It’s not enough to hail the 2017 Nissan GT-R Nismo as merely the new flagship for the Nissan brand – because it’s frankly the most extreme sports production car the Japanese carmaker has ever produced, full stop.
Those lucky enough to have enjoyed the stupefying pleasure of going full-tilt down Mount Panorama’s Conrod Straight in a ‘regular’ GT-R might even question the sanity of decision makers at Nissan as to the need to elevate the car’s already staggering performance to yet another level.
It’s not just about upping the outputs of the hand-built 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 either, as power and torque have only been lifted by a modest 22kW and 20Nm to 441kW and 652Nm – though still seriously big numbers by any measure.
Combine this level of power with all-wheel drive and it’s brutally fast. The benchmark 0-100km/h sprint is dispatched in a claimed 2.7 seconds, while top speed remains at around 315km/h – matching the earlier GT-R Nismo.
But outright speed isn’t what the Nismo brand is all about, according to GT-R Chief Product Specialist, Hiroshi Tamura.
“There are tuners in Japan who are getting 1500-2000bhp from this engine, we could do that too, but Nismo is about the perfect balance between speed and the total driving experience," he says.
It’s hard to argue against Tamura’s philosophy, given the mind-blowing performance of the GT-R nameplate at the famed Nurburgring Nordschleife, where it has achieved extraordinary results.
In 2015, a Nissan GT-R Nismo ran an official lap time around the 21.8km road course of 7:08.68, placing it in sixth spot outright – above the Mercedes-AMG GT-R’s 2017 time of 7:10.92.
Even the standard Nissan GT-R can lap the ’Ring in 7:19.10 – a time it recorded in 2013, placing it ahead of the America’s most track-focused production sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 (7:19.63).
So, whereas the 2017 ‘regular’ GT-R is more a match (at least in terms of a straight-line acceleration) with the likes of a Porsche 911 Turbo or the McLaren 650S, the latest Nismo version lines up against their more focused siblings such as the Porsche 911 GT3 RS and McLaren 675 LT.
But the Nissan has one big advantage over its equally hard-core rivals – its price proposition. Despite wearing a price tag of $299,000 plus on-road costs, GT-R Nismo is still significantly less expensive than the Porsche ($387,300) and less than half the cost of the McLaren ($616,250).
That said, it’s still the most expensive iteration of a GT-R road car ever – $72,000 more than the GT-R Track Edition and $110,000 more than the entry GT-R Premium.
Visually, the upgrades for the GT-R Nismo over the standard version might seem subtle to an untrained eye, but front-on, it looks to have more in common with the GT3 car.
The exquisitely crafted front bumper is made from hand-layered carbon-fibre, using a canard form at each end of the front splitter that increases downforce and improves airflow for greater high-speed stability.
It’s all part of a bespoke carbon aero kit, including a big rear wing and side skirts based on Nismo’s GT3 racers. It’s function over form (always has been) with Nissan claiming the new GT-R Nismo develops more downforce than any other road car before it.
There’s more weight-reducing carbon for the rear bumper and boot lid, as well as bespoke Nismo-branded Rays wheels (forged 20-inch) inspired by Nissan’s legendary GT500 racecar from Japan’s Super GT racing series.
The wheel design itself incorporates an I-beam-like sectional layout similar to that used in an engine connecting rod, and as a result, shaves almost three kilos from the car’s total weight.
Make no mistake, there’s fanaticism at work here, which also extends to the engine, or specifically, the turbochargers – the same high-flow, large diameter units as the GT3 racecar.
While the engine itself is largely a carryover from the standard GT-R, it’s worth highlighting features like the plasma-sprayed bores (versus cast-iron liners) for reduced friction, lighter weight, enhanced cooling, power output and fuel efficiency.
There's also an asymmetrical independent intake and exhaust manifold system, a thermostatically controlled oil-cooling system, an oil scavenger pump to maintain oil flow to the turbos and a wet and dry sump oiling system, which make this V6 powerplant just so brilliant.
And let’s not forget the factory tuned titanium exhaust system fitted to the 2017 GT-R range. It’s fashioned from Formula One race-car-grade titanium (Ti-1Cu) for a high strength-to-weight ratio over the stock exhaust system. It’s also got that unique sound that only titanium produces, especially gratifying at full throttle.
Inside, it might be a ‘Racing-Inspired’ cockpit with several Nismo-unique features, but it still falls short of its European rivals. That’s despite the Alcantara dashboard, steering wheel and race-style carbon-backed buckets all adding a splash of refinement to the Nismo cabin.
