Preview: GT-R gets more civilized
Nissan’s flagship sports car receives its first major refresh in a decade. Is it now too tame? Jim Kenzie finds out.
THE PROS & CONS
- WHAT’S BEST: Storming power makes it among the very fastest production cars on the Nurburgring’s Nordschleife.
- WHAT’S WORST: If it’s what you’re looking for, not much; handling perhaps not as nimble or communicative as, say, a Porsche Cayman GT4; rear seat is basically a padded grocery bag shelf.
- WHAT’S INTERESTING: It’s about half the price of the other Japanese supercar contender, the Acura NSX.
SPA, Belgium — As more cars gain increasingly meaningless alphanumeric names, it is comforting to know that “GT-R” for Nissan has always meant “Grand Touring — Racing.” It’s a car that can carry a couple of people and their luggage over long distances at elevated speeds in reasonable comfort, yet with a few modifications it could be turned into a proper racing car.
The moniker was first applied to a special edition of Nissan’s home-market Skyline sedan in 1969. Subsequent iterations in the ’80s and ’90s further burnished the sub-brand.
But they were all right-hand drive, never destined for our shores.
Hiroshi Tamura, Chief Product Specialist for the new GT-R, told me that a concept shown at the 2001 Tokyo Motor Show tellingly was left-hand drive, although few people noticed at the time. That car evolved into the 2007 GT-R, which was the first one we got, two years later.
It’s entirely fair to say that car hewed closer to the ‘R’ side of its label. It was downright fast — if noisy — hard and somewhat harsh.
With the 2017 model comes the first major makeover of the GT-R, and the pendulum is swinging to the GT side.
This is immediately evident when you open the door. There are much higher-class materials, including available Nappa leather, a more refined, less cluttered dash (11 switches in place of 27), a bigger, brighter, more capable touchscreen for SatNav and minor controls, improved sound systems.
Not to worry — Nissan has not neglected the R side of the car’s designation in this makeover. The twin-turbo 3.8-litre V6 is essentially a carry-over, but modifications to the engine management system and higher turbo boost pressure bump horsepower from 545 to 565, and peak torque from 463 to 467 lb-ft., with increases in torque across 60 per cent of the very flat torque curve.
Each engine is hand-assembled by a single “Takumi” master — one of only five specially-trained craftsmen entrusted with this duty. The final step is attaching a plate bearing his signature.
More power means more heat, which means more air needed to cool things off. The most evident visual change to the exterior is the larger grille opening aimed at that very objective. Other aerodynamic tweaks reduce drag and lift at higher speeds.
Fire up and drive away, and the first thing those of you who have driven the current generation will likely notice is that the six-speed double-clutch gearbox (mounted en bloc with the rear axle for better weight distribution) shifts more gently, although not entirely seamlessly.
Craig Croot, who signs off on all driveability aspects of new Nissan models, notes: “We don’t mind a bit of tactile sensation. We want people to know this is still a high-performance car.”
The shift paddles have been moved from the steering column to the wheel. Every time I drive a car with one system, I always seem to think I prefer the other. (The grass is always greener …).
But for really quick driving where you aren’t moving the wheel much more than a quarter turn in either direction, this setup feels handier.
Six is a relatively skimpy number of transmission ratios by today’s standards. That said, with this much torque so low down in the rev range, you hardly need more gears. Peak power arrives at 6,800 rpm., but shifting at 6,000 gives the best overall performance.
As before, the full-time all-wheel drive system generally operates as a rear-drive car with a 0/100 per cent front/rear torque split, switching automatically to as much as 50/50 depending on conditions.
The chassis has been stiffened, notably in the windshield frame and near the trunk. More rigidity means better handling and reduced noise.
The Bilstein DampTronic three-way adjustable dampers have been revised for reduced internal friction and are mounted more rigidly, to the benefit of both ride and handling.
Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) filters out unwanted sounds, while Active Sound Enhancement (ASE) uses microphones to pick up desirable sounds and pipes them back into the cabin through the audio system.
