“We want you to be able to drive 300 km/h (186 mph) and have a conversation with your passenger at the same time,” Nissan’s GT-R guru Hiroshi Tamura said in front of the gathered scribes, journalists, reporters and hangers-on. My mind wandered instantly. What kind of conversation would the average owner have in a 2017 Nissan GT-R traveling at that kind of speed?
“Hey Mary, have you ever considered what kind of music you’d want played at your funeral?”
“Gee, Billy, I just don’t know!”
“Well Mary, what about picking a shroud to go with your eyes, cloudy and cold in the relentless grip of death?”
“Billy, can you just watch the road please?”
It’s a bizarre thought, but then, the Nissan GT-R is a bizarre machine. About a decade ago, it set the world on fire when it delivered Ferrari-destroying performance for base-model Corvette money.
This Japanese monster emerged from the Pacific and pushed both American and European supercars to a whole new level. A level where 500 horsepower and a 7 minute, 30 second Nürburgring time is the bare-minimum entry ticket, and the very performance that then blew our minds is now just “the standard.”
So with a rumored, maybe-hybrid, all-new GT-R just around the 2018 corner, what possible trick could Nissan pull to sell any more of it’s iconic, dated, and ever-more-expensive supercar slayer?
(Full disclosure: Nissan wanted Jalopnik to answer this question so much that they would have paid for flights to Germany, if we needed them to, which we didn’t. But they did pay for a room at a hotel next to the hairpin at Spa, a nice barbecue and even picked up my drinks and a breakfast, and in return, I didn’t crash their car, didn’t steal any soap, and stopped after five beers. I am a professional, after all.)
What’s New On This Old Beast
Non car-people will struggle to spot the differences between the noisy, clunky, mechanically sensitive 2007 GT-R and the car I drove at Spa.
But for truly nerdy car people, this is the best model yet, and the differences are both numerous and profound.
Outside, there’s the obvious stuff. A Nismo-inspired rear bumper, and the new grille, which doesn’t cost anything aerodynamically, yet somehow manages slightly better cooling for both the radiator and oil coolers. Less obvious is the slightly altered C-pillar, and the spats which apparently inspire low-pressure vortices to form past the wheels and extract more heat.
The car also boasts a vastly more updated and modern interior, and for the first time ever, it’s something close to what a car with this price tag should look like inside.
The distillation process of 27 buttons down to 11 buttons isn’t lost on the driver, nor is the fit and finish of the Infiniti-inspired leather. Quite how many people will order the caramel-colored cowskin of our test car is a mystery to me, but it’s a definite step up from the brittle plastics of yesteryear.
There are many things I’d take from the Japanese 1990s supercars, but that shiny black plastic isn’t one of them. The touchscreen is an inch bigger, at an adult-friendly 8 inches, and remarkably vivid. The seating position feels better, maybe a little more lined-up with the wheel, and the driver-centric nature of the cockpit layout now rivals that of the BMW E36 (one of my favorites.) All the vents, all the buttons, all pointing towards you. The driver. You buy this car for you, not for the passengers.
Then there are the audible changes. They begin as early as leaving the underground airport carpark with a suspicious lack of generic, automated gearbox clunking when clicking the paddle down to first gear. The remarkable silence when I turned 90 degrees to exit the barrier also speaks volumes. The big Nissan’s rear sub frame remained silent and the multi-plated rear LSD barely registered a grumble.
This witchcraft continued as we enter the autobahn system, GPS pointed towards to the Belgian border, while the new, even more powerful 565 HP motor propelled the GT-R towards v-max with nothing more than a melodic warble from the VR38-DETT up front.
But what happened to Godzilla and his aural halitosis? The mechanical noises and ceaseless rumbles that defined this tech-heavy racer for the road? He grew up, took off the jock strap, and slipped into some stylish, comfortable nylon slacks, that’s what.
Reading the spec-sheet, it looks like a complicated battle between the noises we want (engine, exhaust) and the noises we don’t (wind, road, Neil Diamond.)
Noise And Speed
On the decibel killing side of things, the Bose active sound-cancelling knob has been turned to 11, while additions to the insulation behind the dashboard and rear-fenders seem to hold off some more road noise.
New acoustic glass helps too, and there’s a special ‘quiet start’ button for those of you who don’t want to announce your “midnight club” shenanigans. How very grown-up.
In order to create more good noise, we have a new and very sonorous titanium exhaust system. And a digital audio processor too, feeding
“digitally enhanced” intake noises through the speakers.
Calm down, analog fanboys. Don’t worry. This is no BMW F10 M5 sound generator (which actually made the engines of Gran Turismo on the PlayStation sound realistic by comparison.) It’s a lot more subtle than that. In fact, it’s barely noticeable at all. Thank goodness.
