A revamp aims to make the ageing Japanese super-coupé more usable, but more dynamic rivals still have an edge - if not the outright pace of Nissan's indomitable GT-R

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Godzilla has come a long way since its inception.

Four-ring rear lights have become the hallmark of the GT-R’s tail and they remain, as does the single model badge

From the 158bhp 'Hakosuka' Nissan Skyline GT-R that made its debut in 1969 to today’s 562bhp all-wheel-drive monster with a sub-3.0sec 0-60mph time, it’s a prime example of what five decades of progress can do to a performance car.

After its grand entrance in 2007, the latest model, referred to as the R35, made some significant waves in the automotive world. Built from the ground up to be a model in its own right, rather than a Skyline variant, the Nissan R35 GT-R arrived with immense performance and an ambition – that it realised – to take on rivals costing twice its original £70,000 price.

Even a £150,000-plus Ferrari 458 can’t keep up with it around the Nürburgring Nordschleife, the Italian supercar’s best lap time of 7min 32sec being no match for the GT-R’s 7min 27sec. The Nissan’s incredible traction, grip, power and quick-shifting six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox help it to overcome its 300kg-plus penalty over the 458.

Generating its deep reserves is a big, raucous V6 – a 3.8-litre unit – with a couple of turbos strapped to it. Initially it produced 473bhp, but a 2011 facelift bumped that up to 523bhp. Then, as part of a significant 2017 update that included revised styling, a higher-quality interior and a smoother ride, the GT-R went one step further and jumped to 562bhp. You can read about that incarnation of the supercar below.

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That’s for the standard model, but there’s an even more focused, harder-hitting Nissan GT-R Nismo version, which first arrived in 2013. In its current form, it wields 600bhp. With go-faster additions such as lightweight carbonfibre panels, grippier tyres and the biggest brakes fitted to a Japanese production car to date, it can fly around the Nürburgring in 7min 8sec.

Being able to lap the Green Hell incredibly quickly is one thing, of course, but sheer bombastic pace doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an engaging, thrilling or fun machine to drive. But thankfully, it is all of those things, too. Its steering is old-school hydraulic and has a confidence-inspiring weight and feel to it.

Plus, its four-wheel drive system has a rear bias, so the car can be rotated nicely, despite its considerable size and weight. This, along with remarkable grip, allows it to hit you with some serious g-forces in the corners as well as the straights.

Nissan GT-R used buying guide

An expert’s view - Chris Marshall, Auto Torque: “I’ve owned three R35 GT-Rs and I know them very well. I think my favourite aspect is the outright performance of them and the tunability. They’re good value and, for not much money, you can get a lot out of them. And then there’s the practicality: it’s got supercar performance, but you can use it every day. So it’s very versatile. Generally speaking, they’re reliable, too. You hear horror stories, but I would say they only start when the car is neglected or is put in the wrong handsoristunedpoorly.

Buyer beware...

ABS pumps failing: An issue that’s becoming more common is the ABS pumps failing. This is particularly prevalent in older GT-Rs and those that have been stored. To fix, a replacement part is needed.

Fluid leaking: Fluid can leak from drive seals, gearbox seals and the steering rack. In fact, age and continued use can result in just about any mechanical part that’s designed to hold back fluid beginning to fail. It’s usually an easy spot during a service.

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Excessive tyre wear: Due to the GT-R’s high level of performance, weight, tyre type and alignment settings, it’s prone to aggressivetyrewear,especiallyon its original rubber. A realignment can help slow this wear.

Rear shocks: Rear shock absorbers can leak or have misting. This is a common issue with older examples. Misting or leaking fluid on the rear dampers is usually solved by replacing them.

Speakers: The GT-R can develop problems with its speakers over time, such as blown or rattling front lower Bose door speakers. A replacement can be fitted without much difficulty.

Also worth knowing: The R35 GT-R is a tuner’s dream. Many owners have already installed performance upgrades, so check that before you buy any used GT-R. If you find yourself wanting more power out of your Godzilla, some aftermarket upgrade packages allow for more than 700bhp. In fact, at the wildest extremes, even 1000bhp-plus is achievable.


