There's an increasing amount of cars trying to play two polar opposite sides of the field in today's market - like Lamborghini, which has built an SUV supercar, or Rolls-Royce that's bringing an million-dollar luxury liner capable of crossing the outback.
Track-ready supercars want to be no less flexible, though some blend driveability on both the street and the circuit better than others. It's a challenge that could be no more difficult for Nissan whose GT-R was already a back-breaker before Nismo got its hands onto it and turned everything up to eleven.
Uncompromising, hard-core and edgy, the GT-R Nismo is a race car for the road. Ten-years old it might be, it’s not much less a lethal weapon in the right hands than a full-blown race car. Just one look at the thing and its potency is clear – 20-inch ultra-lightweight Rays alloy wheels dressed in black with Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT600 rubber, massive 390mm and 380mm front and rear crossed-drilled brakes with six and four-pot gold Brembo callipers, huge carbon-fibre front and rear splitters highlighted in red right where they’ll crack into a parking lot kerb, and that massive boot-mount rear wing that will never produce its intended downforce on the way to the shops.
And then there’s what you can’t see. The boot’s made of carbon-fibre, the chassis stiffened, the suspension completely revised by Nismo and under the bonnet is a Japanese hand-built 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 producing an almighty 441kW and 625Nm via uprated GT3-spec turbochargers growling out of a hand-made titanium exhaust.
Compared to the ‘normal’ GT-R Premium output has increased by 22kW and 20Nm, the car is a touch lighter and the suspension focussed for the track. But it’s also $110,000 more expensive which is where the sum of all the parts begins to look a little less appealing.
But the fact it'll launch from 0-100km/h in less than 2.7 seconds flat means there's not much other kit that will beat you for bragging rights… expect that cheaper GT-R that does it in about the same time.
Anyone familiar with the GT-R’s rich history will appreciate the effort and focus of changes by Nismo to homologate its first car for Group A racing. From the R32 to the current R35 the machine is renowned for uncompromised performance, and for fans that’s half of its appeal. While stiff, firm and driving like a bag of mixed parts around town, it’s when you put the foot down that it all feels right.
Based on the same layout as the GT-R Premium the Nismo is individualised with black, red and carbon-fibre highlights and, like the exterior pieces, the carbon fibre that covers the entire centre console looks and feels just as raw, with a Nismo badge and red ignition button accenting the dark weave.
The Recaro bucket seats receive the same black and red finish matching the automatic gearshift lever and Nismo binnacle cluster. The steering wheel is finished in Alcantara with red stitching and the whole lot feels suitably racey.
As expected, the front seats drop right down onto their rails for a low centre of gravity and plenty of leg space. The steering wheel, which feels comfortable in the hands with padding around the nine and three o-clock areas, has an equal breadth of adjustment. Needless to say, it’s a fine pilot’s seat, but the same can’t be said for the rear occupants.
In the back the finishes are cheaper, less thought out and probably purposely sparse for the saving of weight. It also seems like Nismo didn’t even know there was a second row back there, with the seats missing any of the red ascents and stitching of the front pews to fee special. Legroom is non-existent though and it's only an option to use in a pinch.
For technology there are not many mod cons inside, but the 8.0-inch infotainment does everything you need. It doesn’t have Apple CarPlay, Android Auto or the crisp intuitive software of new cars but it does connect via Bluetooth, stream music and make calls, and the in-built sat-nav is functional enough to get to the track.
ON THE ROAD
Front and centre of the GT-R are three switches that set the tone for the drivetrain, suspension and traction control. All go up to R mode, which is the height of performance, while the suspension and drivetrain get comfort and save mode respectively. The traction control is either on, off or in an in-between state known as R mode.
Driven tentatively, the GT-R is not a happy machine. The driveline whines and clunks like an old Grey Fergy tractor, the brakes are sharp and bite hard, the transmission hits into gears with a jolt that rocks the entire chassis and the suspension is stiff. It’s not to say it can’t be driven daily, as the three-way Bilstein adaptive dampers and Nismo springs do add some flexibility around town, and shifting manually rather than waiting for the six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission to make up its mind adds a layer of comfort. But it’s not the car you’d pick to go to the shops in and the attention it attracts from a carpark to the middle of a twisting backroad means you’ll never get out on time.
When you do get going and open up the legs though, it transforms.
Everything runs in unity with the slick shifting precision you’d expect of Nismo’s flagship coupe - the six-speed dual-clutch automatic fires through the gears and provided the road is somewhat smooth the stability and bump response is wonderfully balanced. It’s an absolute racket to drive on the right road with over 600Nm of torque on tap from around 3000rpm onwards.
Given its all-wheel driveline the GT-R should naturally find plenty of grip but that’s not always the case, particularly in wet conditions. Find a patchy bit of road and it’ll also skittle around with a slightly nervous attitude.
But on a smooth surface and with the sun beating down there’s not much that will stop the GT-R from launching into frowned-upon speeds before the brain can register the accidental departure.
It will push into oversteer, particularly in sportier modes that give some lenience, but its transition while quick is predictable and gives some room to adjust attitude if overcooked.
Steering feel is also precise and accurate but the 285mm wide rubber tugs with the camber and erratically on worn road tracks. Again, get a fine piece of road and the experience is much nicer.
Body control is well poised through the corner and hitting a bend at high-speed the stability is barely phased by a bash on the hard-biting brakes. There isn’t the fine feel and feedback svelte rivals provide but Nismo’s capability is no less addictive.
Surprisingly – given the large power output and titanium exhaust – the Nismo like the normal GT-R doesn’t give much excitement out of the large twin-tip dual exhausts that protrude from the rear diffuser - hit near the 7100rpm redline and the engine bellows along with restraint. It’s a pity that the noise wasn’t cranked up, or given some crackle and pop, because the sound does no justice to what lurks beneath.
And unfortunately, the drive home settles back to a busy ride that reigns back the fun, requiring effort to live with and enjoy.
ANCAP Rating: The Nissan GT-R has yet to be tested by ANCAP.
Safety Features: Six airbags, all-wheel-drive, traction and stability control ABS anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, hill-start assist.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000kms
Servicing: 6 months/10,000kms. No capped-price servicing. Scheduled service prices range from $400 (regular) to $3,000 (major) and are subject to variances according to vehicle condition (eg track day wear and tear).
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Porsche 911 GT3 is within cooee of the Nismo’s price point and offers a truly flexible track car that’s well-mannered around town but can be dramatic and enjoyable to drive fast.
Like the Porsche the McLaren 540C can’t match the GT-R's acceleration to the ton but is a proper exotic supercar from a marque steeped in racing car heritage.
The Jaguar F-Type SVR does a lot of things the GT-R doesn’t – it sounds tremendous driven in any way, is a sane choice to be daily driven and has a comfortable interior. It isn’t the same track beast though, and the options quickly add up to far more than the Nismo’s price.
Porsche 911 GT3
Jaguar F-Type SVR
There are more street sensible options than this ultimate Godzilla, like the Porsche 911 GT3 and the Jaguar F-Type SVR, but none that drive with such intense disregard for anything but its ultimate purpose.
Against its peers the GT-R Nismo doesn’t appear appealing – the ride is hard to live with, it’s expensive for what it is and the whole thing is based on an old ageing platform. But it’s approach to supercar antics is unparalleled – and matched with performance - and it’s masochistically pleasing to wrangle in the hum-drum of the city before bashing away the brush and wringing its neck.