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The Nissan GT-R is not a cheap car, but it’s better value for money than cars that are seemingly as fast

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The Nissan GT-R has a varied history. Although it has always had a strong following, some models to wear the GT-R badge haven’t always made the grade. But when Nissan do it well, they do it very, very well. Back in 1969, the 2.0-litre Skyline saloon was the first Nissan to wear a GT-R badge.

A coupé followed in 1971 and a replacement model, with production limited to 197 units, in 1973. And that was the end of the GT-R until a Skyline more like the one we know appeared in 1990, with a twin-turbo straight six.

For a car this heavy, its brakes resist fade astonishingly well

Homologated to let Nissan go racing, the R32 was claimed to have 280bhp, as were the R33 (1994) and R34 (1999) successors. GT-R buyers in the UK should beware – there are plenty of imported GT-Rs floating around on the used market of greatly varying quality. We’d prefer to stick to the cars brought across by Nissan itself, and that’s what our test is based on.

When we tested the 473bhp grey-imported GT-R it caused quite a stir; it demolished pretty much every challenge we laid before it, including being crowned the winner of our annual Best Driver’s Car shootout. The official 523bhp version of the car turns the GT-R into a super supercar.

The GT-R has always had price on its side. It’s not a cheap car: it’s better value for money than cars that are seemingly as fast, and it can outperform cars of a similar price. Seems too good to be true. So is it?

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DESIGN & STYLING

Nissan GT-R badging

You may think that the Nissan GT-R is a triumph of function over form, but while it has been designed largely by need, there is more to the exterior styling of the GT-R than you would initially credit.

Certainly there’s no mistaking it for something else and, because this is the first GT-R not based on a mass-market vehicle (hence the absence of the Skyline tag), it has been designed with more freedom than previous GT-Rs

Hiroshi Hasegawa, Nissan’s chief product designer, says “it is clearly not an Italian, German or American car” and that “it’s very mechanical, almost like an animated robot”, and is “obviously made from metal”, thanks to its big shoulders and hefty muscularity. Those features help place this wide car and contribute to an excellent drag coefficient of 0.27. 

There are also cues from previous GT-Rs. The round rear lights are a continuation of the lineage and the front grille is reminiscent of the most recent model, the R34.

To most observers it is not a car that elicits 'oohs' and 'aahs' of admiration for its beauty, but there is no doubting in anyone's mind that, on laying eyes on the GT-R, everyone will know that it is a car with very special levels of performance on tap.

For those wishing to fully exploit this performance in a suitable environment, Nissan introduced the Track Pack option for the GT-R in 2012. For another £10,000 over the standard car, the Track Pack features firmer springs, lighter Nismo wheels and improved brake cooling.

Nissan has also removed the rear seats, saving a total of 20kg when combined with the new alloys. The drivetrain is carried over to the Track Pack unchanged.

INTERIOR

Nissan GT-R interior

The interiors of Nissan GT-Rs of the past have always been a somewhat secondary consideration. The same applies to this version to a certain extent, but there’s a sophistication to the modern GT-R’s cabin that was absent in earlier versions.

And even if the quality of the materials in this new car can’t match the best that European rivals have to offer, there is an endearing Japanese efficiency and even a degree of charm to the way the GT-R does things

Nissan hasn’t pandered to European conventions, and the GT-R’s cabin is all the better for it

The bewildering array of screens and data readouts on the centre console are matched by a similar number of switches and buttons – they could only come from Japan, as, too, could the choice of metal-look plastic trim on the fascia and doors.

Nissan hasn’t pandered to European conventions, and the GT-R’s cabin is all the better for it. This isn’t a car that’s looking for the panache and lushness of something like a 911, it’s meant to be a technological tour-de-force and to that extent Nissan has done a good job with the cabin.

The GT-R’s front seats are spectacularly good, and although one of our testers suffered mild back ache after driving a considerable distance, it wasn’t a common complaint and is as likely to be induced by the ride as by the seats. The driving position itself is easily electrically adjusted, while the wheel – brilliantly sized and sculpted – adjusts amply for reach and rake.

This is a four-seater, but even Nissan admits the rear seats are best for kids, and when that happens you know you’re in for a squeeze. Head room is at a premium and rear leg room almost disappears if the driver’s seat is set comfortably for anyone over 6ft tall. The boot is big enough for two sets of golf clubs but the access hatch is small.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Nissan GT-R front quarter

It’s difficult to know which impresses most: the outright level of performance the Nissan GT-R offers or how accessible it makes it. The latest version of this constantly updated car delivers 523bhp and a 0-60mph time below three seconds.

No wonder, then, that this is a car in which it’s easy to go incredibly fast. This is partly due to the traction advantages of all-wheel drive and the GT-R’s clever torque-shuffling differentials, and partly to the dual-clutch gearbox. One of the three dashboard-mounted toggle switches alters the gearbox mode from Snow to R, changing the shift speed and pattern, while sliding the gear lever or pulling on the wonderful fixed paddles switches the ’box from automatic to manual. 

The brakes are beyond criticism, providing a reassuring ability to shed speed

Manual (in which the GT-R will not kick down) and R (which lets the engine run to the limiter) offers the best control for track driving or on roads you know well. But in other, more give and take conditions the automatic mode works a treat.

