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Driving

What is it like to drive?

A GT-R is one of the strangest experiences you can legally have on four wheels. It’s turbocharged, it’s got four-wheel drive, and it’s got an automatic gearbox. So, as many people mistakenly think, it should be a blunt, easy-going, point-and-squirt device. In fact, it’s nothing like that. It’s palm-sweatingly physical. It’s raucous. Demanding. And when you harmonise with the car’s brain, it’s symbiosis. And addictively rewarding. 

On the day we drove the MY2020 GT-R Nismo, Nissan sportingly brought along a three-year old example of a Nismo GT-R too. With the last-gen turbos, the old design of tyres, steel brakes and the previous gearbox ECU. When we first drove this version of Godzilla, we staggered away thinking there was no way Nissan would make it faster. It wasn’t possible. Wasn’t sensible. Not unless they were building a robot capable of withstanding the G-forces to drive it. 

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And yet, after five or six laps of the GP circuit at Germany's Lausitzring, the new car’s incremental upgrades don’t just put daylight between it and its younger brother. It leaves it for dust.

Turn-in is crisper. There’s less understeer. The ceramic brakes don’t grumble (even though the old steels hold up outstandingly to fade). And best of all, when you’re learning a circuit, the gearbox’s Auto mode is brilliantly calibrated. In the old car, it second-guessed your throttle inputs and sometimes dropped out of the power band, or held onto a gear too long. The new one is hard-wired into your right foot and responds uncannily. Manual paddleshifting is more satisfying, but I seriously doubt it’s much faster, for most mortals. 

The GT-R’s steering remains beautifully weighted and confidence-inspiring. The car disguises its weight magnificently. But with that stickier tyre, and a dash less mass, it’s more obedient to steering input tweaks mid-corner.

If the old GT-R was like a police dog – well-trained but a bit boisterous and hard to reign in, the new one’s a border collie. Intelligent, lithe, and less likely to take your arm off if you’re mucking about.

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I simply would not have believed that the list of changes on paper could make the Nismo so much sharper to drive, but still retain the physicality and meatiness of the experience, had the cars not been ready to sample back-to-back. I know we mock the GT-R, playfully, for being updated every ten minutes with a new ashtray and tweaked shade of grey. But when you pour all that attention to detail into a range-topping model and tot up the aggregate result, it’s a stunning piece of kit. 

Since you're gagging to ask, no, there's no official 'Ring time. And Nissan doesn't intend to publish one. So, if you want to know how far under 7mins 30sec it'll go, best buy your own and be brave.

On the road, the changes are less apparent, because you’re never so deep into the car’s talent reserve. The reduced turbo lag is welcome, and the gearbox’s faster reflexes are a handy back-up if you’re too lazy to pull a paddle. The ride’s still punishing, same as it ever was, but the body control is superb and the brake feel stupendous. First time out, Nissan has totally nailed ceramics. 

Oh, and if you’re heading to an autobahn, try not to pay too much attention to how much the carbon bonnet flexes as you thunder past 170mph…

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