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First drive: Nissan GT-R Nismo R35. Image by Nissan.

First drive: Nissan GT-R Nismo R35
Extreme Japanese performance car thrills are still extremely tempting, despite this carís extreme age. And expense.

   



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Nissan GT-R Nismo 2020MY (R35)

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Getting on in years it might be nowadays, and Nissan might change it every time there's a 'Y' in the day of the week's name, but you still get an extraordinary driving experience from the R35 GT-R, especially in this hardcore Nismo 2020MY format.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Nissan GT-R Nismo 2020MY (R35)
Pricing: GT-R range from £83,865, Nismo from £180,095 as tested
Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V6 petrol
Transmission: ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive, transaxle six-speed dual-clutch automatic
Body style: two-door high-performance coupe
CO2 emissions: 308g/km (VED Band Over 255: £2,245 first 12 months, then £490 per annum years two-six of ownership, then £155 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 19.7mpg
Top speed: c.196mph
0-62mph: c.2.5 seconds
Power: 600hp at 6,800rpm
Torque: 652Nm at 3,600-5,600rpm
Boot space: 315 litres

What's this?

The ultimate expression of a car which is, let's face it, 14 years old now. And that's talking about a showroom model: if you consider when Nissan must've first begun development of the R35 GT-R to get it ready for its appearance in 2007, you start to see that this is something of a dinosaur. You might, as it is an evolved animal as this 2020 model year Nismo, even make reference to a certain Godzilla. You wouldn't be the first to do so.

This is a car which stunned the world with its technological advancement back in '07, but which has - by and large - stood still while those around it have developed and refined themselves ever further. So can it still be relevant now? Does its particular brand of anal attention-to-detail and near-endless, constant fettling over the decade-and-a-half it has been on sale all add up to a model which can cut it in 2021?

The first impression of it is 'cor blimey, yes'. The GT-R has lost none of its visual drama and the Nismo-specific upgrades to it, including the absolute sea of exposed carbon-fibre that has been splashed across its form, not least for that whopping T-bar rear spoiler, as well as red pinstriping, forged alloys that shave 100g per corner on bespoke Dunlop tyres, the slatted vents on the front wheel arches, and the use of carbon (painted) for both bonnet and boot ensure this Japanese legend still exudes a purposeful menace as you stride up to it. Not even the most car-averse environmentalist would struggle to ascertain within about 15 seconds what the Nismo is all about.

Inside, we have good news to report on the cabin. Sure, the Nissan is showing its advancing years most readily in here - not least due to that infotainment screen, which is comically outdated in terms of graphical representation and response rates, and which cannot be saved by those geeky 'vital information' read-outs and gauges it can also throw up. However, with lots of Alcantara clothing the place, plenty of red stitching to be espied, some absolutely glorious carbon-backed bucket Recaros for the front-seat occupants, clear dials, more swathes of exposed carbon, Nismo badges here and there, and a general air of solidity and quality, it's actually a very pleasant place to spend some time. It's not flashy inside; just quietly authoritative. We like that.

We'll come on the mechanical changes for the Nismo in the driving section, but something that cannot be ignored here is the price. The 'regular' (for want of a much better word) R35 GT-R range in the UK is around the £84,000-£91,000 bracket. This Nismo? It's £180,095. Now, however much we try and persuade you of the sheer engineering know-how that has been poured into its blocky, unapologetic form, we cannot avoid the fact that's a chuffing ton of money for a vehicle whose basic architecture dates back to the year Gordon Brown became our PM.

It is a particularly stark number when you consider that the far, far newer and incredibly rounded if ideologically analogous 992 Porsche 911 Turbo S costs £156,000. Or that you could get yourself in a track-focused German alternative with a very familiar collection of three letters in its nameplate in the form of the boisterous Mercedes-AMG GT R for less outlay. Everyday supercar fans would probably prefer the considerably cheaper and notably more urbane Audi R8. At least another Japanese high-performance special, the Honda NSX, asks a similarly exorbitant fee for entry to ownership. Although the Honda is at least a hybrid, which partially explains a jaw-dropping £190,000 windscreen sticker.

Anyway, a few days in the company of the Nismo GT-R ought to prove once and for all whether requiring double the price of a standard R35 is worth it. Even if it is positively ancient in the automotive world these days.

How does it drive?

When the R35 was last significantly updated as a standard model in 2017, it went to 570hp and 637Nm, meaning the Nismo's 600hp and 652Nm outputs - both of which are clearly substantial numbers, even in an age of electric vehicles whose potency is measured in megawatts - are only 30hp and 15Nm in advance of the source material. You might also recall that the Nismo appellation has been employed previously on both the 370Z and even the Juke Mk1, so you could - at this stage - be forgiven for thinking that £180,000 is an outrageous demand for an old, compromised and, relatively speaking, not that powerful machine from a performance brand that lacks for the most sparkling of credentials. Well, allow us to set the record straight: for what you get in this 2020MY R35, £180,000 feels like a bargain.

Nissan takes the twin-turbo 3.8-litre V6, known as the VR38DETT and hand-built in a hermetically sealed laboratory by one of only five master craftspeople who really, really know what they're doing, and then bolts on a pair of turbochargers from the competition GT-R which raced in GT3. Not copies of those turbos, not blowers which are 'a little bit like the race car's turbos if you squint a bit'; the actual items from the world of motorsport are used on the road car. They have one fewer vane than the old 2017MY GT-R Nismo's turbos, so they're said to be 14.5 per cent lighter and capable of responding 24 per cent quicker to eliminate lag.