Nissan GT-R LED day-running-lights

The 2017 GT-R look is altered, but don’t expect a layman to necessarily spot the difference.

There’s a new bumper, bonnet, daytime running lights and grille – hardly a bold reimagining of the mighty Godzilla.

The GT-R’s paddles have moved from the column to the steering wheel. It’s a personal thing, but I would have preferred them to stay where I couldn’t possibly lose them

Instead, Nissan insists that most changes are less about improving the car’s thickset looks than they are enhancing its aerodynamic rigour.

Thus, downforce, drag reduction and cooling airflow are variously cited as the reasons for the front spoiler extending by a few millimetres, the sills being reshaped and the rear bumper swapped for the one deployed on the previous-generation Nismo.

So the latest GT-R cuts through the air marginally more cleanly and soothes its components slightly more efficiently – but enters the eyeballs in more or less the same way.

That’s probably fine, though, because you’re likely either to buy into the Nissan’s idiosyncratic looks or dislike them to the extent that it would take more than a facelift to fix them.

Of greater importance than the way it (still) looks are the structural improvements made in the pursuit of greater rigidity.

Reinforcements in the A-pillar and C-pillar areas are said to result in better and more uniform stiffness and are accompanied by newly valved Bilstein adaptive dampers plus tougher suspension mounts.

The steering remains by speed-sensitive, hydraulically assisted rack and pinion, but Nissan claims for it sharper responses and reduced effort at lower speeds.

Serious effort, too, has been devoted to exorcising the din that typically blights long journeys in the GT-R. The quality of the sound deadening behind the dashboard has been improved, the ‘booming’ exhaust resonance has been electronically damped and the car employs a noise cancelling system to mask unwanted sounds in the cabin.

The six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission has also been revised in the interests of quietness. Changes to the control software are intended to make shifts more precise, smoothing out the previously cranky low-speed changes and decreasing the whine that tended to emanate from between the rear wheels.

The ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive system fed by that gearbox remains the same, sending drive to the rear wheels only until circumstances dictate otherwise, but the power source itself – the hand-assembled 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 – gets higher boost pressure and a new ignition system that more accurately controls timing at each cylinder for a more efficient fuel burn.

Together with a new titanium exhaust, the engine now delivers 562bhp – a 20bhp hike – as well as marginally increased peak torque over a broader rev range.


Nissan GT-R interior

If changes to the exterior threaten to underwhelm, one needs only to step inside to see where Nissan’s time and money have been invested.

The driving position may be familiar – the steering column must still be manhandled into the ideal position via two separate levers for reach and rake, and the gear selector’s action remains somewhat antiquated-feeling – but practically everything else you can see or touch is new.

I understand that sports cars need bulkheads, but it’s disappointing that there’s no way to fold rear seatbacks to load longer items

The reasoning behind the revamp is that neither of the GT-R’s pre-facelift incarnations quite made you feel as though you were sitting in £80k’s worth of fixtures and fittings.

So Nissan has thrown leather upholstery at the problem, along with some conspicuous stitching and a much more contemporary-looking bank of climate controls.

The vents have been shifted around, too, mostly to make room for a revised infotainment display that was badly needed.

The enlarged, 8.0in unit is still a touchscreen, but Nissan has supplied a rotary knob for it as well. The dial is mounted on a modified centre console that is now clad in carbonfibre.

The updated Nissan Connect infotainment wouldn’t strike you as something that could possibly be described as new in anything other than a nine-year-old car.

Some of its now standard features (DAB radio, reversing camera) just about seem like generous inclusions on an £80,000 sports car, but mostly because such cars are almost always more meanly equipped as standard than you expect them to be.

There’s still no smartphone mirroring system included here and no readily apparent internet-connected features.

The screen is a good size, at 8.0in, and is easier to navigate now that there’s a rotary knob for the job. But you can tell that the navigation is SD-card-based, because its mapping lacks the detail and refresh rate of a proper hard-drive-based system.

The system’s responsiveness when switching between menus is also poor and its overall graphics appeal is low.

