The 600hp 2017 Nissan GT-R Nismo might be the most powerful factory-built ‘Godzilla’ to ever wear number plates, but that doesn’t automatically make it the best ever…
You can't just jump into a Nissan GT-R and pants the thing. You can't. It's wrong, and it should not be tolerated. A GT-R is a car you have to build up to and take your time with. You have to respect it and earn it.
This is exactly what’s running through my head as I approach the positively hostile-looking 2017 Nissan GT-R Nismo for the first time. I mean, seriously. Look at those near-Time Attack-spec carbon-fibre front and rear bumpers and side skirts. And check out that MASSIVE rear wing!
Sure, the front and rear ‘Nismo’ badges confirm the model’s motorsport pedigree, but they’re hardly the elements giving the game away. Not least of all when the thing rolls on Jap-tastic, rigid-black, six-spoke 20-inch, lightweight Rays, forged-alloy wheels and mega-serious, model-specific Dunlop NR1 tyres, anyway.
Hold your drooling gaze a little longer, and you can’t help but take note of those awesome gold-painted six-piston front/four-piston rear Brembo calipers, and associated 390mm and 380mm fully-floating, cross-drilled two-piece rotors.
So, the 2017 Nissan GT-R Nismo look the part. But, is a giant dinosaur running amok through downtown Tokyo still a scary concept? You bet.
With nerves and excitement building, the time comes to crack the door and slide behind the wheel for the first time.
As the eye is treated to red and black carbon-fibre-backed Recaro bucket seats, a neat Nismo instrument cluster, and a plethora of motorsport-centric Alcantara, push the GT-R’s red engine start button and it’s the ears that are soon assaulted – and not in a good way.
Despite a hand-built titanium exhaust system and two new high-flow, larger-diameter turbochargers – borrowed from the GT-R Nismo GT3 racecar – the Nissan GT-R Nismo roadcar doesn’t sound great.
Familiar to those who have ever spent time in a Nissan GT-R and positively alarming to those who haven’t, at idle the GT-R’s cabin fills with the unique sound of a slightly intimidating whine and slightly concerning mechanical whir that sets it apart from any other car on the market, and leaves you in little doubt about its focus and potential.
It’s at this particular point in time – with the low-frequency grinding and higher-frequency buzzing doing their thing in the background – you’re presented with three options: leave everything in ‘Normal’; shift the transmission into its highway-friendly ‘Save’ mode and the suspension into its mildly laughable ‘Comfort’ mode; or toggle each of the GT-R’s adjustable parameter switches up and into their most aggressive ‘R’ modes and test your skills and personal levels of commitment and bravery.
As I said at the beginning, you can’t just jump into a Nissan GT-R and pants the thing, so we go with option two to try and ascertain how this mostly mental road-going racecar handles the everyday.
And, you know what? Despite all the carbon-fibre, the menacing presence, and that wing, the Nismo isn’t actually some completely ludicrous, track-only monster.
Drive it around town and it doesn’t feel like you’re driving a racecar on the street.
Overall build quality is of a high standard, outside noise is largely blocked out, and everything generally feels solid and well put together. In short, it doesn’t feel like some stripped-out, caged-up, rattly, kit-car racer with number plates. It feels, in a lot of ways, like a ‘normal’ car.
There’s little doubt the super stiff Nismo-tuned springs and custom-developed three-mode Bilstein ‘DampTronic’ dampers prefer smoother roads to rougher. But, spend more time with the car, and you can at least start to appreciate the efforts of the suspension’s willing ‘Comfort’ mode.
Given how firm the ride still remains however, be ready for passengers hopping in cold to quickly question the softer mode’s purpose. To prove a point though, flick the suspension into ‘R’ on a bumpy stretch of road and the contrast will soon become obvious to all and sundry.
