Godzilla? Oh yes, certainly.
The Nissan GT-R, is a work of mastery. If there had to be one supremely-fast supercar to perfectly encapsulate the past decade, this is it. When it landed in 2007, it packed all the gimmicky electronic trickery and presented it in a way immediately recognisable to a generation of GranTurismo video game players, and managed to put down stratospheric amounts of power down to the road so efficiently, it baffled almost every critic (and skeptic) at the time.
But that was a decade ago. And although the GT-R has seen revisions as frequently as the iPhone, some are saying that Godzilla is starting to look and feel its age. The 2017 iteration of the GT-R will likely be the last we’ll see of this R35 model before a full model change, so we thought it best to take a look at a car that will probably go down as one of motoring’s most manic moments.
“The GT-R's looks have indeed always been controversial—part edgy performance car, part exotic, part race-influenced. Its jagged outline is perhaps the only non-sequitur; it reads more tuner car, more body kit, than instant classic. The components cut interesting swaths across its luxury-coupe outline: a tomahawk cut at the roofline chops into the rear end.” - The Car Connection
The GT-R has always been a polarising car, and its looks may have had something to do with it. In this performance range, cars tend to take more emotional shapes, like the McLaren 540C or the Porsche 911 Carrera. The GT-R retains its Skyline heritage by offering a more conventional shape, with an almost-flat face and rump, with (relatively) bluff sides. It may seem like this car is more about space maximisation, but it really isn’t. The GT-R was designed to look aggressive, and that’s a great way to describe Godzilla’s looks. It’s angular, and it’s sharp, and it really doesn’t look like it’s aged all that much.
For 2017, ‘Gojira’ was given an aesthetic nip and tuck, and sees the incorporation of Nissan’s V-Motion grille to improve airflow. The funny pimples on the front corners have also been deleted, with additional air vents added. The bonnet sees a 30% improvement to rigidity, improving high-speed wind deflection, while the mildy-redesigned C-pillars smoothen the airflow. There are new 20-inch alloys, a new rear diffuser, and a new rear lower fascia. Somehow, all these little things have added up to something that is now more visually appealing and less disruptive than when the R35 first reared its head.
Engine & Drivetrain
“Over the years, Nissan has lured more and more power from the same engine, culminating in the Nismo edition’s whopping [448 kilowatts]. The car I’m driving only produces [421kW] and [633Nm] of torque, but that’s still [14kW] and [5Nm] more than last year’s model.” - Digital Trends
One engine, and one gearbox. For 2017, the GT-R boasts an impressive 421kW of power and 633Nm of torque. While these figures are hardly the ceiling for this engine (the ballistic Nismo edition makes 27kW more power), they’re more than adequate for what is considered to be a bargain performance car. The 3.8-litre V6 isn’t as raw and loud as it was in previous model years, but that’s thanks to the latest revisions aiming at a more serviceable, more liveable experience for a GT-R owner.
The gearbox is a six-speed dual-clutch unit, and while this transmission has received flak in the past for its jerky low-speed operation, minor revisions now have it working smoother than it used to, addressing a gripe that was once capable of putting off potential buyers.
“Climb in, and immediately you notice that it is now a far nicer place to sit…” - AutoExpress
Some may argue that Nissan should have spent more resources on the powertrain rather than on the interior and refinement levels with the 2017 model year update, but anyone who has driven or lived with a GT-R will likely disagree. The GT-R, when it was a sort of bargain supercar, was accepted despite its nasty plastics and tacky interior decor. But as the prices crept up with every revision, it became less acceptable. So, as the R35’s swan song, the 2017 model sees huge improvements in the cabin.
There is now leather everywhere (with one critic afraid to enquire as to how many cows were sacrificed in the making of one cabin), and the button fest that used to be the centre stack has been culled (27 buttons previously, 11 buttons today). The row of toggle switches, the highlight of the GT-R’s cabin, is retained though. The new central 8-inch screen can still provide the sort of data that would make tech-geeks squeal, which can also be controlled via a rotary knob behind the gear lever.
Behind the Wheel
“There is definitely less aggression in the way that the GT-R handles. It’s slightly mellower on turn in and some of the assertive agility that we are used to has been removed.” - Evo
The GT-R’s revision this year was aimed to make it a more usable monster, one you could tame for the daily drive, rather than leave in the garage for a weekend blast. In that sense, some compromises had to be made. Not to say that the GT-R isn’t still a track demon, because it still is. The way it clings on to corners at speed (thanks to all-wheel drive) and the way it launches from rest still beggars belief. But it’s all more civilised now, more Porsche 911 than Ferrari 488GTB.
As a result, the GT-R is indeed a better daily driver than before. The rapid performance no longer feels like it’s straining at the leash, making all that power more accessible. The softer suspension setup now makes for a more forgiving experience, leaving the ultra-focused R-setting to do its job should you find yourself on a track, or even going for it on a back road. The downside to all this usability is a driving experience that can leave some feeling a little disconnected from the whole experience.
