Does the Nissan GT-R Deserve Car of the Year?

Nissan GT-R 2012

It was an unremarkable but pleasant day this past weekend. I have sumptuously managed to wake up at 1:29 in the afternoon, a feat exceeded only by the previous day’s record of 1:40 P.M. After developing an exceedingly unhealthy outlook on life due to screaming an inordinate amount of abuse at my ancient, mentally diseased Windows ME Edition computer, I got the mail.

Sifting through the usual crap, my spirits are lifted by a little red envelope, courtesy of Netflix. I lifted something away and am pleasantly surprised to see that my Motor Trend has arrived.

Allow me to distill the next few nanoseconds of information processing: I first notice the cool futuristic green background of the magazine, I then identify the hideous Nissan GT-R on the cover, then my eyes flick up to: “CAR OF THE YEAR”. My eyes flick back down. They flick up to the top, to reaffirm that this is indeed Motor Trend. They then repeat their first two flicks.

“NOOOOOO! STUPID MOTHER F%[email protected]#ER!”, I scream and hurl my magazine at the far wall, the sheer velocity ripping it to shreds. What I really do is just stare. And sigh.

2012 Nissan GT-R rear

If my previous sentences have not yet enlightened you to the fact that I dislike the Nissan GT-R, then here it is: I dislike the Nissan GT-R.

The main reason is because it is ugly. “Nissan has built the world’s ugliest, oversized electric shaver” states a MT editor, and I concur. But that would be like saying I don’t like the Toyota Camry, or the Chrysler Sebring. “Not liking” is not synonymous with “dislike”.

The other is that for some reason, I am inherently predisposed to dislike anything that everyone else adores. Example: when people herald BMW’s 3 Series, I champion Cadillac’s CTS. I also have strong feelings about “herd animals” (the kind of person who will mindlessly park next to you in an empty parking lot). I especially hate those fanatic brand-whores, the ones that flock to whatever has their specific badge, just because it bears that badge.

That sort of thing.

Most GT-R maniacs I’ve met are those cultists who know pretty much zip about the car. They don’t know the performance, the price, or any of the statistics. In a way they remind me of the BMW worshipers – even put the badge on a Pontiac Aztek and the faithful will come.

So I sit down and try to determine exactly why the GT-R wins (it was also Automobile Magazine’s Automobile of the Year). Can it be that my admittedly stubborn disposition is contaminating the realm of rational thought? Can the biased media be unbiased in their choice? Can the common cow or sheep have been right all along about automotive excellence? Well let’s find out. To the disliker of the GT-R, you may wish to re-evaluate the intensity of your feelings due to the following facts. Or not. To the crazed GT-R devotee who dreams perverted dreams of a GT-R , the following will only serve to reaffirm your sniveling love (and may even enlighten you to the facts).

First off, I must give props to Nissan for creating one of the few Japanese cars that look like they deserve to be sold. I certainly don’t think the GT-R is pretty, but Nissan’s Hiroshi Hasegawa, the chief product designer, deserves a stupendous and standing round o’ applause for shattering the mold and producing a controversially designed car (for whenever there is controversy, it means that said design is interesting enough to merit it). In an age of public opinion when “car” + “Japanese” invariably equates to “Prius”, having a sports car that looks the part certainly is refreshing.

Kazutoshi Mizuno, the chief vehicle engineer and chief product specialist of the GT-R, also deserves a standing ovation for bringing this car into being. The GT-R is his baby, for it is Japanese automotive custom to endow the chief vehicle engineer complete control over said vehicle. Most heavily involved with performance and dynamics, my man Mizuno has done made a Nissan supercar (sorta kinda not really) that has turned the performance car world upside down. Way to go.

Now to the main part, the part that has those knowledgeable cult fans screaming their damnfool heads off, and more sensible car journalists look happily bewildered the performance. I’ll throw some facts out first: 0-60 mph in 3.3 seconds, top speed of 193 mph. Sound good? Now check these out: a V-6 engine, 480 horsepower, 430 pound-feet of torque, 3891 pounds curb weight, EPA estimated 16/21 mpg, $77,840 base price, seating for four. Viewed separately, the first and seconds groups of data associate well. It’s when you mix them together that all hell breaks loose.

For instance, how do supercar statistics mix with large luxury sedan or SUV attributes? How does the GT-R hit 193 mph with only a V-6 engine? For that matter, how does a car weighing more than a Saturn Vue, with the help of less horsepower and torque than a Shelby GT500, outgun to 60 mph a Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4, and all for cheaper than a BMW M5? How, indeed.

In an interview with Popular Mechanics, Nissan’s design boss, Shiro Nakamura, stated that “The element of functionality is core to the GT-R. Meaning the design ethos for the GT-R was function over form, which explains its sad deficiency in the “looks” department. However, the car is astonishingly aerodynamic, and its computer formulated shape has a low 0.27 drag coefficient.

