As special as it was to do a 1000 km rally with 70 Ferraris, it was even cooler because I had a 2017 Nissan GT-R Nismo to chase them down in. The Ferraris drew a ton of attention as they blasted across Japan, but I had to show everyone what the home team could pull off too.
Yet if I’m completely honest, I thought it was going to be a little stupid idea taking the hardcore version of an already extremely hardcore car on a trip as long as this. But if you can’t take GT-R on a “grand tour,” then what can you do with it?
I picked up the car that would be my companion over a two day road trip from Nissan’s Global Headquarters in Yokohama, around 40 kilometers south of Tokyo. The pickup day was on the same day Ferrari Japan held their 70th Anniversary Rally to officially kick off birthday celebrations in Japan.
The Ferrari Japan Exclusive Rally began bright and early on a wet Friday morning from Tokyo. Instead of joining them at the start and being stuck in rush hour traffic in the city as 70 or so Ferraris made their way on to the motorway, we went straight to the first stop. Most of the driving on the first day was on motorways with a couple of stops off on normal roads.
If you’re going to chase fast cars, it follows you need a fast car for yourself. And while the GT-R Nismo is far less expensive than a Ferrari, its 600 horsepower 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6 and advanced all-wheel drive system make it one of the fastest cars on the planet. It can punch far above its price tag, so it was a good companion here.
On the highway the GT-R NISMO was surprisingly docile. From the 2017 update, the GT-R is supposedly more user-friendly, a car you can use everyday. The Nismo version is supposed to be the track-focused variant, but from motorway and city driving in its normal and comfort modes it’s still very usable in the real world too—if you don’t mind the admittedly firm suspension.
The first day of the rally covered the most miles, roughly 400 kilometers. That was about four-fifths of the entire rally but at the end of it I didn’t feel fatigued at all. Yes, the suspension is hard, and you definitely feel the bumps in the road. But it never felt too uncomfortable. The Recaro seats were fantastic too , providing support around the corners and not being overly hard. The exposed carbon shells were a nice reminder that this was something special.
Inside it’s much more improved too over older versions. The first thing you notice is the liberal use of Alcantara. The stuff is literally everywhere. If that doesn’t make you feel like you were in a race car, seeing the giant wing in the rear-view mirror will. The new eight-inch screen was much better than before too, it was faster and clearer than previous generations.
Overtaking in this was too easy. Shooting from 50 to 75 mph happens in an instant. Whatever was in the horizon is suddenly inches away from the front bumper. The sensation was addictive and kept me awake more than coffee or Red Bull ever could.
There’s a bit of delay at the lower revs, but get this thing riled up and it’ll fly. It made a good noise too. It’s just doesn’t scream or howl like some of its rivals, or certainly those Italian exotics I was chasing.
She sure is thirsty though.
Not even completing a full day of driving, I had to get off the motorway to fill the GT-R up. I did leave Tokyo with three-quarters of a tank but I was surprised how quickly this thing went through all of its top-octane fuel already. I guess those pulls on the motorway didn’t help much either. It’s not cheap either: fill-up number one came in at $96.
We finally arrived at Nagoya for the overnight stop concluding the first day of the rally. The second and final day of the rally started off from the Nagoya Hilton hotel. This time we decided to follow the Ferraris out of the city and convoy with them on the highway to their first stop.
This was the first chance we had of driving the Nismo alongside the Ferraris in the city, and we were surprised by the amount of attention it got from people even surrounded by the Italian machines.
Even in that crowd, people still rushed to take photos and videos of the NISMO. I’m not sure if its the rarity of the ridiculous “look at me” styling and add-on carbon bits that was the reason for the attention.
After following them around the city and on to the entrance ramp for the motorway, I’m glad I had the same turbos from the GT500 race car and 600 HP, instead of the measly 570 HP the “normal” GT-R has to make do with. We were able to keep up with the Ferraris without any difficulty.
The drive from Nagoya to the first stop at Matsusaka City was a short 90 minute stint. We were somewhere in the middle of the pack and followed a group of six Ferraris for most of it.
The silver 488 Spider and white F12tdf in particular were very playful companions, zigzagging through traffic and doing pulls whenever there was an open stretch of road in front of them.
