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Malcolm Flynn road and track tests the new Nissan GT-R Nismo, with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch in Bathurst.
Even the basic – and now legendary - R35 GT-R is one of the most hardcore, track-focused performance cars you can buy, with a reputation for being a little too racetrack-centric thanks to its stiff suspension, robot-noise dual-clutch transmission and general lack of refinement.
If you’re buying one to enjoy its performance, these are all forgivable and somewhat necessary traits, but likely not if you bought it to ferry your mother-in-law. It is conceivable you may enjoy her discomfort, however.
The Nismo is a pretty late arrival at the R35 party, first appearing in 2013 and boasting an even more unbelievable Nurburgring time of 7:08.679 with the expensive N Attack Package option ticked. That’s just 11s slower than a million-dollar Porsche 918, for the record.
The MY17 facelifted version finally introduces the Nismo brand to Australia this week, but everybody knows: If you drive a race car in the real world, you're going to have a bad time.
Perhaps the greatest surprise of 2017 is the fact that the Nismo isn't a stair-bashing skateboard unless you tell it to be, but more on that later.
|Nissan GT-R 2017: Track Edition (nismo)|
|Engine Type||3.8L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The 2013 Nismo was already a cut above the regular GT-R in the looks stakes, but the new MY17 version has been treated to the stronger, more aerodynamic body changes and interior upgrades applied to the two regular GT-R variants late last year.
With the red pinstriping it looks like a rabid dog wearing lipstick.
It also scores a fresh front bumper/splitter combo, fashioned from the same carbon fibre that adorns the Nismo-specific rear bumper/diffuser, side skirts and giant rear wing carried over from the previous version. All conspire to improve overall downforce without adding drag, while extra ducts in the lower sections improve cooling.
You wouldn’t call the result beautiful, but it’s packed with aggression and combined with the red pinstriping it looks like a rabid dog wearing lipstick.
Under the skin, the Nismo changes aren't as extreme as what you get going from a 911 Carrera to a 911 Turbo, but it's got a whole bunch of little tweaks from top to bottom.
One mod you won’t be able to simply bolt on to a regular GT-R is what Nissan describes as a bonded body. Shared with the recently added GT-R Track Edition, the Nismo’s body is reinforced at several key points with engineering glue before it is welded together.
Beyond the other MY17 strengthening and other suspension reinforcements, this helps the Nismo’s body deal with uprated suspension comprised of a thicker rear swaybar, retuned dampers and spring rates three times stiffer than a regular GT-R.
Other Nismo tweaks include half inch wider 10-inch front wheels that also widen the track by 10mm, slightly pumped front wheelarches, the same lightweight Rays H-pattern spoked forged wheels and Nismo-specific tyre compound as the Track Edition, with stronger 14M hub bolts (up from 12M) all round and a carbon fibre boot lid. All-up, the Nismo is 26kg lighter than the base GT-R Premium Edition.
On the inside, there's special carbon-backed Recaro seats, Alcantara all over the place and Nismo detailing to the point where it's dripping with motorsport cool. We wouldn't mind seeing actual carbon fibre on the centre console for our 300 grand, however.
Five colours are available, ranging from Jet Black, to Vibrant Red, Ivory Pearl, Super Silver and Matte Dark Grey.
The Nismo’s circuit prowess and its racer looks paint a picture of it as a 911 GT3 or GT3 RS equivalent, but its philosophy is more like a combination of this pair thrown together with the Turbo S. We’re happy to simply call it Nismo.
With a $299,000 list price, the GT-R Nismo is easily the most expensive Nissan product to reach our shores to date, and a full $110,000 more expensive than the cheapest MY17 GT-R.
It's also $5800 more than a Porsche 911 GT3, but still more than $85,000 cheaper than a 911 Turbo, $88,000 more affordable than the GT3 RS and $157,000 less than the Turbo S.
Creature comforts include an 11-speaker Bose sound system with a noise-cancelling function, the new MY17 eight-inch multimedia system with satnav and performance monitoring screens, dual-zone climate control, proximity unlocking, and leather trim in most places where Alcantara isn’t.
The Nismos’s special front seats lose the seat heaters and we wouldn’t mind seeing active cruise control on the list.
There’s no N Attack Package on the options list this time around, and like the lesser MY17 GT-R variants there are surprisingly no official performance claims.
For those who want to use their Nismo every day, it’s got the same cramped two-passenger rear seat arrangement as other GT-Rs, plus a boot that looks to be designed around a need to carry two golf bags.
