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November 14, 2012

News & Features

Auto review: Nissan GT-R has supercar speed, performance at bargain price

The Miami Herald

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The 2013 Nissan GT-R offers high-performance fun for a fraction of the price. (Nissan)

After my first, shall we say, spirited ride in Nissan's top performance animal, the GT-R, I sat in the driveway for a moment waiting for that nasty grin on my face to disappear. Shutting down this twin-turbo beast sounded like a jet engine as it whirs slowly to a halt.

Back came the grin. How appropriate to hear this supersonic sound from a machine that soars from zero to 60 in — wait for it — a neck-jarring 2.7 seconds. The quarter-mile in 11.1 seconds. And a top speed of 196 mph.

That's Ferrari and Bugatti Veyron territory for a fraction of the price — which has gone up for 2013, but more on that later.

2013 Nissan GT-R
  • Base price: $96,820
  • Price as tested: $106,320

Nissan has beefed up power on the GT-R every year since it came out in 2009, so, yes, another tweak was due for 2013. Its 3.8-liter, twin-turbo V-6 produces 545 horses — up from 480 horsepower four years ago — and 463 pound-feet of torque.

Also revised: the transmission, though it still comes across a bit clunky around town. Maybe this beast is just showing its impatience to get out on the open road.
Suspension tuning has been refined on the top-line Black Edition, but even more impressive on the Black this year is a handmade carbon-fiber rear spoiler. It's standard, too.

So are the orange Brembo six-piston brake calipers up front (four-piston rear), the Bilstein electronic shocks and 20-inch aluminum wheels — with black finish, of course.

This all-wheel-drive cat is happiest when it can run, and it leaps to triple-digit speed in a flash. It'll run from 50 mph to 100 in just a few seconds, too. But its stiffer springs and overall structure help it negotiate the twisty roads or racetrack with tenacious grip and precision, too.

Steering is smooth and responsive, though the GT-R's weight — nearly two tons — keeps it from being as agile as, say, a Porsche 911.

Around town, this speedster is not as well behaved as on the highway or track. Despite improvements to the tranny, it's still a bit quirky and indecisive at slower speeds. But paddle shifters mounted on the column offer quick shifts and plenty of fun. For sports-car purists, however, be forewarned: No manual is available.

There are three settings that control the transmission shift points and suspension: Normal, Comfort and Race. The race setting broadens the shifts up the power band. You'll also likely discover that the suspension is too stiff for everyday driving.

I didn't get the GT-R on a track but I've read its famous understeer is alive and well, though reports are that its track performance is improved from the 2012 model.

All this speed and fun comes at a price; here come the mpg figures. But hold on; it's not terrible at 16 around town, 23 on the highway with a combined figure around 19 mpg. That's high for a smaller car but in the ballpark of your other car, the SUV. But, hey, the GT-R has a much higher fun quotient.

The GT-R has good, racy looks, but one could argue that it is somewhat common, not as sharp as those elegant supercars with emblems of horses and bulls on the front. But it's built to perform, not win a beauty contest.

The two-tiered grille channels air to the intercooler and also is designed to reduce front lift. On the lower corners are scoops to cool those sizable Brembo brakes.

Perhaps it looks better from the rear, sporting quad exhausts and the dry carbon fiber spoiler.

The carbon fiber accent continues inside on the center console. Buttons are easy to reach and use.

The cabin has pretty much everything you need, but doesn't stack up to the pricier sports-car entries even though it can keep with them on the road. It's improved when you opt for the Black Edition, starting with red and black Recaro seats that tuck you in for the tight corners.

The real kick is the information center contained on an LCD screen. There is data and virtual gauges to provide all the dirty details: lateral and longitudinal g-force, lap times, coolant and oil temps. A data system can even record your performance at the track for review later.

Seats have eight-way power and, amazingly, appear to be comfortable for longer drives, too. Headroom and legroom are sufficient, even for 6-foot-plus guys. Not so in the rear, which can accommodate kids or packages only.

Trunk space? Not bad, actually, with an 8.8-cubic-foot well that should handle most reasonable weekend chores.

Visibility from within is not only adequate, but there is a rear-view camera to help out when backing up.

Beyond that, standard safety features include dual-stage frontal air bags plus side-impact air bags up front and full-length side curtain bags. The GT-R also has traction and stability control and antilock brakes with brake assist, which applies more pressure when needed.

Only two trim levels are available: the Premium and Black editions. I drove the Black, and it has everything the Premium does, plus lightweight black wheels with Dunlop run-flat tires, carbon-fire wing and the aforementioned Recaro seats.

Both versions are stacked with goodies like 20-inch wheels, Brembo brakes, electronic suspension, power seats and 11-speaker Bose sound system CD, satellite radio, iPod and Bluetooth connectivity. And the nav system includes traffic and weather reports.

The GT-R has been on American roads for five years, and every year improvements are made and the horsepower rises. For 2013, the price rises, too — by nearly $7,000. Yikes, you say.

But the Nissan GT-R still remains the best bang for the buck when you consider the high-priced company it keeps on the open road or the racetrack.

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