fresh tyres and upgraded suspension, it cornered like no other car we’ve ever driven before, easily better than the 2009 version. With intense steering feedback, firm flat suspension, computer-controlled all-wheel-drive traction, quick gearbox and bone-crushing brakes, it really is the Playstation of cars. It inspired confidence, and while we were able to squeal the tyres on the old car, we hardly heard a peep from this one, shod in 255/40 front and 285/35 rear Dunlop rubbers with a semi-slick pattern on black 20-inch wheels. We bet the electronics played a part in its unflappability too. This car feels uncrashable even near the limit, and you have to be a suicidal idiot to put it into a wall.
As satanically undefeatable as this car is, it is not exactly perfect either. Care needs to be taken to save the low front bumper. The suspension is harsh even in ‘comfort’ mode, although we could almost swear it is slightly more compliant than the old car. The engine and wind noises are bearable, but the tyre noise is excessive at highway speeds. There is even the odd transmission clunk heard occasionally while slowing to a stop, while the engine is always rumbling, even at idle. The turbo engine sounds awesome on acceleration, like a Boeing 747 taking off, though those looking for the traditional exhaust rumble of a sports car will need to look elsewhere. A Porsche 911 easily has it beat in comfort, engine note and respect on the road.
But the GT-R, even with its impractical aspects, is a practical supercar. As we said before of the 2009 edition, the GT-R is a car that can be easily driven fast about town and on the track, with space for fat butts and groceries to boot. Before, it could hold its own against more expensive supercars. Now the 2012 GT-R pretty much obliterates them.
Current Model Introduced in:
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