What can I say about the Nissan GT-R that hasn’t already been said before? This is a car that needs no introduction and is a car that is embedded in the minds and hearts of petrolheads of all generations. It doesn’t matter if you like your cars to have V12 engines from Maranello or a simple big block V8 from Detroit, you’ll be familiar with Godzilla.
I’ve always believed the Nissan GT-R is as culturally important to Japan as Mount Fuji, sashimi, and Hello Kitty. I wouldn’t be surprised if they used one as a mascot for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. If you were to make a list of the most important cars to come out of Japan I can almost guarantee the GT-R would make the list.
Because of the Gran Turismo games and the Fast and Furious movies, the GT-R has been a significant part of my childhood and my love of cars. Admittedly, I’ve always preferred the Porsche 911 but I have always respected and admired the GT-R’s capabilities. The way it can demolish cars costing far more on the road and track, how some have been tuned to 1000hp+, and of course the infamous launch control system are some reasons why I can understand people love these cars.
Few cars carry around such great expectations, and it was with all this in the back of my mind, I finally got my first experience of driving a GT-R in real life. It was my very own Gran Turismo Reality.
It’s an imposing car, I’ll give it that. The R35 GT-R may not be the prettiest car in the world, with its design dictated more by function than form, but it’s got serious presence. Being around this car you know it’s a proper speed machine.
From the aggressive grille, to the squared arches, sharp lines, that chunky rear wing and of course the GT-R’s signature quad-taillights, this is unmistakably Godzilla. The only thing I wasn’t overly keen on were the wheels, which are unique to the Premium Edition. Some seemed to like them, though for most these were the first thing they’d comment on.
This generation has been around for nearly a decade, the R35 hitting showroom floors in 2007. It’s been given a facelift for the Model Year (MY) 2017 but my test car was the last of the pre-facelift R35. Think of this then as a send off to the original R35 face.
The moment I was handed the keys, I opened the slick door handle, and got settled inside, I felt my 13 year-old self’s jaw drop. I was about to drive a GT-R. The sensation from pressing the red starter button on the centre console was similar to that of setting off a nuclear warhead, or so I presume.
The GT-R was built for performance with little in mind for luxury so don’t go expecting it to be like a five-star luxury suite inside. If you’re buying this car for creature comfort and practicality, you’re doing it wrong. There isn’t much in a the way of style and ‘wow-factor’, it’s all very functional and minimal.
Anything that isn’t necessary isn’t there. So you don’t get radar-guided cruise control, there’s no automatic parking, nor are there even any parking sensors (though you do get a reversing camera). Strangely enough, Japan-spec cars do get a TV function. Go figure.
What surprised me was the amount of space in the back. It’s a 2+2 and by no means supposed to be a family car, but there was enough space for two adults in the rear. Even on a 2-hour drive there weren’t too many complaints from the back. The boot was surprisingly spacious too. Could you use this car as a daily driver? Possibly but only if you were determined enough to.
It didn’t even feel particularly racy or sporty inside. It just felt like somewhere to sit and hold on for dear life. The materials used were acceptable, there’s a lot of leather on bits that matter and decent plastics everywhere else. I’m not going to criticise the GT-R for its plastics because 1) it’s not supposed to be a high-end luxury car and 2) it’s a ¥10,000,000 (NZ$130,000, but $191,000 when new in NZ) car. Critiquing this for its interior plastics would be like critiquing a Formula 1 car for its lack of boot space. That’s just not the point. So moving on.
The driver gets a clear instrument cluster with the dials and information dispaly being easy to read. In the middle you get a large tachometer and a screen displaying various information such as a digital speed display (a very useful feature), fuel range, the odometer, average fuel consumption, etc. To the left is the speedo which goes all to 340 km/h. To the right of the tach is the gear display, fuel gauge, and oil temp.
