Driving the 2012 Nissan GT-R on the street doesn't really do the car justice. Pretty much nothing does this car justice. I spent some time lapping GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Michigan in the GT-R and my feelings for the car as conflicted as ever. Yes, the GT-R is brutally, stupidly fast. Yes, the 2012 model year GT-R is even faster and more amazing than the 2009-2011 models. No, I still don't desire one of my own.
The generation of car enthusiasts that grew up with Playstation's classic Gran Turismo won't understand why. It's almost impossible to fault the GT-R when comparing spec sheets, lap times, or test results. Nissan definitely achieved its goals and the GT-R team should be incredibly proud of their product. In fact, the GT-R drives just like you'd expect it to after playing Gran Turismo.
Therein lies the problem. Though the GT-R's steering and suspension have improved since the current-generation car went on sale, there's still less driver involvement and tactile feedback in a GT-R than any of its competitors. The video game generation only cares about ludicrous performance numbers, which the GT-R produces time after time for even a novice pilot. Anyone who fell in love with cars before video games became mainstream cares more about how a car communicates with its driver than all-out performance figures.
To free yourself from massive understeer on the track, you must carry so much speed into a corner that you question your own sanity. The limit certainly exists, but it takes a lot of courage to find it in a car this fast. When in doubt, just add throttle and let the car's array of computers analyze everything from steering angle to wheelspin and sort out the details for you. In the words of Hunter S. Thompson, "buy the ticket, take the ride." You're certainly not in charge of this monster.
I absolutely respect the GT-R for what it's capable of and don't fault owners one bit for choosing this car. I just don't enjoy driving it as much as I should. The humble Mazda Miata is more rewarding on a track or two-lane road. Porsche has cooked up enough 911 variants to best the GT-R in the performance metrics of your choosing, provided you have unlimited cash, and all 911s provide the feedback and visceral experience driving enthusiasts crave.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
I have never driven a Nissan GT-R on the track, which is to say I don't think I can fully appreciate this car. No other vehicle provides such massive power, phenomenal grip, and impressive braking at this price, making the GT-R unique. On the road, though, the GT-R is cold and distant. Its limits and capabilities are so incredibly high that you'll never have a chance to get the full measure of the GT-R experience. So while I like the GT-R, I just can't connect with it enough to really fall in love.
In its quest to build a bargain-priced supercar, Nissan arrived at the same answer as everybody else, but via a very different method. While the GT-R can achieve the numbers to qualify as a sports car, the brute-force approach isn't nearly as satisfying or seductive as the competition. The Porsche 911, the Chevrolet Corvette, and the Lotus Evora all have less powerful engines, more compliant suspensions, and lighter bodies to deliver more entertainment. A great sports car isn't just about going fast, it's about finesse, and agility, and effortless speed. And the GT-R is trying very, very hard.
That's because the 2012 Nissan GT-R is very much the same car that the 2011 Nissan GT-R was. With the right pedal mashed, it's difficult to discern a difference between 530 hp and 485 hp, but I readily noticed the transmission's new SAVE mode (replacing last year's comfort mode), which presumably saves your transmission from being grenaded by the twin-turbo V-6. The suspension changes are much more meaningful. Providing more comfort and (a sliver) more steering feel, they push the GT-R ever-so-slightly closer to being a real live, feeling sports car.
Eric Tingwall, Assistant Editor
It's been more than a year since our 4-Seasons GT-R fled the stable. I had limited experience with that car, so I have eagerly awaited another chance behind the wheel of this already legendary performer. No, I would not have any track time, and my commute is a fraction of what it was the last time I drove the GT-R, so impressions are based on what fun I could concoct around a 15-minute trip home, and back again in the morning.
As Phil notes, this car is brutally, stupidly fast. Although I think the ride is less harsh than before, it is still teeth-rattling. The transmission still shudders and bangs like a locomotive at low speeds, and makes me wonder if passersby think I am dropping the clutch on each shift. But once you escape the traffic of downtown and hit an open road or highway, these flaws fade away like every object shrinking in your rear view mirror.
The updated exterior is so subtly altered, you need to have the changes pointed out to you. That's too bad, because for me the car is still to reminiscent of a Mk. 3 Supra outside -- a bit dated, and not something that jumps out at the uninitiated. Nissan's own Z is far more exotic and fetching, and a car with the capabilities of the GT-R should flex its style muscles a bit more. Inside there are modest updates here and there, but it all feels familiar.
The GT-R hurtles itself along at high speeds with ease, and the knowledge that there is a computer making every possible adjustment for you gives the non-racer the confidence to push this car harder than, say, a 911. At the same time, however, that same invisible hand removes a bit of the experience from the driver.
The GT-R does exactly what I presume Nissan set out for it to do -- that is, match or exceed the performance of the very best cars on the planet at a fraction of their price and through such a sophisticated technologically-advanced powertrain that anyone with a right foot can hit those marks. That's no small feat, and Nissan deserves immense credit for the achievement, but it comes at a price -- and the vast array of performance displays in the dash reminds you -- it becomes more about the numbers and technology and less about the driver, his hands, and the road.
Matt Tierney, Art Director
The GT-R won't appeal to people who really just want a Porsche 911, but it continues to attract the attention of the PlayStation generation, including the two young guys who were landscaping the grounds at my credit union this morning when I was sitting in the drive-thru. The sight of this legendary sports car next to the pneumatic tube clearly made their day, and it was all thumbs up and effusive compliments. Problem is, you'd have to own a very successful landscaping company to afford this $91K beast.
The GT-R's interior has been spiffed up a bit since the car debuted, with carbon-fiber-style trim and stitched leather on top of the dash. All of the incredibly esoteric driver-information screens are still available, providing information like steering angle, temperature gauges for seemingly every fluid in the car except your saliva, and lots of graphs on turbo boost, braking g's, and lap times. Shove the gear shifter to the right into manual mode, then use the paddles to shift, and you'll get pinned to your seat by the raw, almost violently fast acceleration. Apparently our tester has been used for nothing else, as the metallic finish on the front sides of the shift paddles is wearing off.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor