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.