The Nissan GT-R was the source of much excitement for people of my generation after it returned to the carmaker’s roster in 1989. At the time, the GT-R reigned at the top of the Skyline lineup. The three generations of commercially produced GT-Rs since its reintroduction (R32 1989-1994, R33 1995-1998 and R34 1999-2002) were never offered in North America, which served only to enhance the mythology surrounding this “Japanese Corvette”.
Reintroduced once again in 2005 as a concept car at the Tokyo Motor Show, the Nissan GT-R – now distinct from the Skyline models – was set to finally be made available worldwide, to the great pleasure of the many performance-car enthusiasts so enamored of it, and to the likely displeasure of competing performance-car manufacturers!
Finally a first contact
Despite all my best efforts with Nissan Canada, I was never able to get my hands on the GT-R R35, which to be fair is a fairly rare sight on our roads. This meant my only reference point regarding this celebrated badge was acquired around the time the new GT-R was making its entry into Canada. A fellow automotive journalist, Alex Crépault, was kind enough to entrust me with his prized 1989 Skyline GT-R for a weekend. That model was in several ways quite different than the new model (inline 6 engine, right-side steering wheel, manual transmission, etc.), but the bulk of it would be reproduced in the new version.
Imagine my excitement when I saw a message in my email inbox confirming a test drive of the Japanese supercar. I would finally get to learn just what kind of driving is possible with the 2017 Nissan GT-R, which was heavily reworked for the new model year.
A Reworked Exterior
Its fans already know that the GT-R is a close descendent of the model sold at the end of the previous decade. For one, the silhouette remains largely unchanged, and the darkened A pillar makes the coupe appear to have wrap-around windows. In the rear, the functional spoiler is still there at the end of the trunk, while the wheel arches still shelter enormous 20-inch alloy wheels.
All the same, Nissan’s designers have found ways to make the model sufficiently distinctive for 2017. The front fascia has been redrawn and features an aerodynamic new V-shaped grille, which serves to direct more incoming air to the engine compartment. The headlights have also been slightly reshaped, along with the hood, which has been made firmer to prevent what had been a problem of deformation at high speed.
The engineers didn’t end their tweaking there, modifying the front deflector as well as the side bumpers with the goal of reducing the amount of air redirected under the car, thus improving stability… at sustained speed, of course! The most distinctive visual signature of the Nissan GT-R, meanwhile, is found at the back, in the four rounded position lamps. The diffuser, for its part, is still present between the immense titanium exhaust pipes, while the rear skirts now enclose the lateral air ducts. The rear bumper is yet another element altered for 2017, as it borrows the design imposed on the NISMO version of the model.
As is customary when undertaking a redesign such as this, the look of the 20-inch Rays alloy wheels has also been modified. Consumers ordering this car can also now choose the Blaze Metallic exterior tint.
A richer interior
The GT-R experience really begins once you settle in behind the wheel. For the new edition, Nissan resisted any radical alterations - most of the changes brought to the dashboard are relatively minor. But whereas early editions of the model appropriated elements designed for low-end Nissan models, the 2017 iteration features higher-quality materials.
What tweaking there is of the dashboard involves, first, it being covered by a Nappa leather surface that is quite pleasant to the touch. The infotainment screen is placed above the central ventilation ducts. The number of commands has been reduced from 27 to 11, while the carbon fibre that envelops the central console serves to remind occupants they’re not sitting in a conventional Nissan. As is the case since its return to the market, the GT-R features a steering column fixed to the instrument bloc that follows the angle desired by the driver. This detail allows for keeping an eye on information specific to the vehicle, but also for checking on the car’s cruising speed - an important consideration in a speed merchant and speeding-ticket magnet like the GT-R.
The vehicle offered for this road test came with just two options – its exterior colour ($1,000) and hand-stitched leather upholstery ($4,000). And while this most expensive of Nissans does officially offer seating for two in the rear, the space available is frankly ridiculous; only children could realistically occupy those places. You can take my word for it: I tried to install myself in there!
At the wheel
The 2017 edition has also evolved in terms of its mechanics. The famed hand-assembled V6 twin-turbo engine is still in place, but it has gained 20 HP thanks to increased boost pressure, as well as a control system for the ignition sequence. Nissan claims that acceleration is clearer starting at 3,200 RPM, with the torque being available on a wider power range. The dual-clutch transmission box, bolted at the rear, has six speeds which can be changed via the new pallets on the steering wheel. The engineers at Nissan also endeavoured to make this transmission box more civilized when used in less-urgent driving situations, and the adjustments make gear-changing a gentler experience.
The Nissan GT-R, for daily use?
The answer to that is, yes. For starters, the ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive is a guarantor of additional safety when road adherence is less than optimal. This system transfers all power to the rear axle when driving normally, but can distribute it equally to the four wheels as soon as it senses the need.
Unsurprisingly, and even after the adjustments that were made to make of the car a kinder and gentler creature, the Nissan GT-R is a beast that requires taming, likely over a few sessions. On start-up, the exotic character of the GT-R is immediately apparent. While the sound it produces is perhaps less guttural than implied by the car’s aggressive silhouette, it’s miles away from the cry of the Altima, for instance.
With the three levers placed in Comfort mode, the actions and reactions of the mechanics are more tightly controlled and the car offers a relatively easy ride through urban environments. But switch to R mode, and the GT-R’s claws come out. Performance is sharper, with the exhaust being more expressive, the transmission changes more abrupt, and the breath of the 6-cylinder twin-turbo seemingly limitless. I have rarely driven a car that felt more explosive. Even with the safety features activated, the car does dance a little bit during hard starts. The majority of my road test was carried out on dry roads in cool weather. Warmer temperatures would have allowed the Dunlop tires to grip the asphalt more tightly. Moreover, our time- and weather-beaten highways make holding the road a little tricky with these performance tires, with steering-wheel corrections often required.
My first experience behind the wheel of the new GT-R will have been a success, despite the less-than-ideal conditions. For one, I had to reach back to the past and compare the newest generation with the borrowed 80s-vintage GT-R R32 I had tried out nearly 10 year ago.
More powerful, more stable and more computerized than its ancestor, the 2017 Nissan GT-R gives you the impression of being almost too perfect… for a car at this price ($130,000). From monstrous acceleration abilities to road handling worthy of a chase plane, the most beast-like of Nissan’s vehicles is without doubt one of the most terrifying cars on the market.