First Drive: 2013 Nissan GT-R European Spec

Jack Rix
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It's just not fair, is it? Like Usain Bolt smashing the 100-meter world record, then doing it all over again, the Nissan GT-R has upped its game when the competition was already clinging onto its coat tails.

The 2012 GT-R, introduced 12 months ago, wasn't exactly growing long in the tooth. It could embarrass a Ferrari 458 in a straight line and out-handle most things this side of a racecar, but Nissan has gone and moved the goal posts, again. A raft of updates for calendar year 2012 (model year 2013 in the U.S.) -- bring yet more power, a bizarre asymmetrical suspension setup and a handful of tweaks to the interior.

Unlike its competitors, the GT-R has been upgraded every year since its 2007 launch. In the words of Kazutoshi Mizuno, the father of the GT-R project: "Well you wouldn't accept it if Formula One cars had the exact same look and performance from one year to the next, would you?"

The big step came last October, when the 2012 GT-R arrived with an extra 45 hp. That brought the total to 530 hp and 434 lb-ft of torque from its twin-turbo V6, and made it, in the eyes of Mizuno, the car the GT-R was always destined to be. And just when we all thought the engine was reaching its full potential, it's taken another leap.

This time around, a more modest 13 hp (15 hp in U.S.-spec models) has been extracted from deep within the engines bowels along with an extra 15 lb-ft. That's enough to slash a predicted eight to ten seconds from the GT-R's Nurburgring lap time and drop the 0-62 mph time from 3.0-seconds flat to 2.8. Just to put the ferocity of that acceleration in context, a Ferrari Enzo would need another half a second to hit the same speed, a Lamborghini Aventador would need an extra tenth and even the track-only 723-hp Pagani Zonda R would be left trailing - and these are cars that cost at least five times as much.

Up to 5,000 rpm, it's a familiar experience -- as if I've become accustomed to the GT-R's other-worldly performance over the years and that initial slug has lost some of its sting -- but as the revolutions rise, the way this revised car charges for the rev limiter is all new. This is not a characterful engine, full of sound and fury or pops and bangs, but the way it piles on the speed, regardless of road conditions, is brutally efficient. That extra power manifests itself by allowing the engine to spin more freely at higher revs, so the limiter consistently arrives earlier than you think.

The transmission has also gone under the knife, gaining a strengthened shift fork arm and a firmer fixing bearing for the flywheel housing. The outcome, says Nissan, is less noise and smoother shifts. Considering the six-speed twin-clutch gearbox was already one of the finest on the planet, striking the perfect balance between speed and refinement, the tangible gains are minimal.

In true GT-R style, the power boost has been achieved the hard way: not by reprogramming the ECU and bolting on a bigger exhaust, but by upgrading the V6's internals. There's sodium-filled valves in the exhaust pipe for improved cooling, tweaked cylinder heads, and a freer flowing intake manifold. Of course, the other benefit of improving the engine's efficiency this way is boost in fuel economy of 0.4 mpg -- Greenpeace won't be applauding, but every little helps.

While the engine is impressive, it's the latest suspension changes that sum up the GT-R's technical brilliance. To compensate for the driver's weight -- and the fact that the front propeller shaft is mounted on the right hand side of the car -- the spring rates in RHD models are firmer on the passenger side and the rear driver's side suspension arm is mounted slightly lower. It's mind-boggling stuff, but the goal is simple to make this the fastest and most thrilling road car for the driver. And if there's a fraction of a second or an extra bit of grip to be gained, the GT-R's engineers are going to take it.

Because we drove the car on a slippery Silverstone track, we were forced us to tip-toe around the slower corners and couldn't feel the chassis changes shining through. We'll need a more extensive road test to get to the bottom of them, but suffice to say the car didn't lurch alarmingly one way or the other when we blasted out of the pits -- it felt as planted as ever.

With traction control set to either its intermediate 'R' mode or switched off entirely, it felt like a rear-wheel drive supercar, looking to break away at the slightest tickle of the throttle when the steering was loaded up. It felt intimidating at times, but the fact that a nearly-4000-pound car resolutely refused to understeer, on a wet track, is testament to the GT-R's brilliant natural balance and the array of electronics working underneath you.

After exploring the breathtaking detail of the GT-R's engineering, it seems inconsequential to explore the interior upgrades, but cover every base we must. A ring of blue light now encircles the tachometer, one of the few visual giveaways that this is the new model. The other is the rear view camera fitted as standard and Bose Precision Sound System sub-woofers in place of the standard Bose units that were included up until now.

What will really have the GT-R's rivals quaking in their boots though is that the GT-R still has four more annual updates to come before it's replaced. In the words of Mizuno, "the current car is about 80 percent of what's possible, there's still 20 percent still to come."

Base price: $100,000 (est)
Engine: 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6
Power: 543 hp
Torque: 466 lb-ft
0-62 mph: 2.8 seconds
Top speed: 198 mph (est)
Drive: Four-wheel drive
Transmission: Six-speed dual clutch
Fuel economy: 20 mpg

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