Review and road test of the Nissan GT-R Nismo
SHOCK AND MORE
Nissan's GT-R has evolved. Jonathan Crouch drives the frantic Nismo version.
Ten Second Review of the Nissan GT-R Nismo
As production of this 'R35' series version of the Nissan GT-R high performance sports car draws to a close, we couldn't resist a final last drive in this glorious highly tuned Nismo version. Here, you get a real feeling for just how far Nissan has evolved this design since we first saw it way back in 2007. It remains a supercar for the PlayStation generation, but it's still astonishingly accessible and frighteningly quick.
Welcome to (almost) the end of an era. This 'R35' generation Nissan GT-R is one of the industry's longest-running super sports cars and though it's nearing the end of its production run, it's still one of the rawest, most authentic and most exciting cars in its segment. Here's the highly-tuned Nismo version. It's fast. Very vast - as all previous GT-R models have been. Motorsport engineering is embedded into the very genes of this car.
In the years since we first saw this Nissan in the UK, back in 2009, the GT-R package has been gradually evolved, with subtle updates nearly every year, but the same basic recipe has remained, based around brutal styling and a rumbling 3.8-litre V6 beneath the bonnet. This car no longer sells at a fraction of Porsche prices - well it doesn't in this Nismo form anyway - but in performance-per-pound terms, what you get here is still pretty impressive. The Nismo model, flagship of the GT-R range, was first launched in 2015 and now, as production winds down to its inevitable end, probably some time in 2023, remaining sales are based around it. Lots of brands claim to offer 'a race car for the road'; but this Nissan really is; as we're about to find out..
This car feels like a race track refugee. It is. As you discover once underway. First the figures: in this Nismo model, 62mph from rest is barbequed in just 2.8s, 100mph flashes by in under 8s and if you have an airport runway on hand, you'll hit 196mph before the electronics prevent you reaching the magic 200mph mark.
Under the bonnet, that thundering 24-valve V6 here generates 600hp - quite a change from when we first tested the standard version of this car a decade ago, which put out 'just' 478hp. Now, as then, it drives all four wheels via a dual-clutch six-speed semi-automatic gearbox with steering wheel paddles for rifle-quick 0.2 second changes. You can understand why at its original launch, this car embarrassed Porsche by lapping their backyard, Germany's Nordschliefe Nurburgring racetrack, faster than a 911 Turbo costing nearly twice as much. Even when you're not on track, the whole experience is addictive in the extreme. And 'extreme' is a word you keep using with reference to this Nissan. No attempt has been made to refine or culture its sensibilities; if a British Touring Car Championship driver were to lend you his race car for a quick blast up your favourite B road, then this, you feel, is the kind of experience you'd get. A rigid body structure and race-tuned suspension give confidence-building stability through quick lateral transitions and high overall cornering speeds. Providing the grip are sticky 20-inch tyres, wrapped around smart "RAYS" machine-finished forged aluminum wheels.
Apart from this Nismo version's extra power, in its latest form - and this will be its last form - it features some subtle tweaks. Like bespoke Dunlop front tyres; and turbochargers taken from the GT3 race car with fewer, thinner vanes. At this level in the GT-R range, you also get lighter weight - this Nismo version tips the scales at 1,703kgs - plus revised damping and carbon-ceramic brakes. Otherwise, it's pretty much the standard GT-R recipe.
The ride isn't actually as stiff as I was expecting - and you can tailor its tautness via this dash-mounted switch. There's another button to alter stability and traction settings too. You'd be well advised though, to decide upon your various drive selections before really starting to flex your right foot because once you do, your eyes are going to need to be glued on the road ahead if you're to stay out of the hedge and/or on the right side of your local magistrate; and that's in the dry..
And refinement? Well the thundering engine certainly makes its presence felt, but not to the point where you'd be shy to take this car on a cross-continental journey. But that would be a waste of its talents. It's a supercar accessible to almost anyone, yet rewarding enough for the most demanding enthusiast. It's still an astonishing achievement.
Design and Build
There's nothing subtle about this shape, clearly not Italian, German or American, in every way the definitive Japanese supercar for the X-Box generation. It's an interesting approach, given that Nissan started here with a clean sheet of paper; this was the very first GT-R not based on a mass-market vehicle. The muscular body structure with its perfect 50:50 weight distribution drapes a body structure variously made up of carbonfibre, aluminium and steel that's slipperier than you might think, the 0.27cd drag factor matching that of a sleek Toyota Prius. It might not be pretty but purposeful? Oh yes. Just watch the dawdlers scuttle out of your way.