To make sure it stops as well as it goes, the GT-R Nismo is fitted with 410mm carbon-ceramic front brake discs gripped by six-piston callipers, while at the back are 390mm rotors and four-pot shoes. Those discs on the leading axle, by the way, are the biggest fitted to any Japanese production car, period. And it's the first production GT-R to run on carbon stoppers as standard. Weight-saving is going on everywhere in the body, so that the Nismo tips the scales at 1,703kg (hardly light, mind), split 55:45 front-to-rear. The dual-clutch, six-speed transaxle gearbox has been redeveloped to change cogs faster in manual mode and to be smoother in auto. The three-mode adjustable Bilstein suspension has been retuned to cope with all of this specialist hardware, and to compensate for the more rounded tyres, which have bigger contact patches to better grip the road. The aero kit on the car all works to keep the big Nissan planted on the tarmac. It is, in short, nothing less than a weapon for going bleedin' fast, whenever, wherever. As we believe Shakira once sang. Ahem.

At first, when you're just manoeuvring the GT-R Nismo about or even tooling along at normal road velocities, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. An R35 makes a whole cacophony of heavy-duty noises, as its diffs and gearbox and V6 engine chunter and grumble and basically fill the cabin with plenty of mechanical din. There's a word often used to describe the GT-R's soundtrack and it's 'industrial'; we can't think of anything better to sum it up. That said, while the Nissan hardly ever makes a noise which you'd dare to suggest was tuneful, its gruff vocalisations have a deeply appealing, no-nonsense attitude all of their own. It sounds like you're ambling down the pit lane on a speed limiter, a barely restrained beast of a competition car straining at the leash to be let loose. This analogy isn't a million miles from the truth.

Anyway, you'll also notice that the Nismo's ride is firm, to the point of intolerable. You can cycle the Nissan into a setting called 'Comfort', but be aware this is a total misnomer. Compared to a standard R35, which has a gloss of elegance and grace to the way it deals with lumps and bumps in the tarmac, the Nismo is uncompromising in the extreme. The car also feels heavy, through its meaty but informative steering and the way it responds to demands for rapid changes of direction or moderate application of the carbon brakes. All things considered, it's not a very relaxing car in which to simply 'make progress'. You'll also be staring down the barrel of 18.6mpg average economy, no matter how carefully you drive it. That's what we achieved across 156 miles of testing and the best we could eke out of the VR38DETT was 22mpg, only elicited by us driving the car like a particularly cautious saint.

That's not the raison d'Ítre of the R35 Nismo, though. And when you take it by the scruff of the neck, you suddenly realise what all the wonder is about. Make no mistake, its all-grip, all-go manners might not have changed much in almost 15 years, but when a GT-R is hard-charging it's a breathtaking and brutal experience, and the Nismo is all of that and bit more besides.

There's a real wealth of detail and heft in that steering, while the balance of the car is sensational. More than any other R35 we've driven before, the Nismo loves to be steered on the throttle, with a sensation that it'll slide before its nose ever even dreams about ploughing straight on. Meanwhile, the damping takes on a real sense of taut control in the mid-speed range, while the carbon brakes are phenomenal; once you've got a bit of pace on the dial, the Nissan never feels its 1.7-tonne weight because it'll now switch directions with real alacrity, and those brakes have perfect pedal progression and monster bite.

And it remains as startlingly fast as ever. Both the turbos and the dual-clutch 'box feel instantaneous in their responses when you're on it, so that all you get is an unrelenting, terrifyingly fast and utterly addictive hit of acceleration if you floor the GT-R. You need to watch its speedo carefully, because the way it's oriented and marked out makes you think you're not going that fast. . . until you realise 100mph is only about 30 per cent of the way round the gauge. Overlaying the bonkers, bonkers speed the Nismo possesses is its roaring voice. It's a loud, boosty, hissing, snarling sound, not in the remotest bit delicate nor particularly soulful, but in the way a heavy-metal singer's screaming voice is appealing in its own way while an opera singer's aria doesn't please everyone, you'll enjoy the Nissan's V6 growl.

Honestly, don't let its age fool you. The R35 Nismo GT-R continues to be magnificent. And long may it continue in its own inimitable vein, we say.

Verdict

The simple summation here is that there's still nothing in the world that drives remotely like the R35 Nissan GT-R Nismo. It's a very particular method of going ridiculously quickly, and it won't satisfy everyone - it certainly won't if you're into chassis delicacy and nimble responses above remorseless, bludgeoning efficiency. But there remains a thrilling, remarkable fascination with the way the Nissan's hyper-intelligent onboard technology can corral all of this power and weight into a usable high-performance car, and thus the Nismo feels like a wonderful, non-conformist outlier in this ecological day and age. There's still masses of appeal to vehicles as stunningly talented as this high-end GT-R; so much so that a 2022MY Nismo has already been confirmed. It would appear, then, that this bellowing Godzilla is not about to go quietly into the night. Not just yet.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

3 3 3 3 3 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

3 3 3 3 3 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 18 May 2021



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2021 Nissan GT-R Nismo 2020MY (R35). Image by Nissan.2021 Nissan GT-R Nismo 2020MY (R35). Image by Nissan.2021 Nissan GT-R Nismo 2020MY (R35). Image by Nissan.2021 Nissan GT-R Nismo 2020MY (R35). Image by Nissan.2021 Nissan GT-R Nismo 2020MY (R35). Image by Nissan.

2021 Nissan GT-R Nismo 2020MY (R35). Image by Nissan.2021 Nissan GT-R Nismo 2020MY (R35). Image by Nissan.2021 Nissan GT-R Nismo 2020MY (R35). Image by Nissan.2021 Nissan GT-R Nismo 2020MY (R35). Image by Nissan.2021 Nissan GT-R Nismo 2020MY (R35). Image by Nissan.








 

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