Review and road test of the Nissan GT-R (2009 - 2020)
THE ORIENT EXPRESS
By Jonathan Crouch
A supercar for the PlayStation generation, the Nissan GT-R is astonishingly accessible and frighteningly quick. Finding something that's faster made in the 21st century's second decade is hard enough at any price but for the kind of money this car sells at, it's impossible. Here, we look at models made from the beginning of UK sales in 2009 right up to 2020.
2dr Coupe [Premium Edition, Spec V, Recaro, Prestige, 50th, Track Pack, Nismo]
Tucked away amongst the cane fields of Hokkaido, Japan's north island, is the test track that is itself a tiny piece of Germany. Signs point to Cologne and there are perfect replicas of autobahn rest stops. The road surface is Germanic and if you wait a while, you might hear the ballistic roar of a turbocharged Porsche 911 flying past at three miles a minute. Creating a supercar to beat Audi, Mercedes and, yes, Porsche requires nothing less than this kind of attention to detail. And the result, in December 2007, was the launch of this, Nissan's astonishing GT-R.
Prior to this, the Japanese brand had brought us Ferrari-baiting supercars with GT-R badges, but they'd always been called Skylines, the R32 of 1989, then the ones we saw in Britain, the R33, launched here in 1997 and the R34 which followed it in 1999. With these cars, Nissan was learning: with this R35, introduced here in 2009, the gloves were off: no more Skyline references to cheaper mass-market models. It was just badged 'GT-R', purpose-built for 200mph Porsche performance at a fraction of the price.
In the years following, the GT-R package was gradually evolved, with subtle updates nearly every year, but the same basic recipe remained, based around brutal styling and a rumbling 3.8-litre V6 beneath the bonnet. As production of this R35-series model neared its end, the car was no longer selling at a fraction of Porsche prices - well it wasn't in top Nismo form anyway - but in performance-per-pound terms, what you got with it was still pretty impressive. The Nismo model, flagship of the GT-R range, was first launched in 2016 and by 2020, remaining sales were being based around it. Lots of brands claim to offer 'a race car for the road'; but this Nissan really is. Here, we focus on it for examples made up to the 2020 model year.
What You Get
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 with a clean sheet of paper, this 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.
This uncompromising approach continues inside. Instead of trying to copy the Europeans, Nissan stuck to what it knew which meant heavy use of metal-look plastic. No fancy design themes but a maze of apparently haphazard but actually logically-placed rectangles, circle and squares - though the contra-rotating speedometer and rev counter dials take a bit of getting used to. You'll need to spend ages with the handbook first - there are no fewer than eleven buttons on the steering wheel alone - but once familiarity dawns, it all works well enough. And the sports seats are brilliant, adjusting amply, like the steering wheel, for both reach and rake.
Build quality's actually very good, the leather's well finished and there are even some interior switches that look as if they've been lifted from an Audi R8. The rear offers seats that even Nissan admitted were best left to kids - those adults banished to the rear are 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 boot room too, the 315-litres on offer being nearly three times as much.
What to Look For
Given the performance on offer here, the GT-R has proved surprisingly well built and dependable - and reasonably easy to repair. Be aware though, that many cars will have been used on circuits and though that's not necessarily a problem, you'll need to make sure that if the car has been regularly used on track days, it's been serviced regularly. Very few engine issues were recorded in our survey - even amongst those models tuned to deliver between 600-750hp. The main reported fault is what's known as a 'bell housing rattle' - something Nissan never really resolved. This was caused by a bearing at the end of the flywheel shaft moving around in its casting. You get this rattle with all GT-Rs but in some cases, it's more intrusive than others and can cause vibrations if the bearing has become badly worn. That issue was usually fixed under warranty. If the car is out of warranty, then companies like Lichfield Imports will fix it (for around £800) with another upgraded item.
