The Nissan GT-R is a car that needs no introduction to any car enthusiast. In its current R35 guise, it has been around for more than 10 years now, first appearing at the 2007 Tokyo Auto Show. A follow on to the legendary R34 Skyline GT-R, this one did not carry forward the Skyline name, and indeed, little else from that car made it to the new one, except its nickname of Godzilla, a title first bestowed on the Skyline by the Australian motoring magazine “Wheels”, which stuck with the car. This thunderous machine was far more extreme than its predecessors, with every available technology carefully applied to the challenge of building a usable supercar that would reflect Japanese design and culture and not just be a Japanese version of an European supercar. The result is a hybrid unibody assembled on ultra-low-tolerance jigs similar to those used in race car construction. Alcoa aluminium is used for the bonnet and boot lids and outer door skins, with die-cast aluminium front shock towers and inner door structures. Outer body panels are stamped using multiple-strike coining process for added rigidity and precision, and there are special paint processes. The chassis is stiffened with a carbon-composite front cross-member/radiator support. Powering it is the VR38DETT V6 engine, a 3,799 cc DOHC V6 with plasma transferred wire arc sprayed cylinder bores. Two parallel IHI turbochargers provide forced induction. At launch, this unit delivered 478 bhp at 6400 rpm and 434 lb/ft of torque at 3200–5200 rpm. A rear mounted six-speed BorgWarner designed dual clutch semi-automatic transmission built by Aichi Machine Industry features in conjunction with the ATTESA E-TS system to provide power to all four wheels and along with Nissan’s Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC-R) to aid in stability. Three transmission modes can also be selected for various conditions, and huge Brembo brakes are there to ensure you can stop as readily as you can go. From 2010, engine power and torque were upgraded to 523 bhp at 6400 rpm and 451 lb/ft at 3200–6000 rpm. Models produced in 2012 again featured increased engine output, now 545 bhp at 6400 rpm and 463 lb/ft at 3200–5800 rpm. Additional power was not the only change with each of these facelifts, with plenty of other mechanical alterations, all aimed at delivering even more power, handling, and grip. A Spec-V model followed in early 2009, then a Black Edition, then the ultimate in GT-R models, the Nismo, listing at twice the price of the “base” car.
Although the production car was first seen in 2007, it took some time for the global launch of the GT-R, as Nissan had to create dedicated Performance Centres which would be capable of servicing and looking after the car, a clear indication that this was far more advanced that what had gone before. Japan was first, not surprisingly, followed by the USA, whilst Europe had to wait until 2009 before eager customers could get their hands on one. The car was well received, winning many an accolade from the motoring press. Sales were very strong in the first year or so, in each market, with Europe and the USA buying similar numbers of the cars, both dwarfed by Japan, where nearly 5000 were sold in the first year. They’ve reduced steadily to around a third of what they were, with fewer than 150 now bought in each of America and Europe per year. There have been a number of fairly significant updates, with the most recent one coming in late 2016, aimed at keeping the car competitive whilst work proceeds on the still-expected all new model in 2020, or thereabouts. Although more power was added in the 2016 changes, now up to 565 bhp, Nissan also updated the interior, recognising that if they wanted to charge Porsche 911 money for the car, which they now do – having inflated the price significantly during the car’s lifetime – then buyers will expect rather better than they were getting. There were some visual tweaks as well with a new front bumper, bonnet and grille and the rear bumper design from the previous Nismo, though these changes are subtle and difficult to spot, aimed more at aerodynamic tweakery and improved cooling than a radical new look. Further chassis changes were aimed at improving refinement.
