For car enthusiasts in their late 1920s and early 30s in particular, the Nissan GT-R is an icon. They grew up with video games like Need For Speed Underground and the Fast and the Furious movie franchise. They shone a light on Japanese car culture, and the ‘R34’ Skyline GT-R was king, having earned the nickname Godzilla.
Riding this wave of popularity, Nissan resurrected the model in late 2007, ditching the Skyline moniker and creating the ultimate digital supercar for a new generation. The ‘R35’ GT-R was a brute, with fantastic technology, awesome performance and offering great value for money – relatively speaking, of course.
Now, over 13 years after it was introduced, the GT-R is still on sale. It’s had a little nip and tuck, some new technology and countless special editions to keep it fresh, but can this ultra-hardcore, ultra-expensive Nismo edition breathe new life into a model that’s getting a little long in the tooth.
Nismo is Nissan’s motorsport division, and it works its magic on the firm’s cars to create sporty performance versions. With the already-rapid GT-R as a base, its engineers were tasked with taking race-proven technology and creating an ‘accessible and comfortable’ road car.
Upgrades for the Nismo are too numerous to list in full, but highlights include a front fender design inspired heavily by the GT3 race car, 20-inch RAYS forged aluminium wheels, carbon-ceramic brakes, and extensive use of lightweight carbon-fibre, which alone contributes about half of the 20kg shaved off the overall weight of the car.
Power comes from the 3.8-litre, twin-turbocharged V6 engine usually found in the GT-R, but the key change is the use of the same turbochargers found in the GT3 race car. Nismo says these increase the air flow rate and therefore acceleration response is improved by 20 per cent.
It makes an astonishing 592bhp and 652Nm of torque, which is about 30bhp and 15Nm up on the standard car. It’s mated to a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, which shifts faster now in the performance-focused R mode.
This is the most uncompromising version of the GT-R, and this is apparent from the moment you set off. Hunkered down in the unforgiving bucket seat, the suspension is hard and jiggles its way over road imperfections. The engine doesn’t sound too wild in regular driving, and it’s easy to drive smoothly, but you can tell it wants to be unleashed.
And when you do, my word, does it fly. We’ve become used to high-performance electric vehicles and their instant kick making petrol-powered cars feel slow to respond, but the GT-R’s V6 positively explodes when you give it full throttle, catapulting you forward with an aggressive bark from the exhaust.
The steering is direct and the Nismo responds brilliantly by any supercar’s standards, let alone one this big. The suspension makes more sense when you’re pressing on, too, settling into a smoother ride and offering razor-sharp precision to go with the brue force acceleration.
Big. The Godzilla nickname is incredibly appropriate because this car towers over its rivals. Where other ‘exotics’ go for sleek, delicate looks, the GT-R has a brutal appearance that suits its driving demeanour.
When it comes to the Nismo there are various upgrades that give it even more presence. There are various aerodynamic upgrades, the aforementioned carbon-fibre parts and race car fenders, and a massive rear wing that would look like overkill on any other car. It feels like Nissan hasn’t held back and wants to justify this as the ultimate GT-R, in both looks and performance.
There is one area where the GT-R is starting to really feel its age, and that’s in the cabin. It’s spacious for a supercar, but the design of the dashboard gives away the car’s real age. There’s an eight-inch display at the top of the dashboard that displays all your infotainment and navigation functions, flanked by chunky buttons and dials. Remember them?
Below that are the air vents and some old school climate control dials, which sit above the R mode switches. These firm up the suspension and sharpen the car’s responses, and they’re wonderfully tactile, feeling like you’re engaging important functions on a fighter jet.
It’s easy to criticise, especially on a car with this price tag. The money largely goes towards all the aforementioned performance-enhancing upgrades, but it does get some extensive equipment for the cash. This includes a carbon-fibre-trimmed centre console, Alcantara for the steering wheel and dashboard, a Bose 11-speaker audio system, and cruise control.
The Nissan GT-R feels like a supercar from a bygone era. It’s big, loud and unashamedly brash. It’s engine shows no signs of electrification just yet, and is a love letter to the old-fashioned combination of fitting massive turbochargers to high-displacement engines.
It’s easy to write it off for being stuck in the past, especially given its frankly ridiculous price tag, but that’s where its charm lies. There will be few buyers ditching their Ferraris or McLarens for the Nismo, but for supercar buyers brought up on Japanese car culture in films and video games, this GT-R Nismo is a worthy icon.