Motoring | Test Drives

2012 Nissan GT-R: Rally in the valley

Amit Benjamin takes on the best driving roads in the UAE in the stupendous 2012 Nissan GT-R. But first he must overcome an unlikely adversary

  • By Amit Benjamin, Editor, wheels
  • Published: 00:00 March 25, 2011
  • Wheels

Nissan GT-R
  • Image Credit: Christopher List/ANM
  • Reduced friction in the shock absorbers helps improve ride quality in the 2012 Nissan GT-R.
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Camels. They don't figure high up on my list of favourite critters. I appreciate their pride of place in Middle Eastern culture, but they have the annoying habit of meandering into the intended travel path of your car.

Therefore, for the purpose of this test, I am heading to the Hajar Mountains, where a spectacular 10km ribbon of tarmac nestled near Wadi Al Qor awaits me. With its unrelenting corners, blind crests and fiendish camber changes, our secret test route is a mini Nordschleife of sorts. More importantly, there isn't a camel in sight. Just the odd goat, but no camels.

In pictures: 2012 Nissan GT-R

However, the 2012 Nissan GT-R VVIP edition has got bigger worries; namely a Dh790,000 price tag. That's notably unaffordable for an "affordable" supercar. A gobsmacking Dh340,000 more than the standard GT-R, which to all intents and purposes has the same oily bits. So what gives?

For a start, this car has a few decadent extras, which you won't find on the options list of the standard model, which, incidentally is being sold as a 2011 model.

The front intake and the side strakes are dressed up in real 24K gold, while the interior is lined with acres of soft cow peelings sewn together by Germany's master leather craftsmen, Seton.

Then there are other fiddly details such the traditional Wajima lacquered (Maki-e) GT-R emblem on the steering wheel that takes several painstaking hours to handcraft, and Bose speakers that are strategically placed around the cabin depending on the buyer's height. Finally, a carbon fibre rear wing lifted from the Spec V and a rear diffuser to provide added stability at the revised top speed of 317kph.

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The last two are a pass, but everything else is a hodgepodge of shiny and leathery bits. And none of them really complement each other, though admittedly I'm not an arbiter of good taste.

Anyway, I've got better things on my mind than the integrity of stitching on the door cards, because I'm fast approaching one of the best driving roads in the region. A welcome change from a dreary blast down the arrow-straight Maliha road. 

Driving utopia

The Hajar Mountains, which at their highest point tower 2,980m above sea level, provide a grand passage to the east coast snorkelling paradise that is Fujairah, but our driving heaven lies off the E102 near the tiny village of Huwailat.

Despite the majestic cliff faces on either side, the detour to the hamlet isn't entirely promising. A small roundabout, roads with a 60kph speed limit and lined with the kind of scenery that you'd expect in a sleepy town such as this. A few shops, a lone petrol station, a trip of goats and my old nemesis, a camel. Darn it.

Another three kilometres of wildlife autocross and the road narrows culminating in a blind uphill section, beyond which the magnificent asphalt spaghetti rolls into view. Time to break out the heavy right foot.

The car's nose pointed purposefully at the summit, six-speed twin-clutch tranny into manual, photographer Chris nervously clutching his gear. Floor it. The GT-R draws a sharp breath and charges forward with frightening ferocity. The second gear bangs home with the refinement of a wrecking ball and we're seeing 100kph in three seconds dead. That's faster than the time it took you to read that last sentence. No Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini, with the sole exception of the Aventador LP700-4, is quicker. This isn't a car, it's a teleportation device.

Predictably, I arrive at the first blind left-hander carrying too much speed, but bravely decide not to slam the anchors, hoping the road hasn't rearranged itself since my last visit. It hasn't. The GT-R's front tyres sink their claws into the tarmac, but there isn't a whiff of understeer — the previous version's biggest dynamic flaw.

Emboldened, I accelerate sooner than I should and cause the tail to hang out momentarily. The AWD system steps in heroically and juggles the power between the axles to wrap things up neatly. The back falls in line, the turbos come on song, spitting the car out of the bend.