Although the GT-R has been on my (long) list of cars I would like to drive, I had no real expectation that I would get the chance to do so, with the possible exception of one of those “supercar test days” where you get a few accompanied laps of a track somewhere. And then, when I was in Los Angeles back in March 2018, my friends there told me that they had just learned that Hertz were going to add some to their 2018 fleet. Sure enough, on the very last day of that trip, when I turned up to collect the last rental car, there was a grey one parked up. It turned out that three had arrived the evening before, and two had already gone out. This one was available, but there was a catch: not the upgrade fee (which was reasonable), but that it was limited to 75 miles a day. In Los Angeles, that really is nothing. I decided that I would need to go and plan a route very carefully, and just hoped that the cars would still be on fleet by the time of my September 2018 visit. Thankfully, they were. A few more had been added to the LAX fleet, all standard cars in most of the available colours. I put in a request for one for the back end of the trip, and when I returned from Phoenix, there indeed was one parked up, which Annie, my friend there, said had my name on it. It was grey, but she said there was a red one on site, too. The photographer in me declared a preference for that one, so whilst it was cleaned up, we set about the paperwork. This is no different to any of the other Dream Collection cars, but there was no way of renting it out without a mileage limit on it. I’ve been asked not to disclose the actual deal that I received, but suffice to say that the price was very fair, given what it is, but I knew that every mile over the limit I got was going to cost $1 plus tax, so I was going to be limited in where I could go. With the car for 2 days though, it gave me the chance to have a good drive one day and a lazy second day. And anyway, how else was I going to get an unaccompanied drive of a GT-R for two days, short of buying one?
The first time you get in the GT-R, you realise how low the car is, an impression accentuated by the string of high-riding crossovers I had been driving in the days before this test. Like most low-slung two-seater sports cars, there’s a knack to getting in and out without banging your head on the roof, or your knees on the dash, and it is fair to say that unless you are moderately agile, you may find it all a bit of a struggle. I was reminded just how low you sit when I pulled up to a car-park ticket machine and had to reach up to grab the ticket! Once installed for the first time, I set about making myself comfortable. Seat adjustment is electric. I reached round to the side of the seat, and could not find an obvious means of bringing the seat well forward. The switch nearest to the front only seemed to do seat height, and I found a seat heater switch. The answer is that there is a serrated knob which does in fact alter the fore/aft position as well as the backrest angle. There was another surprise when wanting to move the steering wheel so it was not in my chest. There are two release levers, alongside each other, and you need to release them both so you can move the wheel. When you do so, you discover that the entire instrument cluster moves up and down with it, thus maintaining the same view of the instruments no matter how low or high the wheel is set. The seats are very like the ones in my Abarth, even down to the fact that the inner portion is trimmed in a suede like material, and the outer is leather. They are specially designed to hold the occupants in place when driving enthusiastically, which means that they are close-fitting. Anyone really large may have a problem fitting in them. They were absolutely fine for me, and indeed proved very comfortable.
It was now time to familiarise myself with the instruments and controls. Nissan put a lot of effort into upgrading the cabin as part of the 2016 series of updates, figuring out that given the price that they now want to charge for the car, it needed to look a little higher in quality. They have partially succeeded. There are lashings of leather, not just on the seats, but on the door casings and covering much of the dash as well. Carbon fibre inlays feature, as you might expect, too. Even so, when you look at the overall design and some of the components, such as the infotainment unit, you can tell that most of the money you spent on your GT-R does not reward you with cabin opulence. The instrument cluster contains, from left to right, a large speedo, and a large rev counter and then three smaller dials for fuel, water temperature and oil pressure. The speedo starts from around 4 o’clock, and goes round clockwise in an arc all the way to 220 mph. That means that the markings are close together, so the only way to tell what speed you are doing in areas where it matters (like traffic and on public roads) is by using the digital repeater in the lower part of the rev counter, which is anyway the dial straight in front of you. There are two column stalks, with lights operated from the end of the left hand one, just as on any other Nissan, though the stalks themselves were slightly different from the usual Nissan parts bin items. The steering wheel spokes contain a number of buttons, for cruise control and audio repeater functions. The centre of the dash contains an integrated Nissan Connect 8″ colour infotainment display screen. It is touch sensitive, and has a series of button on either side of it to switch menus and functions. In bright sunlight, it proved almost unreadable. As well as three wavebands for audio, including XM Satellite, there is SD-card-based navigation, and a whole series of settings functions. It does not come across as anything like state of the art for 2018, or even a few years prior to that. If you press the Function button to the upper right of the screen, you get a series of menus which show things like cornering and g-forces etc. Below this unit are a pair of air vents, which you could not close off, just redirect and only from side to side, and below this are the dual zone climate controls. This system was ferocious, and blasted with lots of cold air, If you turned off the eyeball-style vents at the end of the dash, you could feel a huge increase in what was coming out of the middle ones. Under this are three switches for transmission, dampers and the Vehicle Dynamic Control. The handbook gives dire warnings that this last should be left switched on in all but very specific circumstances, but you can alter the settings of the other two. The centre console contains the gearlever, and a conventional pull-up handbrake as well as – new in the 2016 revamp – a rotary controller for the infotainment system. It was all relatively easy to assimilate and to use, apart from the sunlight problems with the display screen.