Give and take. Can’t have it all.
Safety & Technology
“Even the entry-level GT-R comes with six airbags, keyless start, 20in wheels, LED headlights and parking sensors all round as standard, as well as an infotainment system with eleven speakers, DAB radio and SD-based satellite navigation.” - WhatCar
The Nissan GT-R, or in fact any of its rivals, will not likely be judged based on its safety merits. But in the name of thoroughness, we’ll cover it anyway. The GT-R isn’t unsafe; Far from it, in fact. Six airbags and a strong cockpit would likely make for impressive safety ratings. We say that because, curiously, the GT-R hasn’t really gone through any safety tests (not that we can find at least). As a performance car, it isn’t overly burdened with things like active safety systems, though it does cover the basics. Stability control and that all-wheel drive system means losing grip is unlikely.
Its only real concession to the demands of daily requirements is the inclusion of a reversing camera as standard. This is helpful during both lane changes and parking, as rearward visibility is hampered somewhat by the chunky C-pillars.
When the GT-R debuted a decade ago, none of us could truly believe that something that looked so brutal could be a daily driver by any degree. And while many have tried to tame the beast, it’s probable that a large number of owners who thought they could use the GT-R as a commuter now suffer from some degree of back pain. That was a bone of contention in the old GT-R: Daily driver practicality, but track-day harshness. Not okay.
The 2017 model is the softest GT-R yet, but rather than make it into a squishy luxo-barge, they’ve carefully teetered the line between agility and usability, and it’s come up trumps. Compared to a decade ago when the GT-R debuted, the competition has moved on considerably, and many agree that their improvements were likely due to the threat the GT-R posed when it was introduced. Catalyst, or just a ton of fun? Guess we’ll never know for sure.
Our pick of the bunch is the Lux Premium model. Coming in at a hair under $200,000 (before on-the-road costs), this is likely going to be the GT-R that’s easiest to live with, that’ll age best, and will be most usable through its lifetime. It’ll probably retain its value well too; It is a Nissan, after all.
The Car Connection - 74/100 - “T With sub-3.0-second 0 to 60 mph times and an advanced all-wheel-drive system, the 2017 Nissan GT-R delivers supercar track performance in what has become a fairly refined package.”
AutoExpress - 80/100 - “Nissan’s attempt to tame the GT-R hasn’t diluted performance. The softer ride, smoother powertrain and markedly improved cabin all serve to make the GT-R an easier car to live with. There are more civilised supercars out there, namely the Audi R8 and McLaren 570S, but for something that delivers such savage performance for [the price], there remains nothing like it.”
Evo - 90/100 - “This is the biggest update to the R35 GT-R since it was launched. There’s been a feeling that the GT-R has never really stood still in terms of development in those nine years… But this iteration has much bigger design changes, both outside and in, with a much-needed new infotainment system and a focus on reduced NVH. The aim has been to bring more performance but in a more mature package (the M in the M-Spec designation R34 GT-R stood for mature).”
Drive - 80/100 - “These changes to the GT-R have come at a cost, an approximate 10 per cent price rise across the board. However, having said that, it still remains a tempting value proposition when you factor in its performance is able to match cars that can be double the money. Especially now that it is a more civilised to live with. Godzilla has learned some manners but remains performance monster.”
Digital Trends - 80/100 - “Everything I remember of the GT-R being cold and calculated has been marginalised by its new sense of eagerness. Blistering performance is joined by interior refinement, a gentle ride, and thoroughly improved design for an upgraded experience. Rarely does an automaker enhance so much before putting a vehicle out to pasture, but these changes keep the car relevant. Nissan’s R35 GT-R has simply never been better.”
CarAdvice - 80/100 - “The Nissan GT-R is the type of car you want to love. The company’s marketing campaign against Porsche in Europe is well documented and somewhat humorous. It’s a big middle finger from Japan to the Europeans for charging so much ‘for so little’. Ultimately, though, it is showing its age. Its formula is looking tired and if Nissan really wants to be competitive in this space, it needs to seriously look at the likes of Porsche, Audi and the Italian exotics which have moved on so much since the original GT-R debuted.”
TopGear - 85/100 - "This lack of artifice is central to the GT-R’s appeal. You can’t choose to have a noisy exhaust, it’s not a showman’s machine. It’s a dedicated fast road car and has a clarity of purpose that separates it from almost anything this side of a 911 GT3 RS. And yeah, the old mantra of Porsche 911 Turbo pace for regular 911 money still holds true.”
WhatCar? - 60/100 - “The Nissan GT-R is an immensely fast and surprisingly practical supercar. But its rivals have more badge appeal.”