By far the most noticeable improvements when cruising at ludicrous speeds are in the steering and ride. Flick the suspension trademark switch down to
“comfort” and the ride approaches current Porsche Turbo refinement. Approaches, mind you.
Body in good control, even the harshest potholes have the edge taken off them. And the steering at these speeds, being old-school hydraulic pump stuff, feels wonderful. The response and lack of sawing at speed is truly top notch, premium supercar stuff. The clever people who helped refine this need a pat on the back, it’s almost AMG-like in its ability to hit the autobahn curves smack in the face with so little steering input.
Of course, hustling such a big and potent car down the medieval back roads of Western Europe can be such a hassle. Like racing a full size go-kart through your bedroom.
But luckily for us, Nissan booked the legendary Spa Francorchamps F1 circuit for our exclusive use. And, even luckier for us, the weather is absolutely horrendous.
On The Track
Yes, lucky. Because while my adopted hometown is being washed away in the flood of the century, I have the opportunity to discover the delicate changes to the Nissan’s chassis and body on a very wet track.
The conditions at Belgian circuit are indeed so slick, so desperately slippery, it seems that only an ice lake would offer less grip. Which is good, because there’s nothing that reveals the balance of an AWD car more than these conditions.
And despite reassurances from the engineers that every component of the suspension is stronger and/or stiffer, I’ll be damned if the 2017 GT-R doesn’t feel softer and grippier. And still every bit as sharp. Maybe it’s just the new Dunlop Sport Maxx Race tires, but the front axle in particular bites hard into the sodden turns of Spa, the body rolling just enough to put some of that 3900 pound (1770kg) curb weight over the wheel doing the work.
Within only a lap of the 4.4-mile Grand Prix circuit there’s a bit of heat in the tires, as displayed on the new screen. With the front axle a little warmer, the playful nature of Godzilla is revealed.
Power comes in that little bit earlier and harder this year, even considering that the intake charge is cooled and damped by Mother Nature herself today. The GT-R feels strong, really strong. Like, power oversteer at 125 mph strong.
Which is No Big Thing. Honestly. Within minutes of driving the GT-R, I’m doing my best to keep my foot pinned to the gas and let the ATESSA all-wheel-drive system shunt the torque forwards or backwards as it sees fit.
Nothing’s changed in the transmission, it’s still an LSD in the back, open differential in the front and the key to getting the GT-R to go quick is to minimize lifting the gas pedal on the exit.
Oversteer? Steer it back out, widen your line. Understeer? It’s rare, even in the wet. Maybe lift, just a little, or even left-foot brake if you’re that way inclined.
Doing some little skids in the GT-R is relatively simple in the wet. Turn wheel, apply gas, steer out of the turn, repeat. The AWD will always try to pull the car in the direction you’re steering, I can’t even imagine what kinds of lead-footed idiot could spin the big Nissan on the power alone. I’m sure somebody will Google hard enough and post a comment below.
But really big skids are a little bit more difficult, as it’s the lift off-oversteer (with some cheeky subtle braking) that really gets the car sliding sideways.
In fact, I have to get something off my chest—I eventually spun, for the first time in nearly three years of weekly track driving, at Bruxelles because after getting her 90-degrees broadside, my brain won’t let me mash the gas pedal hard enough.
Enough of the hooligan antics—we’ve ascertained that the GT-R is grippier, faster, even easier to drive than in previous years. So what’s next?
Paddles. The shift paddles are now attached to the wheel, BMW/Corvette style, which in my opinion is far superior.
In previous years the shifters were attached to the column, like a Ferrari, so if you were steering a lot, or even counter-steering, you’d have to take a hand off the wheel to click that paddle. A kind of Darwinian process to remind drivers that shifting in turns is bad.
Driving the car back to Germany to hand it back to its keepers, I was a little bit sadder than normal. Yes, the latest (and very likely last R35) GT-R is a little more expensive, a little softer, and a little quieter.
But it’s also the most capable, most powerful and most premium-feeling Godzilla yet produced. It gets just enough of the NISMO-treatment to make you feel special, while not enough to destroy the manners or “feel” of a $110,000 car.
“There’s always the feeling that they save the best ‘til last,” I lament to my co-driver on the autobahn. “Like the R34, or the Mazda RX-7, the final editions are always awesome, but you know it’s nearly over.”
“Dale, keep your eyes on the road,” is what he should have said next. We were doing nearly 300 km/h, after all. But he just nodded.
Dale Lomas is the man behind Bridge To Gantry. He lives at the Nürburgring where he drives the RingTaxi most days of the week. This year he’s racing a Fiesta ST in the VLN championship and has just finished the 24 Hours of Nürburgring.