The screen is at its most useful when relaying the multitude of extra digital instrumentation with which you can customise it. But otherwise, it could and should be much better.

The net effect of the tidy-up (27 buttons have been reduced to 11) is an increase in functionality as much as it is an enhancement of perceived luxuriousness.

The overhaul hasn’t drastically altered the character of the GT-R’s cabin, though.

It still feels like a slightly graceless and echoey setting – better at mode buttons and digital readouts than cosseting and comforting its occupants, even though it’s a 2+2 with a good-sized boot and therefore more usable than plenty of sports cars in the class.

A gently progressive improvement is welcome nonetheless, even for buyers prioritising the GT-R’s other talents, but ‘idiosyncratic’ is still probably the nicest way of describing Nissan’s costliest model.  


3.8-litre V6 Nissan GT-R engine

Nissan may be coy about stating outright acceleration figures for the 2017 GT-R, but at least it’s consistently coy.

It was the same way after adding power to the car in 2011 and no one seems to know exactly why.

Car melds traction with directional precision effectively out of slower bends

So – for every last cult follower on the internet, every thumb-blistered PlayStation-generation fan, and those simply intrigued to know if an £80,000, nearly nine-year-old Nissan really can still be one of the quickest cars in the real world – here’s the whole truth.

The GT-R is easy to put into launch control mode. And what happens next, as the car surges forwards on a tide of turbo boost and a blur of just the right amount of wheelspin, feels incredibly potent and yet also remarkably smooth – smoother, certainly, than you’d imagine a 1.8-tonne, four-wheel-drive sports car catapulting itself to 60mph in less than 3.5sec has any right to feel.

But all those forumers can forget about true, repeatable sprints to 60mph in less than 3.0sec. With two occupants and fuel on board, in fairly chilly but dry conditions and timed in two directions, as all of our test subjects are, the GT-R declined to improve upon 3.4sec to 60mph, 7.8sec to 100mph and a standing quarter in 11.7sec.

A turbocharged Porsche 911 Carrera S, a close rival for the Nissan on price, is a second or more slower to every one of those markers.

But representing the junior supercar ranks in which the GT-R once mixed on outright pace, both the Honda NSX and McLaren 570S have of late gone significantly quicker – and others quicker still.

No longer, clearly, is this Nissan the giant slayer it once was. And yet, while time whittles away at the folklore status it once unquestionably earned, it also somehow makes a driving experience that once felt relatively anodyne much more endearing.

Not so refined, mark you. Despite Nissan’s efforts, the 74dB of noise with which the GT-R’s cabin is filled at a steady 70mph cruise is more than plenty of normal family cars make screaming away at maximum engine revs in third gear, with persistent and pronounced roar from its 20in runflat tyres the main culprit.

However, telling improvements have been made to the smoothness of the gearshifts, which snatch and jar through the driveline only rarely now.

The shifts could certainly be quicker in manual mode. That said, the slightly clunky feel of the gearbox and four-wheel drive system actually adds something to the GT-R’s distinctive character in 2016, because most sports cars no longer feel so simple or mechanically forthright. 


Nissan GT-R cornering

As noisy as the ride continues to be even after Nissan’s latest revisions, it’s far from uncomfortable.

The car has a slightly more loping and laid-back gait over longer-wave lumps and bumps than before, its new dampers allowing more wheel dexterity and ride compliance before toughening up to keep the car’s mass in check.

Extra-wide, low-tread-depth tyres mean that the GT-R doesn’t need to be asked twice to aquaplane

That gentle shift towards touring comfort isn’t transformative enough to undermine the GT-R’s immense on-road cornering composure or its enormous traction, but it’s notable enough to broaden the car’s dynamic appeal.

The GT-R now feels more like the everyday-usable, any-road-suitable, all-wheel-driven, superpowered multi-disciplinarian that it has always promised to be. Which is great news.

Going hard at a sequence of corners allows you to experience everything the car is good at in fairly short order.

We’ve already covered the huge performance level, but the bump compliance added by Nissan’s suspension overhaul gives you much more confidence to dip into that performance on a cross-country road.

