Goodwood Test: 2021 Nissan GT-R Nismo Review
The Nissan GT-R is not the future any more. A car that is 14 years old (yes there have been two facelifts, but the car underneath was launched in 2007) cannot be at the very forefront of motoring no matter what you do. And yet, thanks to Nissan’s “Kaizen” principle – the equivalent of finding constant marginal improvements – the GT-R manages to still hold a candle to much more modern fare. There has always been a slightly bonkers partner to the standard GT-R, in the form of the GT-R Nismo, which tries to stay ahead of the competition. This is the latest one, in which the maestros of maniacal performance at Nismo have inserted the turbo from a GT3 car and tried to tighten up the GT-R. But you can’t help but wonder if this is just one final fling?
- Performance in right conditions mind blowing
- Steering manages to be light but characterful
- Feels involving
We don't like
- Ride is incredibly harsh
- Interior very dated
- Hideously expansive
Not a lot has changed with the Nissan GT-R over the years. Yes the grille is a bit more prominent and the lower portion now has sections that ape the flow of the lights down the front of the car. But everything else has stood largely still. It still has those iconic GT-R round lights at the back, the pentagonal headlights and the rather upright stance that made its GT3 equivalent look so much bigger than the competition. The Nismo has taken that GT-R formula and cranked everything up to 11. Some of the bits work stylistically – like the massive carbon splitter, the big rear wing and the NACA ducts on the bonnet – and some look a little too Max Power for my liking – the carbon sills that seem ripe for tearing on the lowest of kerbs and the fact that it is only available in white. But as a whole it does what it should do, that is be the most extreme version of the Nissan GT-R ever made.
The rims – only actually 20 inches – enclose the largest brakes ever fitted to a Japanese car, complete with very unsubtle yellow Brembo callipers. The big rear wing fits the car rather than looking to aftermarket, and the giant titanium-tipped exhausts shine in a bluish tinge that stands proud of the white and black of the rest of the car. There’s lots of Nismo slashes as well to increase the downforce and improve general aero. These include the tiny winglets on the front arch, just to the side of the nose, and the very abrupt elongated nature of the tail. It’s a car that you can’t miss, and while not to everyone’s taste, I can tell you definitely excites every young child that sees it – and to an extent the child in me.
Performance and Handling
When the GT-R launched it was something a bit different. A supercar with an affordable price tag and accessible to anyone performance thanks to its incredible all-wheel-drive and stability systems. It was the usable supercar that was far ahead of the crowd. The first thing to jump out of a drive in the new GT-R Nismo is how the competition can match it these days. Cars like McLaren’s 720S or an Audi R8 can destroy miles in the same way the GT-R has always done, and, if anything, with even less fuss for the driver. The GT-R is now the one that feels more mechanical.
Push the button and the noise is all mechanics – the starter whirrs into life as if it is feeling every single one of the six cylinders it’s trying to kick into life, a proper old fashioned motorsport noise. Then there’s not a lot – in spite of those massive pipes. The 3.8-litre V6 is the same basic engine that has always powered the GT-R, whether Nismo or not, but now we’re talking 600PS (441kW) and 653Nm (481lb ft), a significant uplift over the original GT-R, but no change on the outgoing model. What has changed inside that engine is the turbocharger. The GT-R Nismo now comes fitted with an identical high-capacity turbo as the GT3 racing car. That means one fewer blade inside than the standard unit, and each blade is 0.3mm thinner. It doesn’t make the engine any more powerful, but as there is less internal mass, and therefore inertia, to deal with, the reaction to throttle inputs has been sharpened up.
To be honest, when you drive the GT-R Nismo you’d be hard pushed at first to believe that. Unlike many of its contemporaries, which have spent a near decade developing ways to avoid lag and fill the torque gap, the GT-R still has a noticeable gap in the lower rev range with little torque to speak of (relatively of course). When it does fire up though, all hell pretty much breaks loose. Throttle response in the right rev range is lightening quick and the engine feels way more powerful than its 600PS would suggest. If you plant the throttle in the wrong gear mid-corner, you’ll find a sudden wealth of extra torque, so sometimes the lag is actually quite welcome.
Performance is still mindblowing though. Old it may be, but few things in the world can grip in the middle of a corner like the GT-R Nismo. There’s a little understeer in the turn in – it is all-wheel-drive after all – but that just encourages you to try and take as wide an entry as you can, because if you can carry speed through that entry, you can only magnify it through the rest of the corner. The way the GT-R will hang on to a piece of tarmac goes way beyond what you’ll be willing to try on the road, with very, very little sign that the car is ready to give in at all. In fact for all its sophisticated electronics you really have to be a tool for them to light up the dash. It does require the right road though, as anything broken and bumpy will unsettle the ultra-firm suspension, throwing you out of your lane if you’re not careful, and ‘comfort’ mode must have been a joke made by the engineers because it’s anything but.
However, when you find that smooth tarmac, or a track, it makes sense. The damping is firm to the point of pain, but the ride control is excellent, gathering everything together incredibly well. In fact despite being harsh, the “R” mode, the top level of firmness, is the most comfortable as it feels like it’s where the ride control was designed to be. And then the steering comes alive, somehow managing to stay fingertip light, but full of feel. Altogether, and with the excellent all-wheel-drive system just hunting traction like it’s grouse in a Scottish autumn, it fills you with confidence and makes you feel involved. It’s a physical drive, with the firm damping and peaky engine throwing you around, but it’s a satisfying one when it goes right. There’s something about the way that it all communicates every bump, warp and slip in the travel that feels like in reality you couldn’t get closer if your hands replaced the tyres.
The inside is dated, basically. And not just that it looks dated, the actual systems are old. The Sat-Nav looks like it’s being run from a ZX Spectrum. What Nissan has done is swathe almost everything in suede or leather to try and hide it. And it does a decent job. It’s painfully obvious that it doesn’t hold a candle to modern interiors, but it isn’t unpleasant, and the materials they have used for the most part are good. The plastic infotainment surround however is cheap and I don’t like the carbon-fibre transmission tunnel. However, the seats up front are excellent, while the rears are strangely large in a way that negates any use, and you do wonder if Nismo would have saved a bunch of weight by just ditching them, rather aspirational cupholder and all.
Technology and Features
Acceptable, rather than special. The GT-R Nismo was never going to come festooned with interior trinkets, when in reality it would much rather you stuck it on a track. LED headlights, all the trick systems and the Alcantara and leather that coat the interior are all standard, as is the Bluetooth, audio, lap timer switch on the wheel and those excellent Recaro seats. Reversing sensors, cruise control, keyless entry and climate control finish off the list. Very little on the car we drove was non-standard, but then the base RRP is around £177k, so you would expect it.
This is most likely the last GT-R we’ll get to drive new. Certainly the last of this kind and the last with a fully petrol-drive drive system. Nissan is all about electric now and the GT-R feels like a dinosaur among the new launches. But perhaps that’s the beauty of the car, no one buying a GT-R Nismo will care that the interior is poor, that it looks insane and sounds a bit dull. They’ll want the experience they get driving it, and to do things they never thought they could on a track. Being a dinosaur is the right place for a car nicknamed Godzilla, really.
This score is an average based on aggregated reviews from trusted and verified sources.
3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V6
|Power||600PS (441kW) @ 6,800rpm|
|Torque||652Nm (481lb ft) @ 5,600rpm|
|Transmission||Six-speed double-clutch, all-wheel-drive|
Reviewed by Ben Miles