Stringing the next few switchbacks is equally effortless with nary a squeal from the tyres (Chris? That's a different story). The steering requires a little more muscle than before, but it feels natural and provides a heightened sense of oneness with the car. Essential on a potentially perilous road that I remember vaguely.

Predictably, the 2012 GT-R is shaping up to be as thrilling as I'd expected. Unfortunately though, the lensman is far from excited. Actually, he is a bit green around the gills, and we haven't finished the photoshoot yet. Time for a pitstop at the first lay-by, then. 

Here we go again

For a few moments, we clap eyes on the arid mountains drenched in the golden glow of the late afternoon sun, taking in their stunning beauty. But we have work to do, so I strap myself in for another blast; sans Chris. I can really put the hammer down now.

Right off the bat, it's apparent that the '12 GT-R is more resolved. It feels markedly lighter than the 2010 version, even though it physically isn't. The two turbos are now fed by bigger inlets to up the boost to 1.3psi and the exhausts breathe more freely too. As a result the power has shot up from 485 to a more acceptable 530bhp, aided by 612Nm of torque. And I can feel each and every one of those shiny new horses pounding the road beneath me.

The electronics have been revised to quicken gear changes and to prevent the transmission blowing up during launch control. In manual mode the changes are so rapid that the surge of power feels similar to an Airbus at take off.

The final push

The last downhill section of our test route, which trails off somewhere near the Hatta border, strings together a series of fast bends and is also the trickiest.

The first three turns flow smoothly into each other and since gravity is stealthily adding more pace to the car than my right foot intends, I find myself staring at the fourth, a deceptively sharp left-hander, again, going way too fast. This could hurt.

Fortunately, unlike me the GT-R shows remarkable composure and screams around the corner unfazed. The only indicators of the mad speed are a g-meter that's on the verge of exploding, and a feeling that my brain's being hoovered out of my ears. Forget about the engine, in the GT-R it's the driver who needs dry sump lubrication.

This prodigious cornering ability is hardly surprising though. Nissan says that it's made minor changes, but the cumulative result makes a big difference.

On the suspension front, the reworked control arms allow greater movement, which, combined with new dampers and more compliant Dunlop tyres mean the car's no longer skittish over undulating surfaces and doesn't tramline like a sniffer dog. Which is handy because I have no desire to end up in the armco either.

Further boffinry means improved aerodynamics. The front bumper has been reprofiled to channel air to the sides, reducing pressure under the mug and increasing downforce — by ten per cent to be precise. And last but not least, bigger front brakes and improved pedal feel, in case our dromedary friend decides to initiate a surprise visit. This car changes direction and gathers and sheds pace with astounding clarity.

After the slap-dash first run, things begin to come together, though. Every following lap is progressively faster. Until eventually, my self-preservation instinct kicks in and I decide to call it a day.

The sun is beginning to trudge lazily to its resting place behind the mountains anyway and Chris has got all the shots he needs. I'm buzzing with excitement, but like all good things this day has come to an end.

Verdict

Heading back to Dubai, we encounter the camel we passed earlier. It's been well and truly thwarted so it no longer has any interest in us and wanders off.

And then it dawned on me. The VVIP GT-R may be extortionately expensive, but Mr Spindly Legs can command a price ten times higher and even that represents good value for some.

Why would someone pay Lamborghini-money for a Nissan? Just because.

However, if you don't have a desperate need to be conspicuous, the regular version is just as good.

You'll be going as quickly, but you'll have more money in the bank and look less of a show-off. It's win-win.

This GT-R is a jewel of a car, but it's even better without the gold bits. How's that for irony?

Specs

Model 2012 GT-R VVIP Edition
Engine 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6
Transmission Six-speed AWD
Max power 530bhp @ 6,400rpm
Max torque 612Nm @ 3,200rpm
Top speed 317kph
0-100kph 3.0sec
Price Dh790,000
Plus Amazing performance
Minus Price, VVIP styling not to everyone's taste

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