It’s called “Godzilla,” and the nickname is apt. The Nissan GT-R is fully capable of frightening children and terrorizing cities.
With a starting price of less than $100,000, this Japanese sports coupe will go horse to raging horse with the Ferrari 458 Italia and Porsche 911 Turbo, cars vastly more expensive. It’s a supercar on the relative cheap.
The Ferrari and Porsche are dual in nature: Quick enough to bend physics yet docile enough to scoot around town. The GT-R’s only two modes are viciously fast and off. “Off” as in engine dead, doors locked, driver elsewhere.
This coupe is out-and-out brutal, beating drivers and passengers into Silly Putty. Glorious, so long as you like that kind of thing.
That Nissan Motor Co. even has a supercar is a surprise to some. The GT-R is an awkward fit among sedate Maximas and all-electric Leafs. Yet it’s been around a long time as Japan’s Skyline GT-R. Legendary, but until 2008 officially unavailable in the U.S.
That year the GT-R arrived with all-wheel-drive, a twin-turbo V-6 and 480 horsepower. I tested it on racetrack and highway. Though taken with the immoderate performance, it left me just a tiny bit cold.
It was in fact rather reptilian, missing the warm-blooded heat of less technical sports cars. Too many computer chips interacting between the driver and the mechanicals. The GT-R had a tendency to drive for you, washing away human error in a stream of digital code.
The car has been updated continually, and the 2012 model -- the one I tested -- got a big bump in power, to 530 hp and 448 pound-feet of torque. The 2013 model is even mightier, with 545 hp and 463 pound-feet. All that from a 3.8-liter, twin-turbo V-6.
The 2012 model started at around $91,000, whereas the 2013 is closer to $98,000. The only options on my premium version were the $280 floor mats with GT-R logos.
There are external differences since the first model, most notably in the rear, which finally looks exotic with a rim of carbon fiber and four fat tailpipes. The Frisbee-sized taillights glow devil-red at night.
This thing is a koan to impracticality, a paean to muscle. The hood is grossly oversized; the rims overflow the wheels. This is a thick-necked bull rather than a long-jointed sprinter. And that’s exactly the way it drives. The GT-R doesn’t slip-steam through space or dart down the road; it drops a shoulder and razes everything in its path.
The wide, grabby tires chuck gravel up into the wheel-wells where they noisily ricochet around before finally being spit out. All that rubber gives more grip than you could ever possibly need on a public road.
You rarely need to get on the brakes for a curve; just come off the gas and let the well-balanced car settle; the tires set on a line and carry you through.
The car’s sizable weight makes it tough to change a line mid-corner, but it’s so calculated, so smart, you can hew to a turn and barely move the wheel. No minute corrections needed. Interestingly, it feels less digital than the earlier models. Far more engaging, if still not exactly organic.
It’s a noisy machine. It doesn’t try to magic away its nature, cloaking power with silky shifts or sound-deadening materials. Rather it whines and clunks and grunts even at slow speeds. Even the paddle shifters are loud, each upshift comes with a metallic click and then a shudder as the next gear engages.
The car would soon become insufferable to even the most speed-loving passenger. Nobody wants to be in this ride for long unless you’re the one hooked into the driver seat with a direct connection from the steering wheel to your adrenaline glands.
Thrills and Spills
There is a comfort setting for the granite-like suspension. While the light goes amber when you push it down, I suspect it’s actually a placebo. Driving around Manhattan at even the slowest speeds managed to shake out streams of coffee from a half-full cup.
The Nissan is a nightmare in a parking lot. The low nose begs to be scraped, the turning radius is lousy and every time you put it in reverse a beeping noise like a back-hoe erupts.
Yet blast down a back road and the sheer speed and preciseness of the steering renders any complaint moot.
The new Porsche 911 is so fast and smooth that it’s nearly decorous. The speedy Ferrari 458 carries you away with its sound. The GT-R cares only for immoderate, shameless speed.
While it doesn’t look like a high-dollar supercar, it’s actually one of the most shameless examples I’ve ever driven.
The 2012 Nissan GT-R at a Glance
Engine: 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6 with 530 horsepower and
448 pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Automated six-speed dual clutch.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 16 city; 23 highway.
Price as tested: $91,230.
Best feature: Immoderate performance.
Worst feature: Noisy and clunky at slow speeds.
Target buyer: The driver who will sacrifice everything for
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)