For a couple of generations of sports car lovers, the Nissan GT-R was something mythical. For years, it was an unobtainable Japanese supercar that could only be experienced in the Gran Turismo driving game.
When Nissan designed the latest R35 generation GT-R, their plan was to make it available around the world for the first time. Not surprisingly, when it launched in 2009 there was endless buzz and curiosity about the GT-R.
In North America, we’d never experienced anything quite like it. Filled with tech, from its all-wheel drive system to its then-cutting-edge dual-clutch transmission, it confounded enthusiasts with its Porsche-911-Turbo-like performance at Corvette-Z06-like prices.
Since the R35’s introduction, it’s received updates, most notably in 2014 when its suspension was rightly softened up; and in 2016 when the über-Godzilla, the NISMO, was introduced. While the NISMO is the top spec and most spendy, it remains my favourite because of its sharp, precise responses, and supercar performance.
The 2017 marks another major refresh for the GT-R, with most of those updates pointed in the right direction.
If you’re familiar with GT-R, you’ll notice the styling changes immediately. The front fascia is entirely new, the grill reshaped to be more aligned with Nissan’s current corporate design language and the lower spoiler being all new.
The rockers are a new design and the rear fascia is reshaped to include functional air vents. According to Nissan, the drag coefficient is unchanged, but downforce is improved which helps stability at high speed. And this Japanese supercar is capable of some very high speeds.
The GT-R’s design has never been mistaken for anything else and this restyle is perhaps the most resolved iteration. In the right colours, it looks more purposeful and more athletic than ever before, and especially at the side, the reshaped rockers enhance the distinct side profile and unique shape of the greenhouse.
Behind the wheel, you immediately notice the very modern steering wheel with a very compact airbag module. The shape, diameter, and rim thickness are near perfect, and the dual clutch’s shift paddles are now along for the ride. Previously mounted on the steering column, they’re now affixed to the back of the steering wheel.
The instrument cluster is unchanged – straight out of the late 2000s – which dates the GT-R relative to some of its competition, but the new touchscreen infotainment unit is a welcome change.
The screen is larger than before and you can still enjoy all of the crazy Gran Turismo-inspired performance displays. Need to know driveline’s torque split in real time? Not a problem; however, I’ve never needed to know that on any race track in any car, but that’s a discussion for another day.
A pleasant byproduct of the new infotainment unit is the loss of at least a dozen buttons. Every driver will appreciate the simplicity, though I wonder if the GT-R team could have gone further.
When Nissan presented the 2017 model to the world at the 2016 New York Auto Show, I was briefed by GT-R product chief Hiroshi Tamura. While the styling and performance updates are easy to understand, I couldn’t comprehend the need for additional touches of luxe inside the cabin.
You see, the interior now gets a leather-covered dash and there is a hand-stitched leather interior option. While the seats have been reshaped and are constructed to be lighter than before, the seating position is more grand tourer than supercar.
The seats simply don’t adjust low enough to the floor for a supercar. That, combined with the luxury-oriented interior and its ultra-high performance envelope, gives this GT-R a bit of a split personality. To me, an even more spartan interior would fit the bill.
There is one un-supercar-like feature that the GT-R can lord over much of the competition—the enormous trunk. It’ll fit a pair of large suitcases and more.
One of my favourite features of the GT-R is simply starting it. It fires up with authority, and while the numerous ECUs go through system checks, it settles into an idle that could only come from a Japanese supercar. The signature rattle from the differential adds to its exotic persona.
When it was launched in 2009, the GT-R was the tech leader, but now you can’t throw a rock without hitting another supercar that’s got a pair of turbochargers or a whiz-bang, ultra-quick-shifting transmission. The lazy one-two shift from the Nissan’s dual clutch is another aspect that makes it feel dated, especially when compared to Porsche’s unflappable PDK transmission.
This latest GT-R also includes smartphone integration which allows owners to lock and unlock their cars simply through an app, as well as switch on the alarm, and even locate the car if it’s stolen.
The fundamental drivetrain is unchanged and signature GT-R. The handbuilt 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V6 remains the heart of Godzilla, but power is up 20 to a meaningful 565 horsepower. Torque is up just four lb-ft to 467. The six-speed dual clutch transmission is carried over, but is recalibrated for smoother shifts.
What this means, however, is that this Nissan is one of the quickest cars on the planet. Zero to 100 km/h is possible in well under three seconds. On the right surface in the right conditions, you might even get close to two and a half. Top speed is well over 310 km/h, which is admittedly difficult to achieve on any circuit here in Canada.
As formidable as those numbers are, the GT-R is more about how it puts down its power in any situation. Whether it’s exiting a corner or just a straight line pull, it transfers torque rapidly and seamlessly across the driveline for maximum, drama-free acceleration. In 2009, that was mind-blowing, and even today it’s a remarkable accomplishment.
The exhaust is a new titanium design and it sounds fantastic, but my auditory memory can’t say whether it sounds any different than the last 2014 I tested. There’s also a new Active Sound Enhancement feature, which is supposed to be a little sound fakery gadget similar to the one BMW fits to its M products, but my ears, admittedly deafened from racing, didn’t notice a thing.
As tested, this deep blue pearl GT-R is priced at $131,800, including the luxe interior option and freight charges. For some perspective, that’s near the base price of Porsche 911 Carrera 4S, but this GT-R offers near Porsche 911 Turbo S performance. Porsche’s Turbo S starts at $214,000, which perhaps makes the GT-R a veritable bargain of a supercar.
The only competition that could offer a better value – the Corvette Z06 and Dodge Viper – aren’t exactly drama-free and definitely require a skilled pair of hands to extract maximum performance.
The updates for this 2017 Nissan GT-R makes it arguably the best-looking, most refined, and unquestionably the most rapid yet, save the specialist NISMO, but eight years on, some of its core character is starting to feel its age. For fans of Gran Turismo and modern Japanese supercars, there is no other choice than the iconic GT-R.