Speaking of the driver, the driving position is as you’d expect – spot on. This being the Premium Edition the seats were electrically operated, heated, and trimmed in leather. Lurvely. The seats themselves are also different for the Premium model focusing more on giving its occupants a more forgiving place to sit on than other GT-Rs. This is the one to go for if you’re of the slightly older demographic. The seats offered great support all round, shoulder, lumbar, and thigh support were some of the best I’ve experienced. And these weren’t even the sports seats.
Also, by being electrically adjustable, anyone can get in and find their perfect driving position. You don’t sit too low in the car, meaning you can actually see out of the windows. There aren’t too many blind spots either. I usually complain about the c-pillar but the GT-R’s rear window was not large enough to cause any issues when reversing. Of course the reversing camera also helps.
Let’s talk about its infotainment system. Usually this would take me a couple of paragraphs to go through but since this was a Japanese-spec car everything was in Japanese. Most of the time when I test cars in Japan the infotainment system can be changed to English (thank you BMW) but that wasn’t the case with the GT-R. No matter, Google Maps would be my friend. I was able to eventually figure out how to use the sat-nav system thanks in part to blind luck and a friend who was able to read Japanese.
The sat-nav was pretty decent. It was responsive, fast, and gave clear instructions on screen. I couldn’t understand much of what she was blurting out but I assume it was all helpful information. Fortunately, the menu buttons were written in English so I was able to switch through the different menus. This eventually led me to the driver information displays.
Remember how I said I used to play Gran Turismo on my PlayStation? A car this modern shouldn’t bring up such nostalgic feelings. The graphics were done by Polyphony, the same people who did the Gran Turismo games so it came as no surprise that I loved this geeky feature. Did I use it much? I sure as hell did. I took every opportunity to see how much acceleration or cornering G I was producing at any given time.
There’s also various gauges to show oil temp, water temp, boost, and the sort. There’s a menu for a timer, fuel range, and speed so your passengers can keep an eye on how fast you’re going. Of course all of this is customisable so you can pick and choose what you want to be displayed on each menu. Complicated and gimmicky? A bit, but I loved it nevertheless.
What wasn’t complicated were the various drive settings for the transmission, suspension, and ESC. The transmission could be set either in Normal, Save, or R. I have no idea what Save meant, I assumed it was to save the transmission from imploding so I kept it at that most of the time. The suspension could either be set in Normal, Comfort, or R. ‘Comfort’ or the GT-R’s idea of it couldn’t hide the fact that this was a hard riding performance machine. The tyres didn’t help the cause either. ESC could be set to Normal, Off, or R.
When everything is in the most aggressive setting, ‘R’ mode, the monster lurking within awakens. Starting the GT-R up for the first time in an underground car park was surreal. The 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 reverberated from the basement of Nissan’s Global Headquarters.
That engine, which is hand-made, develops 550hp/404kW of power and 632NM of torque. That’s enough to get the GT-R from 0-100 km/h in a claimed 3 seconds and onto a top speed of 300 km/h.
It’s amazing how anyone can get into this car and drive it fast. Even someone like me with zero ounce of natural driving talent can get in a GT-R and feel like they can take on the Nurburgring blindfolded. You can’t help but be in awe of this car’s technical, physics-defying, and organ bending speed. But more on that later.
Don’t believe people when they say the GT-R has no soul. That’s complete and utter bollocks. Okay, it might not have a manual or make silly (read immature) farting noises nor is it particularly emotive, but you can feel the engineering behind this car. Engineering done by people who clearly have a passion for speed and perfection.
From the get-go you feel the car is somehow alive underneath you. You can feel and hear all the components working around you. The dual-clutch gearbox is jerky at low speeds, but that’s because it’s made to go fast. You can hear it agonising at town speeds, making industrial groans as it eggs you to apply more pressure on the right pedal.
During my time with it I did notice the transmission tunnel often got hot. It could be due to the hot Japanese summer we had but it didn’t seem very, normal for a car that’s done 12,000 or kilometres, albeit 12,000 hard kilometres.
