Want a supercar but don’t care what badge is on the bootlid? Buy a Nissan GT-R.
Since it launched globally in late 2007, the GT-R has established itself as the performance bargain of the decade. It has a sledgehammer turn of speed and track performance that can matched by only a scant few.
In 2010 we described it as “virtually indomitable”. When mildly upgraded in 2011, we were again knocked out, commenting on its crushing performance and daily liveability. It was, we said, “simply fabulous”.
For the 2012 model year, Nissan has comprehensively updated the GT-R’s mechanical package.
Numerous engine refinements have bumped power output to 404kW without having to resort to higher boost pressures, the tyre compound is stickier, the gearbox is now more refined and the suspension’s new (and unique) asymmetric design enhances grip.
A reversing camera is also now standard, and for all that the new GT-R is only $2000 more than the previous model.
So, it’s faster than ever and still - relatively (it’s a supercar after-all) - cheap.
It doesn’t look any different to the outgoing model, but to demonstrate the new GT-R’s mind-warping performance, Nissan Australia invited TMR to Tasmania to put it to the test on both road and track.
On the road
The launch route encompassed a loop that took in around 350km of some of Tasmania’s finest roads - including no less than six targa stages.
An appropriate selection of roads then, given the R35 GT-R’s dominance of Targa Tasmania last year.
We spent little time in Launceston, but at the few traffic lights we encountered we found the 2012 GT-R’s low-speed transmission performance to be markedly improved.
Much of the driveline shunt and clunkiness of previous models has been mostly banished, and it’s a far more pleasant car to pilot around town.
But enough of that. The GT-R is a car that’s more at home on the open road, and blasting east from Launceston we soon found ourselves on the sinuous ribbons of tarmac known in Targa circles as The Sideling, Moorina, Weldborough Pass and Pyengana.
Through the tight, well-cambered corners of Weldborough pass, the enhanced handling balance of the 2012 GT-R’s chassis revealed itself.
Additional chassis reinforcements both in front and behind the firewall have improved structural rigidity, and the car’s dynamic balance (normally weighted towards the right in RHD cars thanks to the position of the GT-R’s extra driveshaft) has been rectified through the use of an innovative - and unusual - asymmetric suspension set up.
On the road, it translates to cornering performance that’s consistent for both grip and feel regardless of whether turning left or right.
As always, the GT-R’s AWD system performs amazing physics-defying feats on roads like this.
You can start piling in the power well before the apex; the GT-R’s computers respond by instantaneously shuffling torque between each axle to ensure maximum acceleration and minimal slip.
Even on severely lumpy surfaces, its ability to maintain traction borders on astonishing.
Tasmania’s backroads can be incredibly harsh at times, but with the VDC selector switched to ‘Normal’ the GT-R always kept its nose pointed the right way.
It’s not completely infallible though.
On the faster, dust-strewn turns encountered near Rossarden, the high-speed stability of the GT-R was challenged. However, when a loss of grip does occur, the breakaway is smooth and predictable and quickly gathered up.
To say it inspires confidence at any speed is a vast understatement. No wonder the R35 GT-R is so popular in the tarmac rally scene.
But while it’s a fantastic performance car, if we have to be honest it makes a terrible open road tourer.
Road noise on coarse asphalt at any speed above 90km/h is extremely loud.
There’s also not quite enough under-thigh support for the driver, and while the heavily bolstered front seats are great when cornering hard, they’re a drag on long cruises.
The ride is also very, very stiff. Putting the adjustable suspension into ‘Comfort’ mode takes the edge off sharper bumps, but it’s far from supple.
On The Track
The GT-R’s previous local launches have all revolved around significant track time, and although the MY2012 launch focused more on the car’s on-road performance, Nissan still found time in the schedule to work in some laps at Tasmania’s Symmons Plains raceway.
Symmons Plains is a compact 2.4 kilometre circuit made up of three straights linked by tight turns. It’s a good venue to show off the GT-R’s acceleration, braking and cornering performance.
Utilising the full 404kW/628Nm thrust of the GT-R’s 3.8 litre twin-turbo V6, the car rockets away from corner exits and builds speed with astonishing rapidity.
By the end of the front straight we were touching 215km/h, before standing on the brake pedal just before the 100m marker for turn four - a very tight hairpin.
Braking feel, stability and fade resistance is exceptional, and the grip offered by the Dunlop SP Sport 600 tyres didn’t taper off even after 15 hard laps.
Turn five, a very fast right-hand sweeper, is a true test of high speed stability.
Some slight surface undulations have the GT-R squirming about at 220+km/h, and, with the VDC switch set to ‘R’ - which slackens off the stability control - power-on oversteer nestles under the right foot.
The GT-R’s rear can also be coaxed into a slide when trail-braking into a corner.
You can have a lot of fun with the GT-R’s chassis by using its weight to prolong a slight drift, before punching the throttle and bringing things back under control.
First Drive Verdict
Nissan’s constant refinement of the GT-R over the past few years has yielded a car that is indisputably one of the most exciting performance cars of the moment.
It costs no more than a cheap suburban apartment while its direct competitors retail for the same money as a two-bedroom house. And no cheap apartment ever offered such fun (unless your friends are especially exotic).
Whether on the road or on a racetrack, the GT-R will crush nearly everything foolish enough to challenge it. We like it. A lot.
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