‘Godzilla’ only hints at monster’s heart under hood

SANTA MARGARITA, CA.—The kids shuffled forward to gather around Godzilla.

  • Feb. 3, 2011 11:00 a.m.

The 2012 Nissan GT-R

SANTA MARGARITA, CA.—The kids shuffled forward to gather around Godzilla.

They probably weren’t aware of the nickname that fans have given to the GT-R, the performance supercar that is the flagship of Nissan’s fleet.

In fact, I’d be surprised if they’d even heard of the car in that flat, rural landscape of cowpats, powder dust and pickup trucks.

The sleek shape of the 2012 GT-R’s wedge-shaped angular profile gives nothing away.

Sure, it looks fast. But the big-shouldered fender bulges and the angled and sculpted lines, spoilered and reverse-scooped, only hint at the monster heart under the hood.

We were three hours into the test drive. Our day had started closer to the coast with a drive route aimed inland towards Buttonwillow Raceway for track testing.

We’d spiraled through the hairpins and switchbacks of meandering mountain roads before being spit out onto the flat bottomlands that stretch between the highlands.

Halfway through the valley, a school had promised a parking lot where we could stop, stretch and make driver changes. Kids and teachers lined up for an impromptu show-and-tell.

A hand was raised.

“How fast can it go?”

Ten year-old boys tend to cut to the meat of the matter.

“About 196 mph,” we answered, or 315 kph, if we were home in Canada.

“How much does it cost?”

“This one (the 2012 GT-R Black Edition model) sells for $95,100 US here,” we told them.

That’s the same model that’s coming to Canada and, even though Canadian pricing hasn’t been released yet, you can count on a price somewhere north of $100K. And if you need to know the exact cost, you probably can’t afford it anyway. Even that lofty price range is considered cheap by many for a supercar of this calibre.

Both of our answers seemed to shut the kids up for a while.

But there’s a lot more to be said about the new 2012 Nissan GT-R.

Some midlife modifications are nothing more than cosmetic makeovers ≠ smoke and mirrors and not a whole lot of content. But four years into the lifespan of the GT-R, Nissan designers have made a slew of evolutionary changes to upgrade both power and performance.

There are six model variants selling around the globe, from roll caged, Spartan race machines to quilted-leather luxo models that are so opulent they teeter on the edge of tackiness.

Canadians only make 100 or so GT-R purchases per year, so Nissan Canada selected a single trim level, the Black Edition, that is one step up from the starting Premium GT-R, adding red-trimmed leather Recaro seats and special Spec-V wheels.

Let’s start inside and work our way out. The splashes of red trim edging balance nicely in contrast with the revised interior, dark and refined, loaded with all the bells and whistles you’d want, and featuring new, real carbon fibre accents on the dash.

It’s roomy up front, even for long legs.

The rear seat is the usual 2+2 afterthought, fit only for punishment or the very occasional passenger. The trunk adds some practicality to the equation with 250 litres (8.8 cu.ft.) of space. Lots of room to store your speeding tickets.

Although, I have to confess, I never even cracked the trunk open. I was busy ogling the other end where a 3.8-litre VR38DETT twin-turbo DOHC V6 engine now makes an astonishing 530 hp, up 45 horses from the previous model. Engine grunt measures 448 lb/ft of peak torque, up 14 lb/ft from the 2011 GT-R.

The power increase is due to a bump up in boost pressure, reduced intake and exhaust restrictions, valve timing adjustments and a change in air/fuel ratio. And the redline reaches 100 revs higher to a 7100 rpm plateau.

A new launch control system has lowered 0-100 kph times to less than three seconds and exhaust emissions are down with fuel efficiency improving to 14.7/10.2L/100km (city/hwy), down from a previous rating of 15.7/11.2L/100km (city/hwy).

Although, if you’re worried about fuel economy, you’re definitely shopping in the wrong aisle here.

A one-choice, dual clutch sequential six-speed automatic with magnesium paddle shifters transmits that awesome power through a sure-footed AWD system, lighter wheels and new sticky run-flat 20-inch Dunlop tires.

Structural reinforcements, bigger brakes, suspension tweaks, larger grille openings and other aerodynamic modifications that allow for better engine, exhaust and brake cooling, while increasing down force and lowering the cD of drag to 0.26, complete the dynamic performance changes to the 2012 Nissan GT-R.

I’d like to be able to tell you that I noticed each and every modification as we cycled through new and old models during our track testing session. But frankly, a lot of those minor changes were drowned out by the overwhelming sensory assault that is the GT-R at speed ≠ the roar of engine and exhaust, the physical buffeting of acceleration, the cornering “Gs” and wind blasting through the open windows, fragrant with hints of hot brakes and rubber.

No, it was easier to detect the differences on the longer, quieter cross-country sessions, the more comfortable seats, the sharper edge of muscle and controlled mayhem, the confident turn-in, handling and corner-carving abilities that make the GT-R a thrill ride on any road, anywhere, anytime.

Including the road that led us to that school and a final question.

“How fast did you go on OUR road?” a kid asked, pointing towards Highway 58 in front of the school.

Well, geez. I didn’t want to explain the throttle-flattening temptations of a highway that goes from arcing curves to arrow-straight expanses, complete with spring-compressing dips and near-airborne whoop-de-doos.

Or just how quickly resolutions to “save it for the track” can be left behind in the dust of acceleration.

I had, after all, conscientiously slowed to the school zone speed limit, here in the middle of nowhere, before pulling up to the waiting group of children.

So I stuck to my role model responsibilities. I did what every adult does when a child poses one of those thorny questions that make grownups squirm.

I lied.

“The speed limit, kid,” I answered. “The speed limit.”

Nissan R35 GT-R 2012

Body Style: Sports car coupe.

Drive Method: front-engine, all-wheel-drive.

Engine: 3.8-litre VR38DETT twin-turbo DOHC V6 (530 hp, 448 lb/ft).

Fuel: 14.7/10.2L /100km (city/hwy)

Price: TBD

Web: www.nissan.ca

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