Heated transmission tunnel aside (though that could be a nice feature in the winter), there’s a good case to be made for the GT-R as a daily driver. I suppose, in the same way a case could be made for having a tiger as a domestic pet. This car longs for the open road. And so, I thought I’d take out on to the roads around Mount Tsukuba to see what it’s like on twisty open roads.
If there’s one place a GT-R feels at home it’s on mountain roads. The power and torque from its 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 makes light work of going uphill. The grip from its intelligent all-wheel drive chassis and Dunlop tyres coupled with immense downforce from its aero means you can go around corners and hairpins in split seconds.
The steering is old-school hydraulic. No electric assistance here. While it might feel too heavy for some, and there were some instance where it certainly felt on the heavy side, the result is a fantastically joyous car to steer. It’s not a precision instrument, nor is the steering telepathically fast. But it is hugely satisfying. As you press the car on fast around a corner, you feel connected to what the front wheels are doing and you can feel the road underneath you. You can feel the car’s electronics working to benefit your driving.
You can keep pushing this car beyond your own limit and it won’t kill you for it. And if you do cock up, the GT-R’s limits are so far beyond that of any mere mortal that you have time to correct your error. You’ll get people claiming this isn’t a driver’s car because it’s too easy to drive fast. Anyone can get in it. You don’t have to spend as much time with it to get to know its limits, like you would in say a Porsche or even an AMG. But I’d say the GT-R is a different sort of driver’s car. It tests you as a driver to see where your limit is. Get from any other car into a GT-R and your whole concept of speed and cornering changes.
Then there’s the acceleration. We all know about the GT-R’s effective and violent launch control system which can get it from standstill to 100 km/h in around 3 seconds. I can safely say my organs have never moved so quickly before. There’s no drama, there’s no fuss. One second you’re standing still, in three seconds you’re doing the speed limit. End of.
But what really got me was the mid-range pick up of this thing. You could be in any gear and there’d be instant torque and power to keep up with anything this side of a hypercar. Blink and whatever was on the horizon a moment ago somehow ended up right in front of you. The GT-R doesn’t accelerate, it teleports.
It doesn’t matter what you come across on the road, be it a Subaru WRX or a Porsche 911 GT2, the GT-R will be able to keep up with them. That is unless you’re in a Japanese-spec car then you’ll be able to keep up with them up to 190 km/h. Not that I tried to get to these speeds of course. But at high speeds the GT-R is incredibly stable. It makes no work of doing over the 100 km/h speed limit and would happily keep past the 300 km/h mark.
That kind of speed and power deserves equally amazing stopping capabilities and the GT-R’s Brembo carbon ceramic brakes are worthy. They were a bit touchy for my liking but once you pushed hard on the brake pedal and you could feel your organs rearrange themselves inside your body, few other cars stop as effectively or as brutally as the GT-R.
I could’ve just summed up this section of the review as “it’s bloody fast” but you’ve probably heard that a dozen times before.
There must be some downsides right? Of course there are. We’ve established the interiors of pre-MY2017 update GT-R leaves a bit to be desired. The update has addressed some of the design and material issues. It’s also a seriously thirsty car. There’s no stop/start system or any clever hybrid tech either to help with economy. It’s a proper old school thirsty monster. Nissan claims an average fuel consumption of 14.9L/100km, I was averaging around 17L/100km. For a car with this level of performance, that’s to be expected. But just because it’s not priced like an exotic supercar doesn’t mean it won’t cost as much to run. There’s no point in trying to drive economically though, because the GT-R is the type of car that begs to be driven hard and eggs you on to drive it hard.
It’s also exactly because of that that makes this car an exhausting thing to drive. Okay, exhausting sounds like a serious criticism. Perhaps demanding is a better word. It’s as if the GT-R doesn’t know how to calm itself down. If you wanted a car with a split personality that can mix business and pleasure, this isn’t the car for you. It’s always on edge. Always.
