230, 240, 250, 260km/h... The only thing stopping us from hitting 300km/h is traffic ahead on a stretch of German autobahn. The 2020 Nissan GT-R Nismo redefines what fast means in the sports car category.
The 'standard' GT-R was never a slouch, and the MY17 GT-R Nismo, complete with 600hp, was certainly no wimp either. So, how do you improve on what is thought of by some as one of the most potent sports cars on the market? That's what I wanted to find out.
Nissan's chief product specialist, Tamura-san, was on hand in Germany to give us a better understanding of why the MY20 GT-R Nismo has managed to take the product to the next level.
Key to the changes are weight savings all round. Total weight reduction comes in at almost 30kg thanks to lighter wheels (100g lighter per wheel), and carbon-fibre components on the roof, bonnet, boot, side panels and spoiler. These carbon-fibre parts help save 10.5kg in total.
Inside the cabin, new Recaro race seats are lighter than their predecessors for an additional saving of 1.6kg per seat. They include a more rigid carbon-fibre weave that increases rigidity by 20 per cent.
Then there's the brakes – these things are mammoth. Specially built by Brembo for the Nismo, the carbon-ceramic brakes measure 410mm at the front with six-piston callipers, while the rear set comes in at 390mm with four-piston callipers. The use of this braking system reduces unsprung weight by 16.3kg.
Under the bonnet, Nissan has employed turbochargers from the GT3 race car, which now use 10 intake vanes instead of 11, allowing around 15 per cent to be shaved off their weight. They've also catered for an almost 20 per cent improvement in throttle response (not that it needed it).
Tyres have also been tweaked, with the Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT600 front treads now featuring a semi-slick pattern and a greater edge radius to improve cornering and limit understeer. The new compound increases grip by seven per cent, and the new tread pattern offers an additional 11 per cent of contact with the road. While adjusting tyres, Nissan engineers also made changes to the Bilstein DampTronic suspension tune to cater for the differing unsprung mass changes, now 20 and five per cent softer respectively for rebound and compression.
Nissan retains the VR38DETT engine, which is a hand-assembled 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged petrol V6 that produces 441kW of power and 652Nm of torque, and mated to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and a constant all-wheel-drive system. The exhaust is a full titanium system with burnished tips that help them stand out from a non-titanium exhaust.
Tamura-san also spoke about 'kaizen', which is a Japanese word that refers to a constant need to evolve and fine-tune. This is the mentality he and the engineers behind the Nismo project employ when making changes to a product that really is difficult to make changes to.
The concept of this launch program was for us to experience the GT-R Nismo through the city, on the highway, and then on the racetrack. The only difference being the German highway we're driving on includes long stretches of derestricted speed zones to really stretch the GT-R Nismo's legs.
You're only ever likely to experience the GT-R on a public road in Australia from standstill to highway speeds. The autobahn is a different story. On the derestricted sections, it was possible to experience the extra throttle response Tamura-san was talking about during the product presentation.
Punch the throttle at 130km/h, and within seconds you're progressing through to and beyond 250km/h. It's a never-ending torque rollercoaster that keeps you positively pinned as it hurtles towards the skyline.
The noise when all of this is happening is my favourite part. The GT-R is often criticised for being quiet and reserved, but sink the right foot in and you'll catch all sorts of induction and exhaust noises. It sounds like a piece of industrial machinery each time it comes on boost and begins seemingly shifting the earth beneath you.
Below around 150km/h it can feel slightly twitchy. The steering is lighter than the MY17, and as a result there are moments when rogue bits of wind can be felt through the chassis. But, ramp your speed up beyond 150km/h and the added aero equipment helps settle and ground the vehicle.
That aero equipment includes a new heat exhaust outlet on the front guard, which is designed to direct latent heat away from the brakes and engine and down the side of the car, where it can disappear into the ether. Without the vent there, heat is trapped within the front haunches of the car, which can affect heat loads.
Above 200km/h it feels rock solid and there isn't even a glimmer of wind intervention. Add another 50 or 100km/h to the equation and it becomes a scud missile shooting directly ahead. The gearbox at these speeds is responsive, but it feels like it could use an additional seventh gear to help lower revs above 130km/h. But that's me just being picky.
The ride is settled at these speeds, and the suspension's Comfort mode offers enough compliance on a smooth highway to deal with bumps at speed. It's only on choppier stretches of road that the Comfort mode fails to deliver as-advertised comfort.
We punted the GT-R Nismo through a few corners on a country road near the racetrack. It sits as flat as a tack most of the time, but switch the suspension dial into R mode and it enters into another league of cornering performance. The feel through the steering wheel is excellent, as is the throttle response. It's hard to imagine there's a set of turbos under the bonnet because there's virtually no turbocharger lag at all. Throttle response is razor, razor sharp.
Brake pedal feel is excellent, and despite carbon-ceramic brakes normally needing a heat load to operate effectively, this braking package works just as well at low speeds as it does on the track. Pedal feel is excellent and braking performance is equally as good regardless of how often you go for the brake pedal.