We've had reports of the gearboxes of early models having issues with the control solenoids, which will lead to worn or broken component items. And that will give you an expensive repair bill because it will mean the whole gearbox needing to be taken out of the car. So check on your test drive that ratio changes are clean and smooth. We've had very few reports of clutch issues, the standard one being reliable and durable. This Nissan is, predictably, very hard on its brakes and tyres. You'll be able to tell if it's been used extensively on track as the brake discs will feature cracks around the drilled holes and the tyres will show signs of wear on their outer edges. You'll need to allow a little over £1,000 for new front discs and pads - and around £1,500 for a set of tyres. Insist on a full service history.
You really need to go to a specialist for parts prices for a GT-R. We based our figures around prices from Lichfield Imports (lichfieldimports.co.uk) and tyre prices from blackcircles.com. Allow around £354 for front tyres and around £429 for rear tyres - Bridgestone Potenza RE0 70 rubber. A clutch will set you back around £1,320; an exhaust (Milltech) will cost around £1,417; a set of 6 spark plugs costs £172. A front pair of brake discs costs around £700 and a front pair of brake pads around £270. Servicing will set you back around £200 for an interim service (every 6,000 miles or 6 months), with a main service (around every 12,000 miles or 12 months) in the £450-£800 bracket.
On the Road
This car really shouldn't work. It's too big, too heavy and far too complex, plus of course, there's the vexing issue of paying supercar money for something with a Nissan badge. But it does. Oh, it does. First the figures - for the initial 478hp model: 60mph from rest is barbequed in just 3.9s, 100mph flashes by in 8.5s and if you have an airport runway on hand, you'll hit 193mph before the electronics prevent you reaching the magic 200mph mark. If you need a frame of reference, that's roughly the same as a Ferrari 458 Italia - a car that has two rather than four driven wheels and when new cost, wait for it, over £100,000 more. That gives you some idea of the scale of Nissan's achievement in creating this GT-R.
Under the bonnet sits a thundering hand-built twin-turbo V6 that initially developed 478hp (the top Nismo model had up to 600hp) and it drives all four wheels via a dual-clutch six-speed semi-automatic gearbox with leather-fringed steering wheel paddles for rifle-quick 0.2 second changes. The transmission can adapt itself depending on your mood via a dash-mounted toggle switch, with the best all-out driving options being 'Manual' (for when you're using the paddles and don't want it kicking down) or better still, 'R' or 'Race' (which lets the engine run to the limiter, while firming up the dampers and offering more leeway with the stability control). If you leave it be, the transmission sends 97% of its power to the rear wheels but within just a tenth of a second, all that can change, up to 30% of torque heading frontwards if you're cornering vigorously, so that there's exactly the right amount remaining to light up the rear wheels and slingshot you forward to the next bend.
You can understand why at launch, this car embarrassed Porsche by lapping their backyard, Germany's Nordschliefe Nurburgring racetrack, faster than a 911 Turbo that costs 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. Take this initially slightly baffling driver information screen that offers up no fewer than 11 displays via which passengers can gauge either your bravery or recklessness - it'd be suicidal to try and control this rocket ship whilst watching them yourself. You can measure your brake, throttle and steering inputs, check on the acceleration, braking and cornering g-forces pinning you into your sculpted racing seat, dial in to the front-to-rear torque split, monitor the operational state of the engine and transmission, assess your fuel usage and of course, record lap times.
It all reminds you of a PlayStation - no coincidence since Sony were involved with the GT-R's development - but at least the steering isn't games console-like, quick-witted and communicative, which is useful on tight twisties when you're away from this Nissan's natural habitat of fast, flowing roads. The Brembo brakes are suitably awesome too, stopping this heavy 1775kg hotrod dead in just 40.9m from 70mph. The ride isn't as stiff as you might be expecting either - and you can tailor its tautness via another dash-mounted switch. 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 an astonishing achievement.
You buy a GT-R for what it can do, not for what it represents - and this monster of a supercar does incredible things. Other exotic brands promise this, but 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.
In short, this is an exhilarating redefinition of what supercar motoring should be, priced 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 (2009 - 2020) review by Jonathan Crouch