The iconic quad round taillamps are as much a GT-R hallmark as twin-kidney grilles are to BMW. The difference is, those taillights are about all the other drivers on the road are likely to see.
Bringing me to Germany to drive the car on speed limit-free Autobahns then across the Belgian border to the fabled Spa-Francorchamps F1 circuit made perfect sense to me.
Weather wasn’t exactly on our side, and on most of the limit-unencumbered Autobahns the speed limit is generally the other traffic.
That said, we saw speeds that would land you in jail in Ontario for a year. And, all perfectly safe and legal in this place. They know how to drive over here.
The GT-R was all quiet, drama-free, and comfortable.
At Spa, I had John Wartique, a local lad/pro race driver alongside as a coach (and in truth, a virtual brake pedal).
At 7 km in length, Spa may only be a bit less than half of its former “closed public roads on race days” self, but it is still regarded as one of the most challenging and fastest race circuits in the world. Blanchimont. La Source. Eau Rouge, considered by many to be the trickiest corner in all of racing.
Wartique’s suggestions allowed me to look like I had at least half a clue as to what I was supposed to do. I managed to sneak in 12 laps, twice as many as scheduled, and the car proved predictably fast and stable, with excellent Brembo brakes and strong grip despite the weather.
I did have a wee moment heading into Stavelot, the 90-degree right-hander at the south end of the circuit. Perhaps more by good luck than good management, and with the assistance from the “nanny” systems which I did not shut off as per John’s request, it did not end in tears.
Or wrinkled bodywork.
Pricing has not been announced. The current car starts at $110,000, and I expect a modest increase, perhaps to about $118,000 for the 2017 model. That may be a lot of money for a car bearing the same badge as a Micra costing a tenth as much.
Then again, where can you buy 565 horsepower for under 120 large?
Nowhere, is where.
2017 Nissan GT-R
BASE PRICE/AS TESTED: $118,000 est.
ADD-ONS: e.g. freight and PDI — TBD Two-plus-two super-sports coupe.
PROPULSION: Full-time four-wheel-drive.
CARGO: TBD litres.
ENGINE: 3.8 litre V6, four valves per cylinder, double overhead camshafts per bank of cylinders, variable valve timing intake and exhaust, twin turbochargers.
POWER/TORQUE (horsepower / lb.-ft.): 565 @ 6,800 r.p.m. / 467 @ 3,300 — 5,800 r.p.m.
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed Dual-Clutch manual/automatic with paddle shifters.
TOWING CAPACITY: not recommended
FUEL CONSUMPTION: (Transport Canada): L/100 km: n/a, premium unleaded.
BRAKES: Brembo monobloc calipers, 6-piston front, 4-piston rear, ventilated iron/aluminum rotors, 15.35 inch front, 15.0 inch rear rotors.
TIRES (front/rear): TBD
STANDARD FEATURES: Fullt-time variable torque split four-wheel drive.
ACCESSIBILITY: Good front; difficult rear.
COMPETITION: Audi R8 — a bit less power, a lot more money, maybe more dramatic looking; McLaren 570S — similar power, WAY more money; Porsche 911 Turbo S — still the benchmark for accessible supercars (‘accessible’ in the sense of not being too difficult to drive).
LOOKS: Bordering on iconic — rare for a Japanese car.
INTERIOR: Significantly better than outgoing model.
PERFORMANCE: Excellent in all aspects.
TECHNOLOGY: Not too exotic; appropriate for the task at hand.
WHAT YOU’LL LIKE ABOUT THIS CAR: Flat-out, there isn’t much at any price that can outrun it.
WHAT YOU WON’T LIKE ABOUT THIS CAR: You may experience badge envy.
RATING: (out of 10) 8.0
Freelance writer Jim Kenzie is a regular contributor to Toronto Star Wheels. For this story, his travel and other expenses were paid by the manufacturer. To reach him, email mailto: mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org and put his name in the subject line.