Road test: 2012 Nissan GT-R Black Edition

A supercar equal to its competitors, but at half the coast.

The Nissan GT-R has a zero-to-100kph time of three seconds. Courtesy of Nissan
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David Booth

Nissan is going to start trumpeting the fact it's updated its GT-R soon. The GT-R, for those of you over 35 years of age not addicted to video games, is Nissan's supercar. All you need to know is that Nissan does indeed make a car comparable to the Porsche 911, Audi R8 and the Ferrari 458. In fact, a powerful argument can be made that the lowly Nissan is superior to the bunch, even though it costs up to 300 per cent less than the aforementioned competition.

Even more so now, says Nissan, with the GT-R's inspirational chief engineer, Kazutoshi Mizuno, waxing poetic about a gain of 45 horsepower, 19Nm more torque, even more turbo boost and a zero-to-100kph time of three seconds. The previous version was a dog is the implication and the 2012's newfound turn of speed is its most enticing attribute.

Don't listen to a word of it. Those 45 extra horsepower pass largely unnoticed, mainly because the original version boasted a surfeit that alternated between the sublime and the ridiculous. Trying to tell the difference between the original's 485hp (probably under-rated) and the new one's 530 is a bit like trying to personally judge the difference in impact between a plain old .45-caliber bullet and a .44 Magnum round; the size of the hole may be different, but you're being outfitted for a casket in either case. Put it this way: either will make a 911 Turbo seem weedy.

Nor do the handling changes - lower-friction shocks, better suspension tower bracing and minor alignment changes - provide all that noticeable a benefit. Having driven both the old and new back to back, even the supposedly inferior aged version adheres to tarmac more assiduously than American Tea Partiers to their extremist ideals. There's really no such thing as body roll and the brakes feel like they could stop an Airbus.

So, if the performance improvement isn't easily appreciated and the handling is barely more limpet-like, what's the big deal about this the upgraded version of the GT-R, then?

Well, believe it or not, the really big news about the new GT-R is how civil the new one is. Yes, how civil. I know that worrying about civility when you're driving 300kph seems silly, but the previous version really did exact quite a penalty for its outlandish performance. The ride was tooth-jarring, sound insulation non-existent and saying that the dual-clutch transmission was balky was being very sensitive to the engineer's feelings.

It's still no Lexus, but the new GT-R may finally be the sophisticated supercar the Nissan brand image always promised. The ride is now merely firm. The cacophony - everything from road noise to gears crunching - that was the concert inside the previous GT-R is now much more subdued. No, the new GT-R is not quite as civil as a Porsche 911. But, its poor manners are no longer so gauche that you can't take it out in polite company. Or take polite company out in it.

Of course, the question on every enthusiast's lips is whether the GT-R is faster than a 911 Turbo. Nissan makes no secret of its desire to usurp Porsche as the thinking man's supercar.

With the usual caveats - one would have to test the cars on the same day on the same track under the same conditions - I'm going to put my money on the Nissan. Even compared with the slightly invigorated Turbo S version of the 911 (and let's not even pretend that the GT2 RS is a production car), the GT-R feels just a little more muscular, especially in the mid-range where the 3.8L V6's twin turbochargers kick in with a fury that seems otherwordly no matter how many times you experience it.

Like the blown 911, the GT-R drives all four wheels, and I hesitate to think how manageable either car would be without four-wheel drive. Like the 911, directing some power to the front axle makes it feel like the front tyres are literally trying to pull you out of a turn.

Indeed, the new GT-R may be the ultimate point-and-squirt track weapon as you are able to rush up to corners with almost complete faith in the huge Brembo brakes, fling it into a corner and then hammer on the throttle comfortable in the knowledge that the computerised all-wheel drive and its traction control system will harness all those 607Nm of torque on the exit. Again, very similar to a 911 Turbo.

In the end, it matters not. Yes, the new 2012 GT-R is faster. Yes, it understeers less. But the speeds at which you must drive to notice the difference are almost unconscionable, even on a racetrack. The Nissan GT-R is simply one of the superest of super cars. It is scary fast in a way only a very few cars are scary fast. That it costs barely US$90,000 (when its direct competition costs twice and even three times as much) and is now relatively civilised makes one wonder why the uber-rich bother with Ferraris and the like.

While the Black Edition won't be coming to the UAE, we'll see the GT-R VVIP edition with the same upgraded engine and suspension but with a host of other touches such as 24-carat gold-plated side panels, grille and badges, and custom leather interiors.