BETTER ON TRACK
We were allowed to drive several laps of the west half of Buttonwillow Raceway Park in both 2011 and 2012 GT-Rs, and the difference is substantial. Continual development of shocks and springs had brought the 2011 to acceptable levels of understeer (earlier cars were far more understeer-prone, requiring substantially more power to help rotate the rear end), but the 2012 model suffers from no such handling demerits. Like all cars, you can induce understeer if you try, but the new GT-R’s setup is far more neutral, allowing the computer-controlled all-wheel-drive system even better flexibility in keeping the GT-R pointed where the driver wants it.
The dramatically improved balance comes with absolutely no penalty—the new GT-R is not only less upset by midcorner bumps, it remains unbelievably forgiving, largely shrugging off bad driving while still responding to all of the driver’s inputs immediately. Where last year’s steering was completely numb, the new car transmits valuable information about what the front end is doing. In short, the GT-R has now become a Mitsubishi Evo–like handler; a vehicle so incredibly adept at reading the intentions of the driver that it feels like an extension of the driver himself.
Larger 15.4-inch front rotors both react to inputs and dissipate heat more quickly than the previous 15.0-inch front brakes and are still cooled by air that has already been heated by the intercoolers and engine radiators. Still, they put up with a tremendous amount of abuse before the pedal starts to go soft—and even then, they continue to work well.
Nissan hasn’t yet published an official Nürburgring lap time, but preliminary runs show an improvement of two seconds over the original GT-R’s 7-minute, 26-second time, in slightly wet conditions. Even if the new car hadn’t beaten the old GT-R, the difference in at-the-limit behavior would be enough.
PRICING AND AVAILABILITY
The GT-R’s price increases by almost $6000 for 2012 models, which should go on sale in February. The base car starts at $90,950 (including destination), and a new Black Edition starts at $96,100. The Black Edition includes black-and-red Recaro seats, a black headliner, and the aforementioned six-spoke wheels.
Non-Black-Edition GT-Rs also get a seat upgrade. The new seats are wider, softer, and more comfortable but also more supportive. The seat heater switch moves forward on the seat side and is now easy to reach (although the button, originally a toggle and then replaced by a push-switch, is once again a toggle switch).
Several interior material upgrades also phase in for 2012, the most noticeable being a carbon-fiber weave pattern on the center console.
IT STILL AIN’T PERFECT
Although it’s a great performance bargain, the GT-R still isn’t perfect. Unlike the world’s best sports cars, which are as fun at 15 mph as they are at 150 mph, the GT-R only comes alive at the limit. Its ride is brutal, its steering uninvolved, and its engine doesn’t make the great noises one associates with supercars. Its dual clutch transaxle, although improved from the original version, still clunks and bangs and works best only at full throttle. (Thankfully, new programming keeps the center clutch open during very low-speed maneuvering, avoiding the driveline binding that made previous GT-Rs difficult to park smoothly.)
Perfect or not, the GT-R’s performance has gotten even better—likely as a direct result of Nissan spending so much time on German highways and the Nordschleife. Now Nissan only needs to move its team to Italy to concentrate on injecting a little charm into the car.