The Nissan GT-R: the everyday Japanese supercar that’s been a thorn in the sides of Porsche, Audi and Ferrari since it was launched in 2007. The Nissan GT-R: a hand-built polariser of opinion that either garners undying forum love or the kind of contempt that launches a thousand internet trolls. The Nissan GT-R: an automotive icon that somehow sees more tweaks and changes per annum than the South African National Treasury.
Unfortunately, in the past 10 years I’ve probably driven the GT-R only once. For some reason, Nissan South Africa treats this car like it’s some irreplaceable historical artifact, like the Rosetta Stone, the Mona Lisa or Elvis’s jumpsuit. I find this perplexing because Porsche will casually hand me the keys to a R3.2-million Turbo S for an entire week.
When I raised this point with Nissan their PR team relented and agreed to give me a new R2.1-million GT-R for a whole 24 hours. Not a great deal of time then, is it? Anyway, I made the most of it, took an afternoon off and drove as many kilometres as humanly possible. Close to 400km, in fact.
And in doing so I discovered that the 2017 model is a totally different animal to the one I drove back when Zuma and Juju were still embraced in a passionate bromance.
That GT-R was not the sort of car that took kindly to stop-start traffic. It would clunk and grind and shudder and stutter, its drivetrain reminding you that it was designed exclusively for the racetrack rather than R55 tailbacks. This time around, it’s really not bothered.
Now and then you hear the odd rumble from the differential, feel an occasional jerk of indecision from the gearbox, but these are in no way annoying or intrusive. In fact if anything they add some character. In contrast to the new and flawlessly refined Audi R8 V10 Plus, the GT-R subtly reminds you that you’re actually driving in something mechanical. Which I quite enjoyed.
Constant traffic. It’s inevitable in Johannesburg. Still, it gives you time to get better acquainted with a car’s interior. Despite the price tag, the GT-R used to feel no more premium than its lowly 370Z sibling. Happily things are better now. The carpets have swollen in pile and plushness. There’s leather stitched to almost every conceivable surface. The (heated) seats are more comfortable and the digital infotainment system is a joy to use — partly because there’s a BMW iDrive-aping control wheel on the centre console to help you navigate all the menus. No longer are you forced to prod the touchscreen with your finger.
Another great feature is that the gearshift levers are attached to the back of the steering wheel instead of being mounted to the actual steering column. Hallelujah. Topped off with an 11-speaker Bose sound system plus more insulation from outside noise, the GT-R now feels like a proper GT car.
Even the way it rides reflects this. Its predecessors — the one I drove at least — were spinal crackers of the highest order. Yet thanks to some fettling the 2017 model, with its adaptive Bilstein dampers set to comfort mode, is light years more fluid across rough asphalt.
So what about performance? This is probably the main reason people are attracted to the GT-R in the first place. I had feared that time may have blunted the Nissan’s infamous reputation but this is not the case. It is still ridiculously fast. Fast in a way that coaxes all kinds of explicit expletives from lips. Fast in a way that makes you live in constant fear of receiving court summonses in the post. Fast in a way that will still have people in more expensive cars cursing their purchasing decision.
The GT-R is still very much capable of winding you in a straight line. Around the corners it’s equally adept. Wherever you point, it goes with minimum fuss and maximum grip. Unlike that evil breed of supercar that genuinely wants to kill you, this Nissan flatters whoever is behind the wheel thanks to its steadfast all-wheel drive and numerous clever computer systems.
Some will think this is dull and uninvolving. But when you encounter a sudden cloudburst while exiting a sweeping right-hander at over 200km/h, well, I can assure you that it is not — in fact it’s genius.
Those 24 hours elapsed quickly. However I was able to ascertain that the grand supremo of the Nissan range has matured to a new level of mass-market appeal — despite its increase in price. Nerdy fanboys will still appreciate its raw pace and tech while the casual, everyday pundit will delight in that newfound cushiness. The 2017 Nissan GT-R: an ongoing evolution that has come of age. – Thomas Falkiner
FAST FACTS: 2017 NISSAN GT-R
Engine: 3.8-litre V6 twin-turbo
Power: 408kW at 6800rpm
Torque: 632Nm from 3300 to 5800rpm
Transmission: six-speed dual clutch
Top speed: 315km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 14.4l/100km (achieved)
CO2: 275g/km (claimed)
Price: From R2.15-million