For those unfamiliar with this measurement (it’s not a horse, pound-foot, time, or speed, the horror) the lower the better. For context, a new Scion xB achieves a 0.32, and a Corvette Z06 gets a 0.28. A much ballyhooed aspect of the GT-R is a kink along the spine of the C-pillar. It’s said to enhance aerodynamics. The front fender louvers are functional, improve airflow, and help cool the demonic, household appliance sounding twin turbo engine.

The body itself is composed of a variety of metals. Fancy forms of steel make up most of what you see, while more steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber are meshed together for stuff like the suspension braces, engine bay, and door insides. The underbody boasts polypropylene, glass-fiber, and more carbon.

The engine is hand built by a single technician in a climate controlled room. The cylinders are plasma coated, and twin IHI turbochargers round out the deal.

Let me now pause and make a confession: I have no idea what I’m talking about. That doesn’t mean the above information is wrong, it is simply too technical for me to understand. I only include it because I sense that it is relevant to the GT-R’s secret. If, like me, you could barely fathom high school chemistry, then feel free to skip the jargon. There will be straightforward car-writing after the technical barrage.

Perhaps the most important part of the GT-R is the transmission. Part of the reason why the GT-R possesses such speedy 0-60 scoots is due to its super short gearing. The advantage of this is that shorter gearing gives the engine more power, or “leverage” over the wheels. The downside is that the transmission must go through more shifts.

Nissan GT-R

For example, a Corvette Z06 can hit 60 mph just in first gear; the GT-R reaches the same speed only after two time consuming shifts. To make up for this, Nissan employs the trick of uninterrupted torque during shifts. From what I understand, in a normal car, during the time between clicking the paddle and accelerating in the next gear, the clutch disengages before the next gear shifts in. With the GT-R, power continues to flow, giving a “boost” when the next gear does shift in.

The GT-R features an advanced ATTESA E-TS system. It’s an all wheel drive system that differs from standard kinds in that it can control the amount of torque distributed to each wheel. And though the GT-R is a rear-drive vehicle, up to 50 percent of the torque can be delivered to the front wheels. The ATTESA E-TS system constantly takes measurements and makes decisions based on sensors that measure almost everything, and continuously adjusts the torque flow.

And finally, the GT-R is the world’s first production car to feature “Independent Transaxle 4WD”. Which is basically a rear-mounted transaxle with two independent propeller shafts. Boil those words down and you get “each axle can control tire grip without manipulation from the other”.

Handling-wise, suffice it to say that the GT-R is a beast. Mostly. Predominant flaws include a piggish understeer that can suddenly change into a snapping oversteer if you upset the car around the track, bad ride quality, and the video-game persona of the car. Top speed is 193 mph, but the suspension makes this trip a terribly frightening ride (the “Comfort” setting is an astonishingly boldfaced lie). Even at normal speeds, the GT-R suffers from a below average ride, due to its ultra-stiff suspension.

The remarkably detached, video-game personality of the GT-R has drawn much criticism. That is, when you turn the wheel, the car turns, if you step on the brake, the car stops, and if you step on the other pedal, the car moves. There is no emotion to the car, and driving it is like playing a futuristic Gran Turismo game. Laments a MT tester, “If someone buys a car for more than just pure performance, i.e., emotional feel, the GT-R would be at a disadvantage”.

The interior of this car has received mixed reviews. Some say it looks too cheap and straightforward, the opposition responding with: it’s only 78 K. A Chevy Malibu has a nicer interior comes the response, the GT-R is a pure performance machine and is thus exempt from nice interiors chirps up the opposition, then why do you bitch about the Corvette? comes the riposte.

Whatever. What you like is what you will prefer. While unemotional, the interior gets the job done well enough. A highlight is the Play Station-esque screen that provides fairly useless but hugely entertaining data.

Overall, however, it is what the Nissan GT-R can do that astonishes. Forget the “in spite of” and the “for the money”. Outracing to 60 mph such beasts as a Porsche 911 Turbo, the Gallardo LP560-4, and the Mercedes SLR McLaren is impressive no matter what the vehicle is. Factor in all that should hinder it— nearly two tons, a V-6 engine, measly power and torque numbers, and all for less than 80 K. Getting 21 mpg highway is respectable (cough cough) as well, while four seats even make it somewhat practical. Mix everything together and the winner is clear. The GT-R is beastly (if somewhat emotionless), shocking, controversial, and in this year’s test of brand new cars, unbeatable. “You don’t have to like it”, writes Automobile Magazine, “You just have to stay the hell out of its way.”

I don’t like the Nissan GT-R. In fact, I wouldn’t be caught dead in one. Even after writing this article, my feelings remain the same. Nevertheless, the GT-R has been chosen twice as this year’s best car because it deserves to be. It has seemingly defied the laws of physics, broke with convention, and most importantly: shattered the current performance car status quo. I don’t like the car, but I acknowledge its merit. Good choice Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine. Congratulations Nissan, and congratulations to the GT-R.

Side note: One thing I do love about the GT-R is the juicy target it presents. Chevy has already riposted with the psychotic ZR1. Dodge has their Viper ACR. Now how long do you think Porsche is gonna sit back and allow the GT-R to smear its name?

Source: Motor TrendAutomobile Magazine

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