Inside, as you'd expect, there's a very driver-oriented environment. And there's more carbonfibre - around the centre console and even in the instrument binnacle, where the big rev counter dominates the conventional dial layout next to a speedometer rather gloriously calibrated up to 220mph. You sit comfortably on red-trimmed race style bucket seats and there's red-stitched red leather for the gear stick and the door pulls, with further red stitching for the meaty three-spoke sports steering wheel.
You'll need to spend ages with the handbook while you figure out all the various buttons and switches but once familiarity dawns, it all works well enough. And these sports seats are brilliant, adjusting amply, like the steering wheel, for both reach and rake. Not so impressive is the old fashioned centre stack screen, which has dated graphics and can also be operated by this rather after-market-looking lower controller.
The rear offers seats that even Nissan admits are best left to kids - with the front chairs set normally, there's virtually no leg space at all. And those adults banished to the rear will be virtually clamped into place by the rear screen above their heads. Still, there's more space back here than you'd find in a 911. And more trunk room too, the 315-litres on offer being nearly three times as much as that Porsche. It's a deep boot too, which makes up for the very high lip you have to lump your stuff over.
Market and Model
This Nismo version of the GT-R will cost you just over £180,000, which will sound an awful lot if you expected an asking figure around £100,000 less than that. But then this is the ultimate GT-R - and in many respects, the last car of its kind. A Porsche 911 Turbo S retailed at around £160,000 at the time of this test in Summer 2021, but spec one of those up to GT-R Nismo levels and the asking price probably wouldn't be a lot different. A McLaren Artura offers similar performance for only a fraction more money - but isn't as practical as a GT-R. With all of these cars, you're getting the kind of performance you'd have to pay nearly £100,000 more for with a Ferrari 812 Superfast or a Lamborghini Huracan STO. Now, more than ever, this GT-R deserves its 'poor man's Bugatti Veyron' tag.
You get plenty of kit for the money too. All these carbonfibre bodywork additionsd come included for £180,000 - all these model's rivals will charge you richly for that sort of thing. And Nissan includes these big 20-inch wheels and carbon-ceramic brakes too - another item usually a pricey extra. You also get Recaro front seats, carbon fibre interior trim, a rear view camera, cruise control and automatic climate control. But not much in terms of camera safety kit; well not anything really; here, this car really shows its age.
Cost of Ownership
Although the Nissan GT-R has been hailed as the performance bargain of the decade, don't let that fool you into thinking it's remotely affordable to run for anyone with a normal salary. Everything about this car is big money, especially in this top Nismo form. It munches consumables at a prodigious rate, chewing through tyres and clutches with abandon if used in anger. Fuel economy, rated at 19.7mpg for this latest model, is still pretty eye-watering too, as is the 316g/km CO2 reading - and residual values are no longer the unimpeachable proposition they once were.
Tyre wear will be high and specialist servicing is also likely to be needed, necessary every 6,000 miles. At least there's a 3 year/60,000 mile warranty. Insurance is a full-house Group 50 and many insurers will load premiums when they hear those three magic letters. Although ongoing costs may be steep, few owners will regret their purchase because the GT-R is something very special. It's a vehicle that carries a weight of personality well beyond its price level.
You buy a GT-R for what it can do, not for what it represents, and in this Nismo form, this 600hp monster of a supercar does incredible things. Other exotic brands promise this, but often require F1-style driving skill to realise the potential on offer. In contrast, this Nissan is accessible to almost all with an empty road, a racetrack and a petrol-fuelled personality.
There will be those who decry the GT-R as a one-trick pony, a vehicle that can shine on a lap of the Nurburgring but which possesses an otherwise narrow band of talent, even in this highly evolved Nismo guise. But those who doubt this Nissan are usually those who have never properly driven one. This GT-R is a car that, more than ever, appears to bend the laws of physics to its own will, defying conventional measures of power to weight and generating traction where none apparently exists.
In short, this remains an exhilarating redefinition of what supercar motoring should be, still priced (almost) within reach of those who really, really want one. Drive one and you really, really will. Let the badge snobs sneer. Germany has its Porsche 911, the US has the Corvette but in the GT-R, Japan has its own performance legend.
Nissan GT-R Nismo review by Jonathan Crouch