Nissan GT-R Nismo UK first drive review



Thunderous new version of Nissan GT-R is, ride quality apart, everything you’d expect it to be, and then some

What is it?

Where do you start when trying to describe a car like the new £125,000, 591bhp Nissan GT-R Nismo? I mean it does so many things that can fry your mind – metaphorically, mathematically and physically, often all at the same time – that you can’t help but be overwhelmed by it, at least to begin with at any rate.
And perhaps the most amazing thing of all about the genuinely amazing new GT-R Nismo is that, fundamentally, it’s based on a car that’s now seven summers old. The original GT-R was launched in 2007. I remember, because I went to Japan to drive it. I also remember flying back to the UK with the outer edges of my imagination in tatters about what it could do.
But this new Nismo version is something else again. Dynamically it represents not just a small step but a leap forwards in every direction, and having driven it on both road and track in the UK, I’m struggling once again to get my head around how it can do what it does.
So what’s new about it? Lots. The 3.8-litre V6 twin-turbo engine is basically an extensive chipping job with some upgrades to the key bits of the internals to prevent it from trying to eat itself on high boost. Power rises to 591bhp, torque to 481lb ft, both of which represent fairly slight increases given the £47k price hike compared with the standard 542bhp GT-R.
But the engine is not where the time and money was spent in creating the Nismo GT-R. Instead the car’s engineers focused on improving the bits they knew would make the biggest difference at their holy grail: the Nürburgring. And to make the Nismo GT-R as fast as it could be around the Nordschleife they centred on the suspension, the four wheel-drive system, the tyres and, most of all, on the aerodynamics.
As such, the Nismo has all the usual suspension upgrades you’d expect; stiffer springs, bigger (but lighter because they are hollow) anti-roll bars, ultra trick adjustable Bilstein dampers and a set of phenomenally sticky tyres that were developed bespoke for the car by Dunlop. Even when cold you can tell just from the tread pattern that the Nismo’s tyres are a bit naughty, but get some heat into them and then give them a prod and they feel as soft as a Haribo on a hot summer’s day. Which equals grip, basically, and lots of it.
But what’s made arguably even more difference, certainly to the way the car drives, are the alterations in geometry to both the front (double wishbone) and rear (multi-link) suspension. New links for the wishbones at the front and modifications to the hubs front and rear have, in conjunction with a slightly stiffer bodyshell thanks to new bonding tenchiques compared with the standard car, enabled the Nismo’s engineers to set the car up in a much more aggressive way. We’ll come to the results in a moment.
You can see the new body parts with your own eyes, and whether you like what they do for the GT-R’s appearance or not is, of course, entirely subjective (I personally think it looks fantastic, though I’m not sure what the neighbours would think with one of these things parked on the drive). But what you can’t possibly appreciate until you drive it is how much extra downforce the Nismo’s various new skirts and spoilers help to produce.
Nissan claims as much as an extra 100kg above 100mph; whatever the number and whatever the speed required to generate it, you can feel the thing squeezing itself into the ground, feeling more in control of itself, through pretty much any corner taken at more than 60mph.

What is it like?

Maybe the biggest difference of all in the way the Nismo drives compared with the standard GT-R, is the way it turns in to a corner. Whatever they’ve done to the suspension, especially at the rear you suspect, really does work. You can tell the car has been set up to go round a track as fast as possible because the moment you even think about aiming the nose towards a corner apex, it slices straight into it, and the tail obeys with such immediacy that, sometimes, it even feels like it might get away from you.
At best it feels neutral, at worst a touch oversteery, and at no point – seemingly – does it want to understeer. Anywhere. And on a track that’s precisely how you’d want it to be to get the best out of the stopwatch. Hence the reason Nismo claims – and there’s a video to prove it etc – the car has lapped the Nurburgring in 7min 08sec. On standard tyres, albeit with it the slightly lighter but no more powerful Track Pack option in situ.
Around Cadwell Park the Nismo GT-R still felt big in every way imaginable – it still weighs over 1700kg, after all – but it also felt agile and alive in a way that the standard car no longer does, not compared with the front line competitors at this kind of money, at any rate.
It felt sensational, to be honest, with more of everything everywhere – more straight line performance, more brakes, better turn in precision, more grip; lots more grip. And I climbed out after a day at the wheel grinning from ear to ear, heart thumping, eyes bulging, brain frazzled but also glad that both car and driver were still in one piece. That’s the kind of raw, seductive, unhinged range of thrills that this car can produce on a circuit like Cadwell Park. And you can’t help but be blown away by it as a result.
But on the road, well, that’s another matter entirely – because on the road it now feels at best hyper-sensitive, at worst neurotic. The steering is constantly fidgeting on anything other than glass smooth roads, and is far heaver than normal. And the ride quality has gone from bad to non-existent, even with the electronic dampers set to Comfort. As a result I’d say the Nismo GT-R has become a toy to use only sunny days, and on very smooth roads.
Like a Lotus Exige only more so in some respects, it’s become a car that you’d endure only on the way to a track day, not one you could put up with in everyday use. Which is a shame because the standard GT-R always appealed because it was one of the most usable supercars money could buy.

Should I buy one?

In other areas the Nismo’s price is actually quite hard to justify, most notably inside where it now feels genuinely dated, despite the various new bits of carbon fibre here and there and a pair of seats that offer even more support. But for the 100 or so people who will buy a Nismo GT-R in the UK over the next couple of years, none of this will matter very much.
They won’t care about the bad bits, because the good bits will be the only bits that matter. And there are plenty of good things abut the Nimo GT-R, the fact that it can lap the Nürburgring in a thoroughly ridiculous 7min 08sec being but one of them.
Nissan GT-R Nismo
Price £125,000; 0-62mph 2.6sec; Top speed 193mph; Economy 24mpg (combined); Co2 275g/km; Kerbweight 1720kg; Engine type V6, 3799cc, twin-turbocharged, petrol; Installation Front, longitudinal, 4WD;Power 591bhp at 6800rpm; Torque 481lb ft; Gearbox 6-speed dual-clutch auto
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