Okay, so what’s new?
Well, let’s start by giving you some idea of how Nissan goes about altering the GT-R. Most firms have seven- or eight-year model cycles for their cars with a good freshen up halfway through, but for the GT-R that goes out the window. Instead of one good refresh, we get lots of little ones.
The GT-R’s project leaders are given autonomy, so as it’s aged and progressed through these facelifts, the R35 has sometimes been more sporting, sometimes more GT-ish. The latest version got an extra 20hp, but also a smoother ride, more refined gearbox and much cleaner cabin design. It’s now a very acceptable daily road car.
So the new Nismo goes to the other extreme?
Hold your horses, because there’s a halfway stage between Nissan GT-R and Nismo GT-R: the Track Edition. Still a Nissan, but here Nismo sprinkles it with a few trinkets, which this time round, included special body bonding, with adhesive as well as welds holding the metalwork together, increasing chassis stiffness some.
But within Nissan, Nismo enjoys an almost mythical position, and its whims are indulged. No one pokes about and says "why do you need another hardcore track model?"
So that’s what the Nismo GT-R is?
Correct. Over and above its siblings, the Nismo GT-R equips the VR38DETT 3.8-liter V6 with turbos from the GT500 racer, giving a total of 592hp, a 30hp lift. It used to be 50hp more, but the Nismo engine hasn’t changed this generation (the last one had 592hp as well), while the Nissan engine has.
The suspension is the same as the Track Edition’s, but further toughened (a claimed 2% faster through Nissan’s own slalom test), and then the whole thing is slathered in carbon. And not just the bits you can tell are carbon already. So welcome, then, to Nissan’s fastest, most focused, most fearsome road car. Only it isn’t.
What do you mean? This is the car that set the 7-minute 8-second lap of the Nurburgring, isn’t it?
No. If you want that car, you have to add the N-Attack pack. That pushes the rear wing higher into the air, replaces metal front wings and rear bulkhead with carbon fiber, and adds a gurney flap to the trunk lid. Overall downforce is three times the standard car and weight reduction strategy includes the loss of the rear seats. Then, and only then, have you reached maximum GT-R.
This one is just an ordinary Nismo GT-R and despite the carbon bumpers, lightweight wheels and so on, it’s only 27kg lighter than the softest version. But weight is something this car has always managed to defy—even at low speed there’s an energy to the Nismo, a sense that it wants to change direction. It doesn’t come from the engine, which is pretty lazy low down, but the steering and suspension, both of which are so positive and engaging.
Instantly different to the standard car then?
Instantly. In the confidence of its damping and immediacy of the steering it does feel like a motorsports special. However, while we’re at a racetrack (Silverstone), the conditions aren’t ideal and the Dunlop SP Sport 600s can’t find any grip.
Initially the Nismo feels hilariously spiky, snapping broadside at every throttle prod as the jolt of torque hits the back wheels. It is very rear-biased in Race mode, which can be intimidating, but there’s a switch on the dash that helps control torque split. Slowing it down properly before corners isn’t an issue as the brakes—even though they’re not carbon ceramics—are mighty, but carry too much speed in and I either get massive oversteer or massive understeer. And once sliding, it takes time and distance to get back under control—it’s the only time you notice the weight working against you.
There are two methods of dealing with this: get busy with the controls or trust the car to sort it out in the first place. Go for option two. Option one just makes matters worse as you and the car both try to correct the initial issue and end up causing others. Instead, calm down, keep the steering angle you want, feed the power in, and let the diffs work the rest of it out. Suddenly, when you’re not over-driving it, you realize what sort of car the Nismo is—a beautifully tactile, feelsome sports car that’s more competent than you are and deals with speed and traction at a higher level of understanding.
It is deeply fast, but not as energetic as rivals weighing 200kg less and the engine, for all its might, isn’t the most lag-free or exotic sounding. It does pull healthily all the way to the far side, though—a nice crescendo delivery all the way to 7,000rpm.
But you’d still have it wouldn’t you?
It’s sharp, but not that much sharper than the £91,995 (P5.7 million) Track Edition, which leads me on to the fact the Nismo is—wait for it—£58,000 (P3.6 million) more expensive at £149,995 (P9.3 million). Isn’t that astonishing? It’s also £25,000 (P1.55 million) more than the pre-facelift model and I can’t see anything that justifies that. Rarity value?
Leaving price aside? It’s still a phenomenal car, the balance in the chassis is fabulous, it’s adjustable and confidence-inspiring and is intoxicating on a circuit for its focus and ferocity. Ignore anyone who says this is the supercar that does it all for you. In this day and age, where everything is pebble-polished, this is actually one of the most mechanical, communicative cars around.
NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.