It was now time to set off. When you fire the engine, you get the sense that this is a bit like waking up an angry lion, as the motor bursts into life with quite a roar. I heard it first from the outside as there was another GT-R going out to a young-ish bloke and his very excited small child and they were ready to go before me, so I got the full benefit of what the GT-R sounds like from out of the car. You cannot instantly put the Nissan in gear, as there are some “checks” going on, evidenced by a couple of messages, displayed in very old style graphics (think computer games, mid 90s style!) in a text box in the bottom of the rev counter. Wait a few seconds and then you can. When you move the lever from Park to Reverse, it then moves of its own accord to the centre, which means that you can then pull it straight back to Drive once you are ready to go forwards. I had to extricate the GT-R from a tight spot in the Hertz Gold area, so there was quite a bit of to and fro-ing, and I realised that manoeuvering the car gently might be a little tricky, as the awoken lion wanted to go far faster than a couple of miles an hour. Actually, this was not the most difficult thing of the test That was getting off the Hertz property and onto the road. It is a right turn but the issue is that the Hertz area slopes down to the road, and the road slopes down to the kerb, and there is a very low carbon fibre splitter under the spoiler which was already scraped on one corner. To avoid doing any further damage, the only solution was to take it at a very oblique angle, as going out like you would in a car with more clearance would certainly have damaged it. There are sensors which display a visible warning in the dash and beep at you when they suspect a potential problem like this. It was an issue I would encounter a few times during the test, and presented the first clue that prospective purchasers need to understand all the usability elements of the GT-R.
Once out on the street, I could actually accelerate enough to get beyond second gear. Even in the few hundred yards to the first traffic lights, it was obvious that this is an exceedingly rapid car. Just how rapid, of course, I cannot really say, as my test miles were conducted on public roads, and to get to the ones where it would be interesting to see what the GT-R is like on bendy roads, I first had to get north from the airport up to the hills, a distance of about 30 miles, of which the first 10 are somewhat traffic-laden at all times of day. That gave me a chance to see what the GT-R is like in traffic, and the answer is it is not a problem. You can creep forward with everyone else, quite easily. As the traffic ebbs and flows, the Nissan will change up through the gears like any other car, trying to get into the highest of the six gears as soon as it reasonably can. Being an automatic, it is easy to drive in this mode. Well, it is until you start actually moving at freeway speed, as opposed to urban crawl, and you find yourself on the concrete surfaces that constitute a lot of the LA freeways. And here things started to get more difficult. The trouble with these concrete roads is that they are ridged and there are joins in them. No matter which lane I was in, there seemed to be a fairly big join just under the line for the right wheels, and keeping the Nissan on track required constant care and vigilance and correction. Changing lanes was not that easy, either, with the ridges and raised white lines being another hazard which threatened to unsettle the car’s poise. One look at the GT-R’s special low tread depth tyres, which look more like circuit slicks than conventional road rubber give you the clue as to why this was always going to be the case. As I got closer to the mountains, the roads turned to asphalt, as I knew them to be up in the canyons, and the problem went away. It was finally time to open the GT-R up a bit. A V8 engine car like a Hemi-engined Challenger or a V8 Mustang would rumble at this point sounding just wonderful. But that’s not what you get here. Instead you get the full-on turbo whine. I have to express a certain disappointment, as there are – to my ears – rather better sounding cars than this, even at moderate speed. I can now see why one of the popular mods to these cars is a different exhaust, presumably in quest of a better sound. Whilst still in traffic, I discovered another challenge with the Nissan: visibility. Forwards is fine, and there is a rear-view camera to help you reversing (provided you can actually see the screen in the sunlight, of course!), but the door mirrors are small, and the combination of the styling and size of the side rear window means that over-the-shoulder visibility is next to non-existent, so you do need to be careful.