To be clear, this is a Nissan GT-R Nismo we’re talking about here. If you’re after a soft, supple, and luxurious ride, go buy something else. This car is meant to be firm. It’s been intentionally designed from the ground up to be firm. So, yeah, it’s firm. Move on.
Plus, frankly speaking, a bigger issue is the fact the GT-R Nismo simply doesn’t feel like a car attached to a sticker price of $299,000 (before on-road costs) – $72,000 more than a Nismo-fettled GT-R Track Edition and $110,000 more than an ‘entry-level’ GT-R Premium Edition.
Further, the GT-R Nismo is mechanically noisy and audibly clunky, the infotainment system isn’t up to scratch, and the back seat door plastics are scratchy and seriously low-rent. New the 2017 Nissan GT-R Nismo may be, climb inside and it’s still patently obvious you’re in something based on a 10-year-old car.
There’s also no blind-spot monitoring, no forward collision alert, no adaptive cruise control, no autonomous emergency braking, not even an auto-dimming rear-view mirror – and the manual example that is there wouldn’t look or feel out of place in a Nissan Micra.
The red-stitched Nismo-embroidered leather and Alcantara Recaro bucket seats are supportive and super-comfortable, even after hours behind the wheel, but don’t go searching for any heating or cooling fanciness, because it ain’t there. And only the backrest has electric adjustment.
Fortunately, with its hand-assembled twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre V6 engine wound up to produce 441kW of power at 6800rpm and 652Nm of torque between 3600-5600rpm, the 1762kg GT-R Nismo is blisteringly fast.
Although Nissan hasn’t said just how fast its latest creation can sprint to triple figures, know that this most hi-po of ‘stock’ GT-Rs has 22kW more power, 20Nm more torque, and 26kg less weight to play with than a ‘regular’ GT-R – a car that’s previously been attached to 0-100km/h claims as low as 2.7 seconds.
Move past the introductory stage with the Nismo, engage ‘beast mode’ by illuminating all three red ‘R’ logos beneath the climate controls, and what grabs you even more than the car’s straight-line rapidness, is its remarkable agility.
Noticeably more nimble and responsive than a standard GT-R – particularly in the front end – it’s here you begin to realise the true depth of changes made to this almightily proficient car.
What sort of changes? Well, specifically, increased body-shell rigidity through a combination of spot welding and adhesive bonding, plus additional roll stiffness in the form of a stiffer, and 1.4mm thicker, 17.3mm Nismo-tuned hollow rear anti-roll bar.
The result is a GT-R that’s much more willing to turn in, change direction, and be flung about with controlled aggression.
The run-flat Nismo-specific nitrogen-filled tyres too, are seriously impressive.
Attached to possibly one of the longest official names in the business, the GT-R rolls on 255/40 front and 285/35 rear Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT 600 DSST CTT NR1s.
And, while there’s no question a car like the GT-R Nismo belongs on a racetrack, what bends the brain is how much lateral and under-power grip the tyres deliver – even when blasting through damp mountain roads in ambient temperatures below five degrees Celsius.
Even on a totally wet road, you can drive the GT-R Nismo with respectable ‘enthusiasm’ and the tyres still offer tremendous grip, remaining resistant to the majority of unwanted sliding. And when you do find some dry roads, well, wow…
Stumble across a moisture-free stretch of smooth tarmac and you’re immediately aware the GT-R Nismo possesses another level of grip and performance.
Helped in no small part by the GT-R’s rear-drive-biased ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive system, in the dry, you can lean on the tyres even more, you can get on the throttle earlier and harder, and you can brake even later.
An acronym for ‘Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All terrain with Electronic Torque Split’, the complex – and complexly-named – system can distribute up to 100 per cent of torque to the rear wheels and up to 50 per cent to the front, depending on speed, lateral acceleration, steering angle, tyre slip, and road surface, with additional input coming from yaw-rate and g-force sensors.
The steering though, is heavy. And, while you do get used to it to a degree, it never stops being heavy – even in ‘Save’ mode instead of either ‘Normal’ or ‘R’.
