Monster performance, sense of industrial toughness, huge character
The Godzilla Power Ranger image won’t be to all tastes. Dated inside. Bit pricey.
What is it?
The new new new new new Nisan GT-R. By Nismo. It’s a whopping 12 years since the R35 GT-R barged onto the scene and single-handedly created a whole new generation of Japanese performance car fans. Twelve years! It predates every Tesla ever made.
In that time, Porsche has released a new 911 Turbo (the 997), facelifted it, killed it off, done a new 911 Turbo (the 991), facelifted it, killed that one off and is just about to reveal a new 911 Turbo (the 992).
The GT-R is ancient. It’s a dinosaur. And yet, somehow, this old warhorse is till at the top of its game. It’s still a super-coupe benchmark, if you take your driving really, really seriously. Matching your racing overalls to your paintwork-seriously.
We’ve become used to model year updates for the GT-R, with tweaks to aero, styling, a bit more power and so on. And you’d have been forgiven for thinking that after Nissan celebrated 50 years of the GT-R name with the stunning / hideous, part-gold Italdesign GT-R50, that would have been the last hurrah for this generation of ‘Skyline’.
Not so. The hardcore, racecar-inspired GT-R Nismo has had a thorough going over for the 2020 model year, and here’s what’s what.
Chief among the upgrades are new turbochargers from the GT-R GT3 racer. They have one fewer vane than before, so they’re 14.5 per cent lighter and spool up faster 24 per cent faster. A new backplate stops exhaust gases leaking behind the turbo to improve the airflow rate. There’s no quoted increase in power, but the reduced turbo lag makes the car quicker through the gears. And that’s the tip of a nerdy iceberg.
The 2020 Nismo GT-R has been fitted with 410mm front ceramic brakes – the biggest brakes ever fitted to a Japanese car, don’t-you-know. More to the point, this is the first production GT-R to get carbon-ceramic brakes as standard.
Porsche GT3 RS-style vents above the front wheels billow heat out of the engine bay and smooth airflow down the car’s flanks to make the rear wing more effective. More carbon fibre panels save 30kg in weight. The six-speed, twin-clutch gearbox’s R mode is more intelligent as an auto and shifts faster in manual mode.
Nissan has even gone to town on the tyres, which are wrapped in wheels now 100 grammes lighter than before. The tyres are a fresh compound and have one fewer groove in the fronts, to increase contact patch by a whole 11 per cent. The tyre’s also a tad more rounded, so when you’re cornering really hard, more rubber is pressed into contact with the road, to generate even more grip. Nissan has many graphs and charts to show you that proves this. Trust us.
Oh, and because the car’s a smidge lighter, and has more grip, Nissan’s had to retune the Bilstein suspension to account for the tweaks. The depth of engineering and sheer attention to detail in keeping an ageing heavyweight on its toes and swinging hard is just spectacular. Fabulously cool, if you’re a believer. Utterly futile, if you’re not. The GT-R remains one of Planet Car’s most divisive machines. But if you do get it, then there’s an awful lot to like about the fastest, more hardcore, most extreme and road-going GT-R yet...
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
Normally when a car company says ‘our car has no rivals’ we scoff and immediately think of five, because that’s usually wishful thinking from a car company who knows it doesn’t make the best car in its class. But with the GT-R Nismo, it genuinely is out there on its own.
There are other track special super-coupes, from Porsche, AMG, and others, but in having a front-engined layout with a well-appointed cabin and space for four, and four-wheel drive for all-weather dependability, the GT-R Nismo is a true outlier. A Jag F-Type SVR wouldn’t see which way it went. So is it perhaps closer to an E63 or M5? Tamura-san says the E63 is a great car, but not a benchmark, because it’s more of an everyday car with extreme performance added on, not a ground-up performance car.
The Nissan is rougher around the edges on first impression: it graunches and grinds and rumbles around town. But on a track, it morphs into a laser-guided weapon. And on the road, it’s so monstrously capable you can quite see why people get hold of one then immediately need to tune it. There’s a sense of ‘and where is the limit, exactly?’ to this extraordinary veteran’s superpower abilities.
Leave your 'it's only a Nissan’ prejudices at the door. The most sorted, most honed GT-R ever is a fantastic example of what can happen when engineers are left alone to tinker and perfect their art. You’d think that by now, it’d be diminishing returns, but back to back, the latest GT-R Nismo walks away from a three-year old version. That’s the pace of progress. It’s a GT-R, only more so, and the performance car world is a richer place for this gruff supercar-killer existing, and getting up the German aristocracy’s noses.