2017 Nissan GT-R review: A supercar for the Gran Turismo generation

Few cars achieve the cult following enjoyed by the Nissan GT-R. For the past 30 years, it’s been the car of choice for the most discerning, knowledgeable petrolheads – a Japanese saloon with the technical prowess and performance to compete with exotic supercars triple its price. 

While many know Nissan’s turbocharged beast from films such as The Fast and the Furious or the pages of EVO, my first experience of the Nissan GT-R – or Skyline GT-R as it used to be called – came from Gran Turismo on the original PlayStation. It was the car that made going fast and winning races far easier than it should be, and in the following games it became my go-to car –  partly because it seemed too fast for its price. And having now driven the 2017 Nissan GT-R, it’s amazing how close to reality Gran Turismo was.

Last week, I drove a 2017 Nissan GT-R around the famous Thruxton race circuit, and it was one of the most advanced, unique and quietly insane driving experiences I’ve ever had. But before I get on to what it’s like to drive, it’s worth explaining what the Nissan GT-R is in 2017. The GT-R I drove is far different from the car I used to peer at in Gran Turismo, because Nissan has continually improved the GT-R over the years, making it more refined and just plain faster with every iteration.

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Cutting-edge tech

In 2017, the Nissan GT-R is powered by an incredible, compact engine. Powered by a relatively compact 3.8-litre, 24-valve V6 engine, and augmented by a twin-turbocharger, the GT-R puts out a huge 570Ps at 6,800rpm, and has a 0-62mph of 2.8 seconds. To put that in perspective, that’s the same time as a McLaren P1, a hypercar worth around 11 times the £80,000 Nissan.

This year’s engine squeezes out an extra 20Ps compared to 2015’s car. To do that, Nissan has increased the boost pressure of the unit’s twin-turbocharger, and also introduced a brand-new ignition-timing system, usually seen on the race-ready Nissan NISMO edition of the GT-R. The new system basically improves the timing of ignition, resulting in a cleaner, more powerful stroke.

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Efficiency has also been improved by the use of plasma-sprayed bores. As shown in the Vine below, this technology allows for reduced friction between cylinders and other components. The result? Reduced friction, lighter weight, enhanced cooling, superior power output and improved fuel efficiency. 

And there’s one other interesting thing about the Nissan’s engine. Despite its high-tech, state-of-the-art nature, it’s not assembled by a machine, but by hand. Every GT-R engine is assembled by one of the Nissan’s five Takumi mastercraftsmen, and to add an even more personal touch, each engine is tested and signed off by its builder.

Of course, all that power would be useless without equally sophisticated handling, and the Nissan GT-R benefits from an improved aerodynamic and 4×4 package. Better airflow around the car means the GT-R now delivers slightly more downforce with the same amount of drag, while the car’s four-wheel-drive traction control ensures as much of the Nissan’s 570Ps is delivered to the road as possible.

Being in the GT-R

Before I even jump in the Nissan GT-R, I’m already sure of what to expect, but seeing it in the metal is another thing entirely. Despite seeing it on the large and small screen numerous times, the new GT-R is far wider than you’d expect, and it’s just generally bigger too. The GT-R I end up choosing is finished in metallic black, which makes the car’s nostriled bonnet look even more brutish.

Step into the cabin, however, and the GT-R begins to confuse. Despite costing £80,000, the GT-R’s cabin looks a lot like a Nissan a quarter of the price. That’s a bit harsh: Nissan has worked hard to make this cabin far better than in any previous model – the GT-R features 16 fewer buttons, and an 11-speaker, noise-cancelling Bose sound system that also pumps amplified engine noise into the cabin.

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It’s clear that the GT-R is more refined than ever before – but it’s still leagues behind something like a Porsche, Ferrari or even an Audi. However, rather than taking this as a bad sign, in many ways it makes me more excited. It’s clear the Nissan’s asking price has gone on other aspects of the car – aspects best unlocked and explored on a racetrack or quiet road. That’s why Nissan has taken me to the superfast, flowing Thruxton circuit to put the GT-R through its paces.

Driving the GT-R

At low speed, the Nissan feels big, wide and relatively refined – but on the flowing tarmac of the fastest circuit in the UK, the GT-R’s potential is clear. Despite being a pretty large, four-seater coupe, the Nissan’s sledgehammer-like power delivery and rigid chassis make it feel like a supercharged go-kart – and it’s incredible.

With the suspension and throttle response set to the sportier R mode, the GT-R handles like its racing-game counterpart. After every corner, acceleration is instant to the point of violence. It feels like I’m being catapulted forward to the soundtrack of the roaring turbocharged, V6 engine.

But fierce acceleration is only half of what makes the GT-R so mesmerising. As I make my way around Church, one of Thruxton’s fastest corners, I’m told to dab the brakes, aim for the apex and then lean on the throttle as the car drifts to the outside of the track. As you’ll see from the onboard video, we’re going pretty fast, but with the right inputs the GT-R feels extremely settled – even if I’m not.

This year the Nissan has moved the paddles to the wheel so you can change gear during corners, which gives some idea as to how outrageous the GT-R’s handling is. I’ve driven cars seemingly more agile than this before, and where they’ve often resisted and complained when driven too fast, the Nissan gathers my inputs and almost makes me look like I know what I’m doing.

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There are several points where it feels like I’ll never make the corner, but the GT-R’s sophisticated 4×4 and Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) systems mean I do. After Church I use the wheel-mounted paddles to flick through the sequential six-speed dual-clutch transmission, straighten up the car and power up to around 150mph, before stamping on the ridiculous brakes to 40-50mph.

In many ways, the car Nissan handles like the car I used to “drive” with my DualShock Gran Turismo. Acceleration is brutal, instant and almost digital from a standstill, with a stamp on the throttle echoing the firm press of the X button. In the same way, around corners the GT-R feels just as on-rails as the metallic blue Skyline I used to destroy the terrible Gran Turismo AI in.

A cult classic

After around 20 laps with the normal GT-R and the even sharper Track Edition, it’s time to drop the cars off. Stalking through village streets in a car capable of 196mph is a strange experience, and I’m distracted by just how much attention the car is getting. Pretty much every schoolboy and pedestrian around give me nods of recognition or a thumbs-up, and it’s clear just how much of a mythical car the GT-R has become.

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Whether it’s because of Hollywood, Need for Speed games or the Gran Turismo franchise, a car that started off as a stupidly overpowered saloon car has become an unlikely supercar icon. And one that everyone is happy to see on the road.

While it doesn’t have the refinement of a Ferrari or a Porsche, the GT-R’s honest, focused design – from its endearingly basic interior to its physics-defying performance – make it my ultimate car. The GT-R is and always has been a cult classic, and now having experienced it firsthand, this makes perfect sense. 

For another take on the 2017 Nissan GTR, check out this review from our sister site Auto Express

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