Nissan’s performance poster-boy grows old with surprising grace but is falling behind the pace of the super-sports elite

What is it?

The longtime supercar-slaying Nissan GT-R – ‘Godzilla’ to those on the most familiar of terms – has just been renewed for a scarcely believable ninth year in the showroom. At this age, the ‘R35’-generation GT-R would likely, if it were a child, be showing desultory interest in Roman Britain or the 12-times table and instead operating a playground-wide reign of extortion and fear, the likes of which an aspiring gangland mobster of the future would be rightly proud.

If it were a Porsche or Ferrari, of course, the GT-R would have been replaced already. But instead of an all-new version, Nissan is giving us what it describes as the biggest and most transformative facelift the car has ever had.

The modification applies a wide-ranging cabin update with new seats, dashboard and infotainment system included. It also incorporates an exterior design refresh comprising new bumpers, a new grille and bonnet, deeper side sills and a new rear diffuser, along with an aerodynamic reappraisal that increases cooling and downforce without adding drag.

A structural redesign has stiffened the car’s bodyshell around the A and C-pillars in particular, and a suspension update includes stiffer mountings, lighter wheels and revalved Bilstein adaptive dampers. Meanwhile, an engine update adds extra boost pressure and new ignition and exhaust systems to the car’s big-bore, twin-turbo 3.8-litre V6, increasing power by 20bhp and delivering a more marginal increase in torque. An update for the transmission tweaks the control software of the car’s six-speed dual-clutch automatic transaxle gearbox.

The car arrives in the UK in August in three trim levels – the cheapest of which can be snapped up for a fiver less than £80,000. A Track Edition ‘Engineered by Nismo’ tops the regular model line-up, getting its own wheels, tyres and trick damper tune, while a separate limited-run ‘GT-R Nismo’ will be offered above even that, with the same 592bhp power output and chassis tune as the 2014 model year version.

What's it like?

The improvement made to the car’s cabin ambience is quite striking. Most of the cheaper-looking plastics, and the fiddly switches that once littered the centre console, have been banished. A slimmer-bossed steering wheel, leather-wrapped upper fascia and carbonfibre-clad transmission tunnel now lend the GT-R the impression of quality and luxury that its forebears have thus far been missing.

The infotainment system, while a small improvement on what went before, remains quite blocky to look at and can be slow to respond to inputs, although the rotary knob you can now use to marshal it - instead of jabbing at the touchscreen - is a welcome addition.

The car’s refinement levels have been increased in line with the new plushness of its interior. The dual-clutch automatic transaxle gearbox is almost unrecognisable from the clunky, shunting six-speeder that the ‘R35’ came with originally, juggling ratios smoothly and quietly on part throttle and at low speed, albeit slurring them a bit when you’re pressing on. But cabin noise levels have likewise been reduced and ride comfort improved, with the upshot being that the GT-R can now cover big distances without taking such a lasting toll on your senses as it once did.

The additional 20bhp doesn’t, according to Nissan, make the car any quicker to 62mph from rest – and as part of a curious new gentleman’s agreement with its fellow Japanese manufacturers, Nissan doesn’t actually quote an official 0-62mph claim for the car. But taking in plenty of derestricted German autobahn, our test route afforded the opportunity for a momentary bit of performance benchmarking on the new Nissan using satellite timing gear that we, er, just happened to have at hand.

Back to top

On what seemed like a level and averagely well-surfaced stretch of road, the car hit 60mph in 3.3sec and 100mph in 7.6sec; statistics that place it narrowly behind the current super-sports car crop and well ahead of the more humble machines it directly competes with at that £80k price point.

What prevents the GT-R from running with the Audi R8 V10s and new Porsche 911 Turbos that it finds itself up against in 2016 is weight: all 1752kg of it. The car feels potent where it can be given its head, but no longer quite like it belongs in the big performance leagues redefined by the likes of the Ferrari 488 GTB and McLaren 570S. The Nissan’s giant-killing days are over – or, at least, they’re on hold.

