Nissan GT-R review

Not previously available in the U.S., the latest generation of the racetrack-ready Nissan GT-R sports coupe arrived here with great fanfare in 2008 as an early 2009 model. It receives assorted updates for model-year 2012, including added engine power. A new Black Edition version features specific six-spoke wheels, and custom red-trimmed Recaro sport seats.

Nissan GT-R

Originally known in Japan as the Skyline GT-R, the car had long been coveted by automotive enthusiasts on this side of the Pacific. It’s essentially a “supercar” that can run with $200,000 exotic sports cars for what is a relatively affordable price. Civilized enough to serve as a daily driver, it’s more or less the modern-day Japanese rendition of a classic American muscle coupe, though it relies on technological sophistication instead of sheer engine displacement to achieve its lofty performance specs.

Wrapped in radical styling that makes you think its ready to unfold any second into a giant Gundam robot from the stylized world of Japanese anime, the Nissan GT-R just plain looks fast. A sturdy, yet lightweight amalgam of steel, carbon fiber and cast aluminum, its bodywork is dominated by a large front grille and air intakes, a sharply sloping roof, furring taillights and headlamps that wrap horizontally into the fenders. Front and rear fascias are redesigned for 2012 for a meaner look and sleeker aerodynamics. It’s not as organic looking as, say, a Porsche 911 or a Maserati Gran Turismo, but it’s neither as adolescent in its appearance as other Asian hot rods like the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.

A hand-assembled twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V6 engine resides below twin hood scoops and is upgraded for 2012 to generate a blazing 530 horsepower, with 448 pound-feet of low-end torque for tire-smoking launches. It’s mated to a six-speed sequential-shift transmission that can either shift gears automatically or manually via steering wheel-mounted paddles; its dual-clutch design enables it to shift gears at what Nissan claims are “race-car like” speeds.

The Nissan GT-R can sprint to 60 mph in a claimed 3.5 seconds, which places it in a league with exotic European sports cars and domestic barnburners like the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1.

All those horses are reigned in via an extra helping of engineering goodness, none the least of which is the Nissan GT-R’s electronically controlled ATTESA E-TS all-wheel-drive system. Here, it sends 100 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels under normal circumstances, yet can send as much as half the torque up front, depending on the vehicle’s speed, lateral acceleration, steering angle, tire slip and other factors.

Riding on lightweight forged aluminum 20-inch wheels and nitrogen-filled ZR-rated high-performance tires, the Nissan GT-R sits low to the ground, with an optimal front-to-rear weight ratio for well-balanced handling. A driver-adjustable four-wheel independent suspension affords “comfort,” “normal” and “R” modes, with each offering progressively stiffer shock absorber damping rates to improve cornering grip, but with a concurrently harsher ride.

The car’s Vehicle Dynamic Control (a.k.a. stability control) system likewise includes three selectable operating modes that allow drivers to dial up more or less intervention in extreme handling situations. Oversized Brembo braking components help bring the coupe to a halt with authority.

The Nissan GT-R’s interior is purposefully designed, with plenty of room up front for two full-sized passengers (though the sport bucket seats can be a tight fit for some), with two more riders able to shoehorn themselves in rear, albeit uncomfortably. It includes new carbon fiber trim and upgraded materials for the model-year 2012 revision.

Coming sufficiently equipped, though eschewing most of the latest gadget features, standard amenities include front-side and side-curtain airbags, Bluetooth wireless cell-phone connectivity, XM satellite radio and a voice activated navigation system.

Clearly the GT-R is not for everyone and it’s not even for all enthusiasts. It’s a relative bargain considering all the performance it brings to the pavement, though it arguably lacks many other sports cars panache, pizzazz and pedigree. Still, it’s distinctive enough to start a conversation even among casual onlookers, and can run with some heady competition.

Nissan GT-R Quick Facts

Engine: 3.8-liter Turbo V6
Horsepower: 530 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 448 @ 3.200 rpm
City/Highway: MPG 16/23
Transmission: 5-Spd Auto Manual
Drive: AWD
Fuel Capacity: 19.5 gal
Wheelbase: 109.4 in
Overall Length: 183.1 in
Width: 74.9 in
Height: 54.0 in
Curb Weight: 3,829 lbs
MSRP: $89,950 - $95,100

Did You Know?

Before it was introduced in the U.S. fans here could only drive the car on a virtual basis – over the years it’s been featured in assorted video racing games, particularly the successful Gran Turismo series. This makes it one of the rare sports cars that possesses both auto-enthusiast and techno-geek appeal. In fact the creators of GranTurismo helped design the coupe’s multifunction dashboard display that not only shows navigation and audio-system information, but stores no less than 11 pages of performancerelated information, including acceleration, brake pedal pressure, steering angle, etc. for aspiring racers who like to keep track of such data.