Car reviews - Nissan - GT-R - range
Value, fool-proof pace, masterful engine, love or hate looks
Room for improvement
Light steering, road noise, love or hate looks
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1 Sep 2016
IT HAS been nearly ten years since the R35 GT-R arrived and while that isn’t a particularly long lifecycle for a sportscar, it is a long time in the world of high-performance car technology.
But despite nearly a decade of go-faster advances, Nissan’s flagship is still a momentous model by anyone’s standards. Nonetheless, the iconic GT-R has been given a refresh to keep its claws sharp and car nuts asking just how a maker of some more pedestrian vehicles does it.
A mild facelift has enlarged the radiator grille for better cooling along with a bumper reshape front and rear, but the GT-R’s unapologetic and functional styling remains polarising and verging on vulgar.
We understand that a car with performance so stratospheric needs the looks to match, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder so we will let you decide if its Transformers meets Fast and the Furious styling does it justice.
For the update, the 3.8-litre V6 under its bonnet is largely unchanged, but puts out an extra 15kW and a little more torque thanks to a number of updated turbochargers and some clever cylinder-specific ignition timing among other tweaks.
Final figure – 419kW and 632Nm from less than 4.0-litres, which is respectable no matter which way you look at it, but the performance proposition becomes even more compelling when you consider the asking price, which starts at $189,000 before on-road costs.
There is one school of thought which suggests paying nearly $200,000 is a lot for something wearing the same badge as the $13,490 Micra, but we encourage anyone casting those aspersions to reserve judgement until after they have driven the new GT-R.
We started out on Victoria’s esteemed Phillip Island circuit for a razz in the more comfort-focused Premium Edition and found that even in the most affordable version, the GT-R is still a force to be reckoned with.
Acceleration out of the pits prompted us to make a quick check of the badge in the steering wheel badge to determine if we had accidentally jumped into an Italian supercar – these mistakes can happen.
But unlike some other high-boost turbo engines, the GT-R V6 doesn’t run out of puff towards the red-line and pulls like it has fallen off a cliff from mid revs all the way to peak power at 6800 rpm. When you get there, it is impossible to resist wringing out the remaining revs to punch the red-line for a little more of the raucous holler from its four titanium exhausts.
Tipping the GT-R’s nose into turn one instantly inspires confidence and reveals just how much faster our first entry could be with immense stability and highly sensitive steering.
After a few laps we started to find the limits of the specially developed Dunlop rubber but even at the ragged edges of traction, the Nissan still has an enormous margin of safety thanks to its clever four-wheel-drive system.
Even with the tyres squealing mid-corner, a careless driver can apply more power without the risk of spearing off into the Bass Straight thanks to the ATTESA E-TS transmission, which sends more torque to the required wheel even when the communicative chassis is telling you it has nothing left.
Until the very limit, the GT-R feels like a rear-wheel drive, mainly because is all torque is sent aft unless oversteer is imminent.
On Phillip Island’s fast circuit we regularly broke the 200km/h milestone but the Nissan’s composure is steely even when deliberately provoked, and we can see why its performance is so addictive and accessible even in relatively inexperienced hands.
Next we swapped into the Track Edition to sample the Nismo-donated suspension, garden-roller 20-inch wheels and stiffer bonded body.
For the circuit-ready GT-R, power and acceleration is unchanged, but its chassis tweaks take the super coupe another click into the realm of fast road cars. After a couple of acclimatisation laps we were carving through turn three beyond 200km/h without breaking a sweat.
Mighty Brembo six-pot callipers over iron discs scrub speed with almost carbon-ceramic efficiency and its unique Recaro seats kept us pinned as the laps flew by.
Our only criticism on track would be the GT-R steering weight, which is excessively light in all drive settings. For most cars it would not normally manifest itself as a problem but the Nissan has such precise and sensitive steering that the lack of weight can cause exaggerated input.
Owners would certainly get used to the steering weight and feedback in time, but we found ourselves sawing at the steering wheel and struggling to corner with the smoothness that the Island requires.
Unlike so many manufacturers that engineer in theatre and drama in the form of artificial crackles from the exhaust on overrun and stability systems that make you feel like a hero with carefully checked oversteer, the Nissan approaches high-performance from a completely different angle.
Nissan’s engineers sidestepped all that pretentiousness and designed a car that compromises nothing in the name of going as fast as possible, in any conditions and with anyone at the wheel.
After the tyres cooled and the brakes stopped ringing with heat, we took Godzilla out on the open road to show it a more typical driving scenario for the Premium Edition with Luxury Trim.
Away from the panther’s back surface of the circuit, Victoria’s coarser roads sent more roar through to the cabin than we were expecting, despite the active noise cancelling and more attention to noise, vibration and harshness levels for the updated car.
It has to be said in the same breath that cabin comfort and noise levels are certainly improved over the previous version, and most owners would be concerned less with road noise than with outright potency, which the road drive confirmed unequivocally.
Over a good mix of excellent surfaces and downright horrid roads, the GT-R is happiest, possibly even faster, in the comfort damper setting with a good balance of firmness and comfort even when pressing on.
The six-speed dual-clutch is every bit as fast and smooth as the unit in Lamborghini’s Huracan and the mechanically identical Audi R8 although we would have appreciated a little more urgency and violence in its R-setting. Again, this comes back to the principle of creating a machine that is hell-bent on efficient pace rather than flourishes.
A throttle as sensitive and light as the steering could cause the odd accidental punch of the accelerator on undulating roads but, generally speaking, covering kilometres in the GT-R is almost frighteningly easy on public roads.
But after settling back on to less twisty roads the Nissan reminded us of the significant step it has made cabin quality and comfort with no rattles or clicks over uneven surfaces and an interior style and quality that you simply would not guess came from the Japanese car-maker.
It is easy to compare numbers and pricing to other models in the high-performance car market – you might throw an RS-badged Audi or some other European autobahn-stormer into the mix, but it is only when you ignore facts and figures and drive the GT-R that you realise it is without comparison.
Not only does it effortlessly blast some serious thoroughbred competition and is remarkably easy to go remarkably fast, The GT-R is still a Nissan, and the fact that the car-maker doesn’t try to veil its identity in obscure sub-brands makes it all the more adorable.
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