There is feedback through the wheel, however, even in this most epic of guises, the GT-R still isn’t the most engaging or involving car to drive.
It isn’t uncommunicative, but the GT-R Nismo is no McLaren 570S.
Teaming a solid pedal with nice feel and good progression, the Nismo’s massive stoppers do a sublime job of strongly and repeatedly pulling the car up, endowing drivers with a tonne of confidence.
It’s fortunate they do too, because the Nismo’s engine is angrier and more responsive than the standard GT-R powerplant, feeling decidedly keener and punchier, especially at higher rpm.
There’s still plenty of lag below 4000rpm, but from there to the engine’s 7100rpm rev limiter, it’s not shy about seriously packing on numbers.
Power delivery is more linear than you might think, and while the engine’s low-end pickup is no match for the likes of BMW’s, Mercedes-AMG’s, and even McLaren’s twin-turbo engines, there’s enough flexible torque available between 1000-2500rpm to accommodate sane trips merely pottering around town.
Speaking of which, although Nissan claims an average fuel consumption figure of 11.7 litres per 100km for the GT-R Nismo, we saw a highway low of 10.3L/100km and an overall average of 16.4L/100km.
With the updated 2017 GT-R, Nissan made the decision to move the ultra-quick coupe’s paddle-shifters from the steering column to the back of the steering wheel.
A smart move if you ask the majority of paddle fans; the model’s six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission also received some mild revisions, however, it’s still noisier and more clunky than it really ought to be.
A bit of an R35 GT-R trademark – and particularly noticeable at lower speeds and when parking – the transmission noises are at least paired with shifts that Nissan claims can take as little as 0.15 of a second to complete (with the transmission in ‘R’ mode).
Plenty quick, for us, the changes aren’t quite as rapid or crisp as you’ll find in a McLaren 570S or BMW M4 GTS, though, they’re still pretty bloody brisk – even if some cog swaps are occasionally attached to jolts when decelerating.
So, the 2017 Nissan GT-R Nismo isn’t perfect. Few cars are.
Its slightly crude and unrefined transmission lacks some speed, smoothness, and polish. Both the engine and exhaust sound disappointingly restrained. The infotainment system and several interior elements are underwhelming. And of course – the Ivory Pearl elephant in the room – the GT-R Nismo has a simply monumental asking price.
All of that said though, the whole car still manages to feel complete.
What I mean by that is, it doesn’t feel like a gimmick. It doesn’t feel like Nissan’s just stuck a bunch of go-fast bits and a big wing onto a standard GT-R and charged nearly double the price. It’s seriously solid, stupendously hooked up, and demonstrably fast.
Its limits are so high, and so far beyond the average driver's, that driving the thing on a public road – legally – you’re barely ever going to touch the sides of what the GT-R Nismo is capable of. You’re just not.
But, while its combination of outright pace and ability make the Nismo ridiculously brilliant and easily the best R35 GT-R yet, it’s not the best GT-R ever – not in my eyes anyway.
Unlike an old R34, R32, or especially an original KPGC10 Skyline GT-R, the Nismo is not a car you fall in love with.
It’s not a car that steals your heart and leaves you yearning for that next drive, or a car that gets in your head or makes you never want to stop driving it. It’s bloody, bloody good, but frustratingly, it lacks ‘feels’.
So, even though I think the 2017 Nissan GT-R Nismo is a properly mega car, I don’t love it.
Perhaps more engine and turbo noise or a better exhaust note or even a manual gearbox could potentially improve things. Sadly, none of those things are likely to feature on the next-generation – and likely hybrid-assisted – Nissan GT-R.
For now then, I’ll just have to keep waiting for the day I can afford the ultimate Godzilla: a Nismo R34 GT-R Z-Tune. A guy can dream can’t he?
Click on the Gallery tab above for more 2017 Nissan GT-R Nismo images by Tom Fraser.