When news broke that the haloed badge would finally be released in the United States, I zealously absorbed all the information trickling out — the GT-R couldn’t strip its black rubbery camo soon enough. So when I was handed the keys to the Nissan’s updated 2012 GT-R, it was a childhood dream come true. Knowing of its Porsche-killing performance cred, how could it be anything but a transcendent experience?
But from the time I first sat in the heavily bolstered Recaros and pushed the console ignition start button, a realization slowly crept in: this isn’t the car I was eagerly awaiting.
Granted, the GT-R completely lives up to its exotic-sports-car-vanquishing fame—so if speed’s what you’re after, disregard the rest of this article, because the GT-R puts to shame cars two or three times its price, and in a more daily-driveable package.
But a sports car’s appeal isn’t just about how many German and Italian supercars it can pass on the Nürburgring Nordschleife. While Nissan has improved the GT-R for 2012 with a 45-horsepower bump (to 530 hp), a retuned suspension, structural bracing changes, interior improvements and subtle aerodynamic tweaks, none of those changes address the issue that’s at the heart of the car — that the new, game-changing and supremely engineered GT-R lacks an enthusiast spirit.
The problems aren’t what you’d suspect. Detractors of the GT-R tend to view its technological wizardry—like the ATTESA-ETS AWD (Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All-Terrain)—as a negative, something that isolates the driver from the road by doing all the heavy lifting. And while the technology is a significant factor in its performance capability, it doesn’t detract from the driving. The nicely weighted steering, for example, precisely and faithfully transmits what’s going on with the tires. In corners, the electronically controlled Bilstein dampers grip the road with a feedback that feels direct, even analog; the GT-R stays neutral throughout turns with astonishing grip, seemingly defying the laws of physics. You can punch the throttle out of an apex secure in the knowledge that it will neither plow its nose nor slide its tail. And even when the vehicle dynamics control (VDC) kicks in R mode, it’s more to aid and enhance your driving rather than to take away.
The acceleration on the GT-R is sublime, too. For 2012, Nissan revised the launch control functionality, and all those millisecond computations equate to blistering acceleration. The ease of execution and neck-snapping grip off the line is otherworldly. When you can get to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds, the last thing you complain about is how computers are ingeniously maximizing your traction.
But performance doesn’t necessarily define the soul of a sports car. And that brings up the question: what is the soul of a GT-R— and what makes it a GT-R? For answers, we look to the mastermind behind the GT-R, Nissan’s chief vehicle engineer Mizuno Kazutoshi.
“In a single phrase: anyone, anywhere, anytime,” said Mizuno. “That the car would make an exceptional impression to anyone, anywhere, anytime. We call it the multi-performance supercar.”
But that’s the problem: whereas past iterations of the GT-R stayed true to Mizuno’s vision, this super-sized, high-tech rendition has strayed. Take the GT-R that catapulted the badge to global notoriety, the 1989 Skyline R32 GT-R—it was dominant in races to the point of being banned, and earned the now well-known “Godzilla” moniker. But compare that to the current GT-R (chassis code R35) and you can see that the new GT-R is an altogether different — and less inspiring — beast.