We later found out the owner of the white F12tdf actually has a silver 2017 Nismo as well, which made sense why he was hanging around us for some time.
As we pulled in to the small traditional township of Matsusaka the Nismo received a bit of attention as well. Following a California T, 488 Spider, and F12tdf you wouldn’t expect a Nissan to get lenses pointed at it too, but it did.
If you want attention from high school kids and middle-aged salarymen, this is the car for you. I’m not sure what kind of person in particular would target those demographics but that’s all the Nismo seemed to attract.
I get it though. The younger kids know this car from video games. The salarymen and older guys appreciate this car because they’ve grown up with the GT-R name since the ’70s. It’s one of Japan’s most iconic sports cars, if not the most iconic sports car. Being the Nismo version you sort of have to be a car person to know what it is and not think it’s just another souped up GT-R.
But driving around small towns, the GT-R’s size started to become noticeable. That was the only issue I found with this car. Apart from its girth, driving it around town is like driving any other Nissan product. The dual-clutch transmission is much smoother than ever before, though was still a bit jerky from first to second. It made some loud mechanical sounds beneath you, but I liked that.
It felt like it was alive. It’s a car that’s more comfortable at higher speeds and encourages you to take it there.
The next stop was at Isuzu Park. We got there before the Ferraris arrived so we could get them pulling in. The setup was quite confusing, as the car park was to the right of the main road, however cars were directed to turn left down a road that led to the main sports stadium at the park before making a u-turn.
Like I said in my last post, on the day we were there, a high school was having a sports day at the park. Given the reaction the car received it would’ve been rude not to have given them a pull. The way a car this big goes from point A to point B should be physically impossible. It’s not so much a car, but more a teleportation machine. I safely gave the kids a bit of a show and they got a kick out of it.
The final stop of the rally was at the Jingu Museum. Like at Isuzu Park, we got to there earlier than the Ferraris to see them come in. Apparently that’s what half the town had also decided to do. The Nismo grabs attention everywhere it goes.
With all the festivities over it was time for the five-hour drive back to Tokyo. We left Mie Prefecture at around 5 p.m., just as the sun was setting. But since it was raining all day there wasn’t much of a sunset, just the sky getting gradually darker.
Luckily, since the second day involved less driving the GT-R still had some fuel left in it. The sat-nav decided to take us via the Shin-Tomei expressway, a newer and less busy highway that goes from Nagoya to Kanagawa prefecture. It doesn’t go all the way to Tokyo for some odd reason.
One thing that should be noted on Japanese motorways are parking areas are plentiful. There’s lot of opportunities to stop, rest, and grab a drink from a vending machine. Service Areas are slightly larger parking areas with restaurants and petrol stations. These are less frequent.
You can see where this is going. The car had a quarter-tank left with 150 kilometers (about 90 miles) of range. That seemed fine, we were making good progress and would surely find a service area soon. I was cruising at the speed limit, things were going well.
For some reason that’s still beyond me, the range started to drop from 130 to 110. Then it went down to 100. I was desperate to find a service area ahead. Nope, just lots of parking areas. Finally, I located a sign that said “SA in 21 kilometers.” Okay, I thought, it’d still have plenty of extra range left.
By the time it got to 70 kilometers of range (43 miles) the fuel light had come on. The service area was still a few kilometers away, but if my math was correct I’d still have plenty of fuel left.
It was around five kilometers from the service area that the readout for the fuel range just went blank and started flashing. It had basically just given up and said I was on my own.
I was now driving this 600 HP monster in super eco limp mode. If the last bit before the service area wasn’t a downhill section, I probably would’ve run out of fuel. There was less than two liters of fuel left in the tank when I filled it up. The second fill up of the trip put me out $110.
That was probably the most dramatic part of the whole road trip. The GT-R Nismo exceeded all my expectations. It was more comfortable than I thought it’d be. It kept up with V8 and V12 Italian supercars and even managed to steal a bit of attention away from them.
I wouldn’t say it was the perfect grand tourer, but it wasn’t far off. It certainly is one of the most special and memorable chase cars I’ve had though.