R mode on a smooth country road is fine, but we'd imagine that if you found yourself on some shoddy Australian back roads, it would become a bit of a handful as it skips along road imperfections. Even in Comfort mode it can be quite firm – but that's what you're buying into when choosing the most hardcore GT-R on the market.
You're never left wanting for more out of the engine, and while you know in the back of your mind that there's still more left in it, you don't dare to explore the last 3/10ths on a public road.
How does this all translate to the racetrack? It's okay – I did the legwork so you don't need to worry about it. The DEKRA Lausitzring is located around 140km outside of Berlin, and was created in the early 2000s to cater for upcoming race events.
With seating for over 120,000 punters, it never really took off, and is now used as an automotive proving ground with a banked bowl and inner circuit that measures around 4.3km in length.
It's fairly flat, but it has fast sections to extract the most out of the GT-R's revised chassis. After familiarising ourselves with the racetrack, we headed out in the MY17 GT-R Nismo. I won't lie – this thing felt bloody quick, insanely quick.
It fires out of corners, the steering is heavy and direct, while the brakes bite with precision each and every time – not to mention the acceleration. It's mind-numbingly mental. Smash the throttle out of a tight corner and the all-wheel-drive system works to get all of the torque to the ground with no fuss at all.
When you push the car a little harder, you begin to notice that the steering can get twitchy mid-corner if you catch a bump, and the brakes begin to start lacking consistency after several quick laps. But that's if you're really being picky.
We then migrate to the MY20 GT-R Nismo, and expecting much of the same, we head out on the track. The steering is noticeably lighter and the brake pedal feels different – not bad different, but just different.
As we enter the first corner off the back straight and assault the brake pedal for the first time and tip the car in, the understeer that rears its head in the MY17 car is gone. It's just not there any more. The twitchy mid-corner steering, it's gone as well; the wheel offers feedback like you wouldn't believe and keeps communicating everything that contacts the tyres through to your hands and body.
The acceleration doesn't feel all that different, but the brakes and tyres now transform the package. Even after five full-attack laps, you can confidently stand on the brake pedal and just hold on tight as the car slows down. By the fifth lap, the only measurable handling difference comes from the tyres as they begin to start losing their effective grip levels.
It's unnerving how fast you can travel in the GT-R Nismo. There's never a time you feel like the car is going to chew you up and spit you out. I have no doubts at all that it's pretty easy to overcommit and land yourself in trouble, but it'll never be the car that makes that happen – it's always working with you and never against you.
I'm not a race driver, but I've driven plenty of fast cars at racetracks, and I can confidently say that driving the GT-R Nismo at speed is unlike anything else I've experienced. The way it constantly piles on speed and relentlessly offers braking performance is next level.
It doesn't end there, though. When we were done patting ourselves on the back with the driving effort from the day, we went out for hot laps with some of the racing professionals. This is where you reach an all-new level of respect for the GT-R. In the hands of somebody that's capable of pushing the vehicle as close to 10/10ths as possible, it reaches yet another height of performance.
Straight-line performance is still pretty important – nobody likes being last at the traffic lights. We strapped a VBox to the car and recorded a 0–100km/h time for the 2020 Nissan GT-R Nismo of 3.1 seconds. With the vehicle's systems in R mode for suspension, driveline and stability control, we held the brake and throttle together, which whips revs up to 4000rpm before letting go of the brake.
Off the line, there was a little bit of wheel slip before it hooked up and accelerated like nothing we've experienced before. I'm certain that with a bit more playing around and warm tyres, it wouldn't be hard to achieve a much quicker acceleration time – perhaps in the mid-high 2.0-second range – it's truly remarkable.
One thing worth mentioning briefly is the interior. Despite its age (the R35 was first released in 2007), the interior feels nicely put together with excellent build quality. It's just let down by the same thing that plagues most Nissans – infotainment and connectivity. The infotainment system is okay, but it can be painful to use, and needs a complete overhaul if Nissan wants to keep up with other competitors in this segment, like Porsche, which has taken a much closer look at the tech inside its cars.
As always, there are two seats in the rear, but don't expect to fit anybody back there. It's a kid-only zone, but they're there just in case you do need to terrify two of your friends on a hot lap.
With over 20 laps of the Lausitzring circuit in the GT-R Nismo, this was one of the most comprehensive track launch programs we have ever done. This is a sign of confidence in the product, and a plain understanding that no matter how hard you push, the car is always going to be there to support you.
Please, the next time you see a GT-R or a GT-R Nismo driving along, don't just assume it's a quick straight-line car. I've always had respect for it, but never really had appreciation for just how capable it is, until now. Take my word for it, this isn't a normal car – it's not even a sports car. It almost lives within its own league of performance.
My hat goes off to Tamura-san and the engineering team behind this car. It's impossible to improve on sports car perfection, but it seems they've managed just that. Pricing for Australia is still to be announced, but given one in every five GT-Rs sold in Australia is a Nismo, Nissan Australia will want to keep pricing as sharp as possible given the current $299,000 (plus on-road costs) asking price.