Finally, I turned off the 405 freeway, and away from the traffic. You really cannot even get close to assessing the full performance potential of the GT-R on public roads unless you want to indulge in some expensive and unplanned conversations with the LAPD, the CHP and the Sheriff. And a car like this is so conspicuous, that you are going to attract attention to them, whenever they see it. But I can report that if you press the throttle even only moderately, from rest this car rockets forward in a way that no other car I have ever driven does. When those who have had access to facilities to measure it properly report that the 0 – 60 time is a whisker under 3 seconds, I truly believe them. This car is unbelievably fast. No matter what speed you are doing, if you press the accelerator even a bit you are soon doing an awful lot more. And it does not matter which gear you are in. You can be in sixth, pootling along, and then when the traffic clears, it is as if you are in the next county in seconds. The transmission is smooth and lightning fast. You can change the gears yourself, using the paddles on the wheel, but it will probably do a better, smoother and quicker job itself than you could unless you are really experienced with the car. So, no doubts about the performance potential, then.
However, that was not what impressed me the most. No, that came when I finally came off freeways and was up in the canyons. These roads are just made for a car like the GT-R. They twist and turn, and climb up and down. The ones I went on – and the route had been carefully calculated given the mileage limitation of the rental – are not extreme in any way, so they climb, but not with the sort of steep gradients that you get in hilly parts of the UK, and the bends generally swoop, rather than being of the hairpin type (though there are a few of those, too). There’s little traffic on a weekday, but the penalty for getting it wrong is – as evidenced by numerous crosses beside the road – often fatal, so you can’t be completely gung-ho, even notwithstanding the fact that this was someone else’s $100k car. I’ve driven these roads many times before in all manner of different test cars, and they challenge most in some ways. So, it is probably no exaggeration to say that the Nissan was the most impressive of anything I have ever taken up on such a route. It just grips and grips and grips. At road speeds, there is no body roll, and I am sure that a better driver than me could have driven the same road at twice the speed I did quite safely (if not legally! – and I did see two police cars on the roads up here, too!). The steering, handling and grip are all better than the first order. You can tell that this is a car that was made for the race track, as it is so obvious that whilst going very fast in a straight line was one priority, going very fast around corners was another one, and Nissan delivered on both. There are some huge Brembo brakes, so you could clearly bring the car to a halt very rapidly from high speeds, too, should you need to. There is a down-side to all this fun, though. The needle in the fuel gauge dropped unrelentingly. By the end of the first day, when I had covered just 118 miles, it was showing that half the tank was gone. When it came to handing the GT-R back, and I did the maths, this car had averaged just 17.8 mpg, and that was not even driving it anything like close to hard. Imagine if you did, then a double digit consumption would probably be something you would not see.
Whilst the GT-R appears to be a 4 seater, I can’t imagine who would actually fit in the rear seats. Getting in is hard enough, but once there, there is no leg room to speak of, even with the front seat set well forward as it was for my driving position, and the headroom is extremely limited, too. Very small children might fit in the two bucket seats, which are divided by a large central portion which has a cupholder on the flat surface and a pair of speakers on the backrest portion, but it would be out of the question for adults. The boot is not quite so limiting. I collected the car when I had my suitcase with me, and although you have to lift items up a long way to get them over the lip, there was ample capacity for the suitcase and lap top bag, as the boot is quite deep, and it is relatively wide. Inside the cabin, there are tiny pockets on the doors, a moderate glove box and a cubby under the central armrest for your bits and pieces.