Then there’s the suspension. It’s great for keeping the car flat and level around corners. There are also different adjustable settings too, such as a ‘comfort’ mode but it’s still a hard riding car. Comfort is not the GT-R’s forte.
Another flaw comes doesn’t come from the car itself but from other drivers. Everyone seems to think they can go head-to-head against a GT-R or somehow feel that because you’re in a GT-R you’re always keen for a race. Some might like this, but if you’re just out for a nice evening cruise and a tuned Mitsubishi Evo comes up behind you at high speed, it can get quite annoying.
It would be absurd to claim the GT-R has no soul. It has its very own unique personality, there’s nothing else quite like it. But while it’s a technically impressive car that left me literally breathless from its abilities, it didn’t leave me all warm and fuzzy inside.
For the GT-R I decided to include both cars that were direct competitors in terms of performance and power, as well as those in the same price range to illustrate the GT-R as a performance package. Nothing else comes close to it in terms of offering the most bang for your buck.
I’m not for a second suggesting people in the market for a Bentley or a Maserati would cross shop a GT-R, but those cars do offer performance and space as the GT-R.
|Brand/Model||Engine||Power||Fuel L/100km||CO2 g/km||Price – High to Low|
|Porsche 911 Turbo||3.8-litre twin-turbo flat six||540hp/397kW||9.1L/100km||212g/km||NZ$354,000|
|Bentley Continental GT V8||4.0-litre twin-turbo V8||507hp/373kW||10.6L/100km||246g/km||NZ$325,000|
|Maserati GranTurismo||4.7-litre V8||460hp/338kW||14.3L/100km||331g/km||NZ$244,500|
|BMW M6||4.0-litre twin-turbo V8||560hp/412kW||9.9L/100km||231g/km||NZ$268,500|
|Jaguar F-Type R||5.0-litre supercharged V8||550hp/404kW||11.3L/100km||269g/km||NZ$198,000|
|Aston Martin V8 Vantage||4.7-litre V8||425hp/313kW||13.8L/100km||321g/km||NZ$197,000|
|Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe||4.0-litre twin-turbo V8||510hp/375kW||8.6L/100km||200g/km||NZ$172,900|
|BMW M4||3.0-litre twin-turbo in-line six||430hp/317kW||8.3L/100km||194g/km||NZ$169,500|
|Lexus RC F||5.0-litre V8||477hp/351kW||10.9L/100km||253g/km||NZ$165,500|
|Nissan GT-R Premium Edition||3.8-litre twin-turbo V6||550hp/404kW||14.9L/100km||295g/km||¥10,587,240 (NZ$139,460) / $191,000 NZ-spec|
Pros and Cons
What We Think
It’s been on the market for 9 years – nearly a decade. If you’re reading this and contemplating getting one I assume you’ve already made your mind up. In that case, the early models would make a great used buy since prices are around the same price as a new 370Z. These later models with more power and creature comforts increase the GT-R’s overall package but are still quite pricey.
The MY2017 update brings a tad more power but crucially an updated interior which keeps the R35 GT-R fresh and current until the next generation comes in 2020. It’s hard to argue against Nissan’s take on a supercar since it’s so effective at what it does. For going fast for the least amount of cash the GT-R is hard to beat.
The competition may have caught up with the GT-R in terms of performance and handling but still can’t match it for value. For all its flaws, and it does have them, the GT-R is still a hard car and package to dislike. It’s a technical and engineering marvel, if not an emotive one.
|Vehicle Type||Sports Coupe|
|Starting Price||¥9,960,840 (NZ$131,210)|
|Tested Price||¥10,587,240 (NZ$139,460)|
|Engine||3799cc V6 DOHC twin-turbo (VR38DETT)|
|Transmission||6-speed dual-clutch transmission|
|0-100 kph||3.0 seconds|
|Length x Width x Height||4670mm x 1895mm x 1370mm|
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||N/A|