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The Nissan GT-R is like an iPhone. Every year there is an update and every year it’s that little bit better. Nonetheless, nearly 10 years on since the original R35 came to light, the 2017 model year GT-R sees some substantial upgrades, while retaining the sports car's iconic character.
To understand the idea of a Nissan GT-R, one must have a basic grasp of Japanese culture. This is a car that has always set out to prove a challenger to the iconic sports- and supercars of Germany and Italy, at a much lower price, but does it in a manner that very much encapsulates the essence of Japan.
That’s a very nice way of saying the GT-R is overtly conservative. Don’t get me wrong, it has a lot of power, in fact, the 2017 Nissan GT-R gains an additional 15kW over the previous model year car for a total output of 419kW and 632Nm of torque from its VR38DETT 3.8 litre twin-turbocharged 24-valve V6, but when it comes to sports cars, power isn’t everything.
Even so, that’s an insane amount of grunt, almost as much power as a Lamborghini Huracan and actually more torque (449kW, 560Nm for the Lambo). But the GT-R still weighs 1765kg and it feels every kilo of it. The 2017 model marks the first time Nissan hasn’t claimed some insane and somewhat unrealistic 0-100km/h time, which in our quick real world testing (on a private road using a Vbox), the best this particular GT-R could do was low- to mid-three seconds.
From the outside the new Nissan GT-R gains aerodynamic styling updates all around that also help differentiate the car from its predecessor. But not by as much as one would think. In fact, as these photos would show, the updates are noticeable when put side-by-side (in this case with an MY12), but on their own, the average person would struggle to tell one GT-R apart from another.
Nonetheless, the GT-R’s street credibility is indisputable. It turns heads wherever it goes and every boy racer looks on with green eyes. Considering Nissan Australia sells only around six of these per month, the GT-R’s rarity is part of its appeal.
When Nissan introduced the ‘new’ GT-R for 2017, a lot of emphasis went into the modifications of the interior. New materials, improved design and even the number of navigation and audio control buttons has been reduced from 27 in the previous model to only 11. The 8-inch infotainment system is also new, but frankly, we are talking about a car that – as tested here – is $190,750 plus on-roads and that interior doesn’t match its price tag.
The buttons on the infotainment system feel very spartan, so much so that if you put your finger on them you can move them easily in their slot without pressing in. Of course, Nissan’s argument is that it has tried to keep the weight down everywhere it can, but considering the GT-R already weighs so much, you may as well add a few extra kilos and make the interior feel properly premium.
To Nissan’s credit, the steering wheel paddle-shifters have been improved and the general cabin ambience isn’t so bad, but simple things like the door handles just don’t feel premium. The buttons for the cruise control, the buttons on the steering wheel, hell, even the key! The key is no different to any other Nissan apart from the 'R' badge. This is Nissan’s halo car, it deserves a bit more than this.
But the argument for the GT-R has always been about best-bang-for-your-buck, not creature comforts and perhaps that is still valid to an extent and there is no doubting its ability on a race track to be one of the easiest of the fast cars to drive, yet, there is a reason that despite its (admittedly increasing) price tag, it’s outsold by the likes of Porsche 911 and even the much more expensive Huracan.
This reviewer has come ridiculously close to buying predecessors of this Nissan, on numerous occasions, however each time that moment of truth comes and that last final test drive takes please, the GT-R fails to inspire. Not because it’s not fast, but because it fails to put that idiotic grin on one’s face, the grin that says “I feel like a kid again”. So has the new one changed enough to be actually fun?
Perhaps. Behind the wheel, the new GT-R sees significant improvements over the old in how it drives day to day. You can absolutely and definitely now live with it as a daily. It can drive to the shops without compressing your spine. The way it shifts from first to second is so much smoother now than before and there is no more chunkiness from the gearbox at low speeds.
In fact, when all the settings are dialled to comfort, it’s not even a bad ride considering the type of car it is. But let’s be fair, it’s also not refined like a Porsche 911 or Jaguar F-Type or even a similarly priced bottom spec Aston Martin Vantage V8.
Dial up the R modes, though, and the GT-R becomes a beast. Its rear-wheel drive bias is highly enjoyable as the backend gets loose around the twisty stuff without really getting out of hand. It always pulls through. The GT-R is the type of car that you can basically always trust to have your back thanks to its super computer that works out all of the physics. While that will help you improve track times, it does to an extent take out that danger element which some enjoy about a sports car at speed.
Nissan claims torque is no longer limited in first gear, however it still feels somewhat laggy from a start (unless launch control is engaged). Once moving though, it’s really moving.
The new GT-R allows a reasonable amount of play but consequently it really work its tyres hard and given the car’s weight, it will likely chew through them if regular track days are a requirement.
The party trick of the GT-R has always been its 0-100km/h time and its ability to murder any car off the lights. Well, we found that to be rather wishful thinking and give Nissan credit for not claiming an official acceleration time with this new model.
With launch control engaged, our test car struggled against German and Italian cars that have official 0-100km/h times well above three seconds and it failed to show a consistent ability to redo its launch over and over at the same pace, while its European competitors failed to miss a beat.
Ignoring that – rather big disappointment – the GT-R needs a lot of road to move. It’s fast around the twisty and tight mountainous roads, but it’s big. Really big. It feels it on the road just in sheer size alone and given the steering is much lighter than it really should be, it’s also somewhat difficult to work out what the front tyres are doing, whether they are at the very edge of their grip level, or just starting.
When we have previously met the project manager for Nissan GT-R on numerous occasions over the years, he has repeatedly stated that the GT-R is deliberately heavy. He argues the extra weight makes the car easier to drive for most people and that he could easily cut a hundred or so kilos out of it but it would make the GT-R too much car. Well, we respectfully disagree. We are talking about a sports car for the true enthusiast, not a Pulsar for the masses. Let us feel the danger.
The Nissan GT-R is the type of car you want to love. The company’s marketing campaign against Porsche in Europe is well documented and somewhat humorous. It’s a big middle finger from Japan to the Europeans for charging so much ‘for so little’. Ultimately, though, it is showing its age. Its formula is looking tired and if Nissan really wants to be competitive in this space, it needs to seriously look at the likes of Porsche, Audi and the Italian exotics which have moved on so much since the original GT-R debuted.
In essence, just like Lexus with its F line up of products (GS-F, RC-F) the GT-R needs a serious diet. It’s a fantastic car, it’s still the best bang for your buck sports car money can buy, but it can be so much better with just a little bit more attention to detail to its interior and some further and serious weight reduction.