In R mode its ability to judge and deliver jerk-free downchanges is exceptional and gives a level of on-demand performance more akin to a big V12 than a relatively small-capacity turbocharged engine. The transmission’s party piece, though, is full-bore upshifts.

It’s not without fault, though. Because there’s no creep function, parking needs a very gentle touch on the throttle. And tight manoeuvring produces wince-inducing noises from the diff when it’s cold. However, it’s pretty much as easy as any other Nissan to dawdle around town in, if you can live with the stiff ride.

The brakes, by contrast, are beyond criticism, providing a reassuring ability to shed speed, despite the GT-R’s weight, needing just 40.9m to stop from 70mph. Almost more impressive is the excellent pedal feel and response. 

RIDE & HANDLING

Nissan GT-R rear cornering

You only have to look at the Nissan GT-R’s lap time around our dry handling circuit – only just shy of the Ferrari 430 Scuderia and Porsche 911 GT2, despite its inferior power-to-weight ratio – to realise that it has one or two tricks in its handling bag. Traction is just one, but then you would expect that from the GT-R’s broad tyres and all-wheel drive

More than any other element, what gives the GT-R its staggering pace is remarkable stiffness, not just in the suspension set-up but the shell construction. Over bumpy roads and even in its Comfort setting – softened from the Japanese spec – the ride is reasonably busy.

The GT-R’s lap time is only just shy of the Ferrari 430 Scuderia and Porsche 911 GT2

Although the body is moving around, you can sense the rigidity in the shell. On a smoother surface and with the suspension either in Comfort or R mode, the GT-R can use this rigidity to generate incredible lateral grip.  

Although the GT-R excels on almost all road surfaces and conditions, and is, for a heavy car, impressively agile through slower corners if you’re prepared to bully it a little, it is more at home on wider roads and through sweeping corners.

The steering takes a little getting used to; at 2.6 turns lock to lock it is quick and relatively lightly weighted, but it is exceptionally accurate and communicative when the limits of adhesion approach.

The changes incorporated into the Track Pack subtly enhance the GT-R package to make it more playful at the limit; ideal for those wishing to regularly use their car on a circuit. The extra brake cooling has genuine benefits, with the non-carbon rotors refusing to fade after sustained track abuse.

Whether from behind the wheel or standing by the roadside, it is impossible not to be anything but blown away by the sight or feel of a GT-R on maximum attack; its ability to grip and channel horsepower to the road is quite astonishing. The trouble is that to get the most from it you really need to be on a track; use anything more than 40 per cent of its capabilities on the road and you’re travelling way faster than you should.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Nissan GT-R

For the level of performance the Nissan GT-R offers, this is a remarkably affordable supercar – cheap even. Once you’ve bought the car, though, running costs are more on a par with supercar rivals.

You’ll be visiting your specialist GT-R dealer for maintenance every 6000 miles and visiting a filling station even more often – you’ll struggle to get 20mpg even of you drive gently, while a track day will have you hoping for a nearby service station on the way home. As for the GT-R’s CO2 output, it’s best to keep that quiet and take the tax bills on the chin.

For the level of performance the Nissan GT-R offers, this is a remarkably affordable supercar

You do get a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, although GT-Rs have an excellent reliability record – as long as they’re cared for. Perhaps surprisingly given the number of grey imports floating around, GT-Rs are reasonable investments: residual values will fall less quickly, and from a lower price, than supercars of comparable performance and shouldn’t be too far out of kilter with similar-priced coupés.

As well as the engineering techno feast on board, you also get a fair smattering of luxury gizmos, too. The 2012 model year cars with 523bhp come with all the bells, whistles and even metallic paint – a bizarrely expensive cost option on the other models.

Unfortunately, excellent though the Track Pack is, it struggles to justify the £10k premium over a standard GT-R. The upgrades only exact a very slight improvement on a fantastic package for a significant premium.

VERDICT

4 star Nissan GT-R

Fast and, yes, quite furious. Performance comes no easier, yet it’s possible to be left a little cold by the Nissan GT-R at first. It doesn’t feel special to sit in – the cabin may be packed with technology, but it feels more like a brilliantly-specced Nissan than a bespoke supercar.

It’s also hard, harsh, loud and clinical in the way it goes about things – it’s a car that wants to be driven fast and nags at you if you try to do anything but. We’d go so far as to say that it can be a little annoying at times. On a 20-minute test drive it may not worm its way into a potential buyer’s affections – unless you get it out on a track.

There are hidden depths to its brutish, frill-free performance

Partly that’s because of the efficiency and effortlessness of its performance. It goes at the dry-weather pace of a Ferrari 430 Scuderia or Porsche 911 GT2 with nonchalant ease, yet at a fraction of the cost.

Its engine is as smooth at 6000rpm as it is at 2000 and its gearbox shifts with totally undramatic efficiency – it’s a car that’ll flatter and reward, depending on your levels of skill. 

The longer you spend with the GT-R, the more you uncover new movements in its dynamic repertoire and the more visceral, thrilling and alive with feedback and response it seems. There are hidden depths to its brutish, frill-free performance.

The longer you have it, the more you want it.

Nissan GT-R 2007-2016 First drives