When doing the research to be able to write this review, I was a little surprised to find that in fact there are 4 different versions of the GT-R available to US buyers, not the 2 of which I was aware, namely the “regular” car and the Nismo. The US range grew to this number for 2018, and the models are the Pure, the Premium, the Track Edition and that top-of-the line Nismo. At $99,900, the new Pure base trim has a slightly lower starting price than the previous year’s entry-level Premium edition. Like the other trims, it features the same 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine, a six-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive, and it probably represents the best value in the lineup. It comes well-equipped with performance-oriented components and a nicely appointed cabin, but it costs $10,500 less than the next step up. Nothing important is missing from the GT-R Pure, with its all-wheel drive, a dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel paddle shifters, a Nissan/Brembo braking system, advanced vehicle dynamic control with three driver-selectable modes, and a Bilstein suspension system. Standard interior features include an 8-inch touch screen, navigation, Apple CarPlay, voice recognition, hands-free text messaging, satellite radio, Bluetooth, six speakers, HD Radio, two USB ports, leather-appointed front seats with synthetic suede inserts, dual-zone automatic climate control, push-button start, a proximity key, a rearview camera, and front and rear parking sensors. Features added to the GT-R Premium trim, which lists at $110,490, include an 11-speaker Bose audio system, a titanium exhaust with exhaust sound control, active noise cancellation, and active sound enhancement. That does not sound all that much for the extra $10,500. The GT-R Track Edition comes with a Nismo-tuned suspension, a carbon-fibre rear spoiler, Recaro leather-appointed seats, a distinct black and red interior, and a Nismo-tuned rear stabiliser bar. Pricing starts at $128,490. At the top of the range is the GT-R Nismo, which boasts an even more potent 600 bhp 3.8 litre high-capacity twin-turbocharged V6. This track-oriented machine costs a heady $175,490. As well as the extra power, it features Nismo Recaro leather-appointed front seats with red synthetic suede inserts and an Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel. It also comes with front and rear fascias, side sills, a trunk lid, and a rear spoiler all made from carbon fibre.
Prospective owners need to understand that this is not just a $100k car to buy, and one whose fuel economy will keep the oil companies in profit for years to come. Everything else will be costly too. There are special tyres: 235/40 ZRF20 on the front and 285/35 ZRF20 on the back, and these don’t come cheap. And if you drive the GT-R like the maker intends, they are not going to last long. Read the handbook – as I did, trying to make sure that I did not miss anything significant around things that there are and that you can do with the car – and there are dire warnings about maintenance and the importance of using all the right (costly) stuff, and heaven help you should you damage the car, as there was a whole section about how it has to be repaired by those who have the right tooling and equipment to do so properly, or many of the car’s systems won’t work as intended. I did note that when you start the GT-R up, a warning message appears on the Infotainment system which reminds you that the car transmits unspecified data wirelessly back to Nissan, so they clearly know what you are doing with the car! Be in no doubt, this is a very costly car indeed to run. It is clear why Hertz are more insistent on a mileage limit with this car than anything else they’ve ever had on fleet.
It was great to get the chance to drive the GT-R, make no mistake about that. I can’t help but feel that the roads around Los Angeles are not the place where this car can really shine, though. You can’t exploit the performance, as there is too much traffic, and those jointed concrete freeways made changing lanes, and even staying in the same one, at times, more than a challenge. It was better in the mountains, but it really felt as if I was only seeing a tiny fraction of the GT-R’s massive potential. This is a car made for the race track, and the open road where there is no traffic to get in the way. So, whilst it was fun, the honest conclusion has to be that if you are looking at a GT-R, or a similarly priced 911, I’d take the keys to the German car. It is less intimidating in traffic, it goes nearly as fast, and grips nearly as well, has a similar amount of space inside, but based on my experience of one on similar routes to where I took the GT-R, it is going to feel more usable more of the time. That said, if you ever get the chance to drive a GT-R, don’t let it pass you by, as it is quite an experience!