Page 5-32 in the owner’s manual of the 2013 Nissan GT-R is innocently headlined “R Mode Start Function.”
But under the subhead “WARNING!” half the text is highlighted in orange and yellow. And it’s studded with words like failure, disrupt, collision, accident, damage and my perennial favorites, safe and legal, preceded by only if. Oh, my.
R Mode Start Function, aka launch control, is the computerized unleashing of automotive hell.
The driver has but to sit there (pinned into the seat, really) and keep the pointy end facing forward—and reflect briefly that Nissan should add one more sentence to page 5-32, something like “Oh, and don’t do this in the street in front of your house.”
All supercars these days have launch control. It’s particularly useful with all-wheel drive, which is tricky because it’s so sticky. The driver toggles a switch, stands on the brakes, revs the engine to 4,000 RPM—to pressurize both turbochargers—and then turns things over to the computer. Which balances power, grip and gear selection for the sudden and maximal application of 545 horsepower and 463 pounds of torque through all four foot-wide tires to the unsuspecting earth beneath. The two-ton GT-R rockets to 60 MPH in just three seconds, with tire smoke blooming from all four corners. Not something we experience every day.
After that, at speed the GT-R is solidly planted and controllable, with astounding grip, power and responsiveness, not to mention brakes capable of draining the blood from your brain. As a front-engine/rear-transaxle car should be, the GT-R is dead stable in a straight line, then understeers slightly going into corners until the intelligent AWD takes hold. Then just apply throttle and let the computer and its army of sensors again sort things out. You may need some smart countersteering to hold it through the corner exit. Then the scenery blurs again and the blood shunts back to your brain.
Some of the GT-R’s brilliance is in its engine, a V-6 of just 3.8 liters (232 cubic inches) displacement that is hand-built in a dust-free laboratory. The automated dual-clutch, direct-shift 6-speed transmission adds more luster. The driver can flick the paddles on the steering wheel, but in truth the computer picks gears as well or better than I can, particularly in R (race) Mode. Shifts up and down are precise, solid and perfectly timed, with rev-matching on downshifts. The steering lightens and sharpens as speed builds until it transforms the car into a scalpel.
This fierce machine’s natural habitat is the Nürburgring, yet it is unexpectedly friendly in town. The engine will growl along at low revs, the seats are comfy and the air con is powerful, the trunk is surprisingly large, and there’s just enough ground clearance for most speed bumps. In stop & go traffic the gearbox clunks and clatters, but it’s tractable and willing. Nothing overheats. Switching the electronically controlled suspension to Comfort mode softens the ride noticeably, to the degree that a hardwood floor is more comfortable than stone. A bit too much throttle wakes the beast, which will fire you through intersections somewhat abruptly, so pay attention.
Only the exhaust note disappoints. The symphony of power that flows from the four howitzer-size megaphones at the back sounds like God’s own shop-vac. If the GT-R sang like a Ferrari, it would be completely irresistible.
But to whom? The carbon fiber-trimmed Black Edition is over-equipped (stereo, HVAC, multiple seats, security system, lights, wipers, air bags, license plate) and over-priced ($107,600) for a hard-core track toy. Yet after a long day of foreclosing widows’ mortgages at the office, a Capitalist wants something much more cosseting to take him home—and on the weekend something more glamorous than a Nissan in which to visit the organic farmers’ market. The target buyer is probably a 30-year-old Silicon Valley IPO baby who grew up “driving” the GT-R on his PlayStation and now can indulge his fantasies for real. No matter. Whoever buys one is entitled to bask in its brutal, technical awesomeness.