The chassis, although still noisy over sharper edges, no longer feels so much like it’s pummelling the road into submission but instead is in a meaningful give-and-take conversation with it.

The GT-R can bump-steer and tramline a little, particularly when you load up its front axle under braking, but it’s a necessary price to pay for the lovely old-school hydraulic steering feel.

And although its mass and a gentle tendency to roll rob the car of the handling immediacy of something purer and mid-engined on turn-in, its dependable traction and nicely judged cornering balance make amends as you accelerate through the apex and beyond.

The rear-biased four-wheel drive system allows you to keep the car on line as you add power and makes the handling just about adjustable enough to begin to really engage its driver between straights as well as on them.

Although the GT-R’s more subjective qualities may make amends on the road for the consequences of Nissan’s decision to soften the suspension slightly, the track is where physics gets its own back.

Drive the GT-R up to the considerable potential of its powertrain and the limit of its grip level and it begins to roll quite hard compared with a lighter sports car and generally handles in a secure but brusque and less than brilliantly precise fashion.

Even with torque heading rearwards before it’s diverted to the front axle as needed, the GT-R isn’t as balanced on the limit as you’d hope.

The four-wheel drive system pours oil on any attempt to coax the GT-R into neutrality by trail-braking, and the car simply can’t hang on hard enough at the front end to keep turning its mass and hold back any directional impetus in reserve.

So the GT-R will feel more at home on a dragstrip than on a circuit, where some dynamic bluntness adversely affects its appeal.


Nissan GT-R

The entry-level Pure version starts at less than £80,000 – around the same money as a Porsche 911 Carrera or a Jaguar F-Type R.

In that form, the GT-R is still one of the most dependable routes to bang-for-your-buck speed.

Cult-like status and a lower starting price help the GT-R’s residuals to stay firmer than the 911’s and F-Type R’s

The walk-up between the three conventional trim grades is very modest (the Recaro is £2k more, the Prestige £2.5k) and that’s because the difference is limited to seats and upholstery.

Beyond that, there is a noticeable bump: the Track Edition, replete with exclusive alloy wheels, breathed-on suspension and a carbonfibre rear spoiler, is £91,995 – roughly equivalent to the amount you’d pay for a 911 Carrera 4S.

The full-blooded GT-R Nismo, furnished with 592bhp and a bucketload of carbonfibre inside and out, is £149,995 – proper supercar money.

We would personally opt for the Recaro model over the others, especially the Nismo-tweaked GT-Rs which could ostensibly struggle to justify their inflated price tags.

By the standards of its segment, the GT-R is expensive to run. Nissan claims 23.9mpg combined, a far cry from the 31.0mpg quoted by Porsche for the even more powerful 911 Turbo S.

We recorded a 21.6mpg test average, which is at least broadly consistent with that claim, but the GT-R’s 7.3mpg on-track economy is a reminder of just how rapaciously old school the 3.8-litre V6’s thirst can be.



4 star Nissan GT-R

So the biggest update yet to the R35 GT-R has failed to make it meaningfully quicker and maintain a once well-earned reputation for giant-killing. So what?

The one thing this car didn’t need was extra pace. The only true rival at its price point capable of a sub-4.0sec 0-60mph time is the formidable Porsche’s Porsche 911 Carrera 4S PDK, and even that car is a way off the Nissan’s gutsy level.

Back in contention but too one-dimensional to suit true sporting tastes

However long in the tooth it has become, Godzilla is in rude health. If speed is what you want, nothing does it better below £100k.

But then speed probably isn’t all you want in a modern sports car. Nissan knows this.

It has tried to make the GT-R a more rounded, luxurious and mature axe-wielding mentalist of a device – and it has made a difference, albeit not a big one.

It has put manners on the GT-R while leaving more than enough traces of the former monster with which to bond.

Delicacy isn’t this car’s forte any more now than it was before but, compared with the increasingly digital-feeling cars launched around and about it, the GT-R offers more charm than ever.

It therefore enters our top five in fourth place ahead of the Lotus Evora Sport 410, but behind the Aston Martin V8 Vantage S, the Jaguar F-Type R and Porsche 911 Carrera 4S.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Nissan GT-R First drives