As with all MY17 GT-Rs, there’s also a tidier console layout, with far fewer switches and a bigger screen that can show drivers up to 11 pages of information including mechanical and driving information, acceleration, brake pedal pressure, steering angle and a recording function with playback.
However, we seriously doubt buyers of the GT-R Nismo will place a high priority on a lavish cabin. Far more important to this group of enthusiasts is the way the car drives and performs at the limit. And there’s no better place to let this car off its leash than Mount Panorama, in Bathurst.
The GT-R has a special bond with this place, having won back-to-back titles here in 1991 and 1992 in an R32, and finishing first in the Bathurst 12-Hour in 2015, and second in 2016 in R35-based racecars.
Sitting there, with its big wing and ultra-aggressive stance, it’s easy to forget the Nismo GT-R is first and foremost a road car, which is exactly where we got to sample this new halo model first. Mind, it was only a brief steer and the roads were wet, but a few things were noticeably apparent.
There’s still a lot of tyre roar that finds its way into the cabin, certainly more than the regular GT-R, but that’s not surprising.
The Nismo version is shod with aggressive Dunlop tyres (255s up front and 285s down back) manufactured with a Nismo-specific compound (sticky and not a whole lot of tread) but even in the wet, grip was commendable.
The ride, though, is very firm and largely uncompromising, at least on an undulating bumpy B-road in the country. And that’s with the Nismo’s custom-developed Bilstein dampers set to their softest setting. Even ‘Normal’ mode we found it too stiff, while we’d recommend ‘R’ exclusively for racetracks.
You’ve still got those same stirring mechanical noises (so inherent in a GT-R) as you engage the six-speed dual-clutch transmission, but it’s seems a tad more refined than the previous iteration.
Even left in Auto mode, this is still a wonderfully intuitive gearbox that seems to have a neural connection with your brain. The shift speed hasn’t changed, it's still rifle-fire quick but perhaps a tad less aggressive, even in ‘R’ mode.
The car’s hydraulic power steering system is quite brilliant. Accurate, fast, and very direct, so the car feels hatch-like agile without ever needing to be manhandled.
It might be road legal, but it’s on the racetrack where the GT-R Nismo feels more at home. Right from the get-go this thing feels decidedly more ‘R’ than ‘GT’, exactly as Tamura said it would be.
But even as we blast out of pit lane, throttle pinned (transmission in auto for the first lap) and hammer up Mountain Straight towards Griffin’s Bend, the GT-R Nismo feels so astonishingly quick, it requires a momentary recalibration of all your vital senses.
The car gets a little light over the crest, but I keep the throttle buried, because the car feels so incredibly rock solid.
Even when applying big braking force to the Brembos up front (my pro-driver passenger is telling me to “bend the metal”), the GT-R feels completely at ease with the front end refusing to dance.
There’s a tonne of feedback through the steering wheel, too, allowing for minor corrections mid-corner as required. There are very few cars in this league that inspire so much driver confidence on a daunting circuit like Bathurst.
You could track the GT-R Nismo in Auto all day, never having to second-guess the transmission’s ability to be in the right gear at the right time, but if you’re after ultimate Nismo experience, switching to the paddle-shifters is the only real option.
Funny thing is, I was expecting a real shove in the back as you work your way up through the gears at full song, but instead it’s all fairly civilised, even when pulling the paddles at 7000rpm plus.
Overcook a corner, and you can feel the effects of the rear-drive-biased all-wheel drive system with predictable oversteer, though stupidly easy to gather up before getting back on the throttle for the exit.
However, despite my best efforts to push the GT-R Nismo to its technically-honed limits, I well and truly failed except on the straightaways. But a couple of hot laps with professional race driver Nathan Antunes sorted that out with eye-popping efficiency.
Straight-line speed is one thing, but the big coupe’s (it tips the scales at 1739kg) ability to carry big speeds through across the mountain, and down through the Dipper is mind-blowing, and on road-legal tyres that had covered dozens of laps beforehand.
Apart from the super-responsive chassis, it’s also got a lot to do with those sticky Dunlop tyres, which provide seemingly limitless levels of sure-footed grip under heavy loads.
It’s by no means the perfect balance between road and track, but the Nissan GT-R Nismo is at the very least a lethal track-focused weapon capable of race car-like performance straight out of the box.