Weight also continues to be the factor limiting the car’s handling appeal somewhat – although here the GT-R still has a trick or two up its sleeve. Feelsome, direct and accurate, the car’s steering draws you into the driving experience by your fingertips, while the chassis continues to produce the same prodigious lateral grip levels and awesome traction that have made the GT-R so famous for so long.

As well as remarkably flat body control for something so heavy, the suspension conjures a more settled ride over hard-charged bumps and kerbs for the car than it used to, while the four-wheel drive system remains sufficiently rear-biased to allow you to adopt a neutral cornering attitude under power that feels poised and adjustable.

Beyond gentle initial slip angles, the GT-R’s limit-handling character remains something to be explored with circumspection. When grip levels are breached they drop away quite suddenly, the rear of the car picking up momentum quickly, and keeping the car on line as the driveline shuffles power away from the rear axle can feel like an exercise more of luck than judgement.

Should I buy one?

So it’s clearly somewhat long in the tooth, still rough around the edges and could do with losing a few pounds. And yet the facelift GT-R remains fast enough in every sense to shrug off the notion that it’s in any way ‘past it. Those who like its muscle-bound, old-school, ‘handle-with-care’ character won’t object to the car’s lack of dynamic delicacy at all; they could even be encouraged by it.

Moreover, the car’s loyal customer base should continue to be motivated by a bang-for-your-buck argument that, while it may not be as sensational as it once was, continues to earn the car we all once knew as ‘Skyline’ a place among the fastest and most exciting new models that a remotely realistic and vaguely affordable amount of money might ever conceivably buy. Giant-killer or not, the GT-R continues to pack a mighty punch – and it’s also mellowing nicely with age.

Back to top

Nissan GT-R Prestige

Location Spa Francorchamps, Belgium; On sale Now; Price £82,495; Engine V6, 3799cc, twin-turbo, petrol; Power 563bhp at 6800rpm; Torque 470lb ft 3300-5800rpm; Gearbox 6-spd dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1752kg; 0-62mph na; Top speed 196mph; Economy 23.9mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 275g/km, 37%

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.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
geed 6 June 2016

gets 5 stars in CAR magazine.

gets 5 stars in CAR magazine. I think Autocar hacks are more comfortable in hot front wheel drive hatches, than a brutal supercar like this.

I get the fact that its getting on bit but that is the first 4 start 80 % review I gave ever read in any magazine globally. What a game changer this car was when it came out. Previous poster was right, Original car did 0-60 in 3.5s. This new one can only do it 0.2 seconds faster. Autocar, if you are going to do a scientific empirical test, do it properly or do not do it at all.

stumpys182 5 June 2016

A salesmans perspective......

I worked for a Nissan High Performance Dealer when the first UK non-nav cars were launched back in 2008/2009 and had the daily enjoyable pleasure of taking customers out in the cars for the first time, as well as having use of it and the later Nav models, every day for almost 2yrs.
We took such cars as R8's, AMV8's, Diablo's and Scuderia's in part exchange and I can honestly say that with very very few exceptions, the R35 never failed to surprise, impress and ultimately bring a giggle to even the most sceptical customer!
Standing starts and point'n squirt demonstrations were always the most impressive.
Ok, it was just over £50k back then, but even today it gives almost everything else within £50k of it a bloody good run for its money!
Unfortunately, due to a change of jobs, I don't get to drive such exotica any more...boo hoo!
Jameskk4 28 May 2016

IMHO.. An owner's perspective.

I suspect your 0-62mph is without the launch control?

I own 458 in 2013 n 911 turbo 2014.. Both sold after I pick up my 2014 GT-R.

I find the 458 too temperamental n edgy for everyday which I do use my car as a daily beater.

The 911 is very similar to the GT-R but lack of a proper boot space n the interior is very relax n bright n the sitting position is high for such a beast of a machine which makes everyday use a absolute breeze. I sold the 911 and pick up a land cruiser v8 as the other car to my GT-R.

The GTR is as good as the 911 but in bad weather, the 911 can be very scary since I am not an advance driver. The 911 interior can be a bit claustrophobic for long trips.

Just my 2c as a real owner using the car in the real world. Hope I share some insights for those potential owners who are lurking.