There’s also two cupholders in the front, two in the back, and bottle holders in the carpet-lined doors.
The front seats may be exotic in construction, but are still pretty comfortable pews for real humans. Once you’ve set them in position the first time, you’ll probably never notice the manual fore and aft adjustment, but the backrest angle is still electric.
Like all Australia and NZ-spec GT-R’s, the Nismo also does without ISOFIX child seat mounts in favour of the less rigid but traditional top-tether arrangement.
The GT-R’s hermetically hand-built, plasma-lined and builder-signed VR38DETT twin-turbo 3.8-litre V6 engine is one of the sexiest packages of our time, and the Nismo’s bedside manner is further intensified by using the same turbos as the GT3 racer.
Yep, the ones you may have seen pummelling Mount Panorama for 12 hours last weekend and taking the chequered flag in 2015. The turbos are a larger diameter and offer more flow than the standard GT-R units and are complemented by an upgraded fuel pump.
Considering the base GT-R makes 419kW/632Nm, the Nismo’s 441kW/652Nm figures might seem a little understated - as many past GT-R figures have been - but these are still pretty astounding from a sub-4.0-litre engine that's about to celebrate its tenth birthday.
The extra output seems to be balanced by its slightly lower weight when it comes to fuel consumption, with the Nismo carrying an identical 11.7L/100km official combined fuel figure to the regular GT-Rs. Top-spec 98RON unleaded is recommended so on a relaxed day you might be able to squeeze 630km from the 74L fuel tank.
One significant downside of the Nismo’s sexy but comfortable front seats is that Recaro didn’t design them with side airbags incorporated. The curtain airbags fitted to all other GT-Rs work in conjunction with the side airbags, so they’re missing too.
The GT-R has never been rated by ANCAP and lacks a few now-common safety aids like AEB and blind-spot monitoring, but the Nismo does pack dual front airbags and a reversing camera in addition to the now-legislated stability control.
3 years / 100,000 km warranty
The GT-R Nismo is covered by Nissan’s three year/100,000km warranty, but with service intervals pegged at six months or 10,000km. Like all Nissan models, there’s no capped-price servicing scheme, but free inspections are available at 2,000km, 12 months, 24 months, and 36 months.
Pushing the starter button brings the R35-characteristic clattering of linkages from the centre console, but it feels more of a character trait in the Nismo than an NVH compromise.
Our first kilometres were spent trundling down one of Bathurst’s several main streets, and on the smooth surfaces I honestly couldn’t feel any comfort compromise over the GT-R Premium Edition I drove very recently.
Another surprise is that the steering wheel is round, unlike the flat-bottom that seems to have become the default option for signifying performance. Unless you’re trying to climb aboard an open-wheeled race car with less than a turn lock-to lock, round is always better and never feels like a 50 cent coin to steer. On the flipside, the Nismo’s Alcantara rim isn’t as grippy as actual leather for bare hands.
Heading out of town onto some genuine rural back roads, the Nismo’s sharpness was more evident, and you seem to hear every single stone flicked up from the road surface. With the dampers left in Comfort mode it never managed to reach the jarring I expected though. Flip the toggle into R-mode, however, and it’s a completely different story of course, but anyone who drives around in the stiffest mode is a tool anyway.
Unless you’re talking about the transmission that is, which is a pretty lethargic shifter if left in automatic Comfort mode. If you want the Nismo to shift for you, it’s a lot more responsive in R-Mode but you’ll no doubt use more fuel. Up to you. Flicked across to manual, and the dual-clutcher rams home each gear change as impressively as it did in 2007.
Is it fast? My word yes, but not discernibly more than the regular GT-R. It’ll punch you in the back from about 3000rpm onwards and just throw the giant 1739kg coupe at the horizon, with a full-bore blast from the quad elephant gun exhausts. It isn’t symphonic, but does sound like 441kW being thrust rearward, which is still a good thing.
The Nismo’s launch incorporated the same place where the winning Group A R32 GT-R incited a “pack of arseholes” in 1992.
Our road drive was in the rain, and covered some pretty greasy surfaces. This sounds like a nightmare for a 591HP car on essentially semi-slick tyres, but it gave the rear-biased all-wheel drive system a chance to show its strengths.
We had no trouble coaxing a wriggle from the rears, but it’s just brilliant how quickly the system pulls itself into line and propels you forward, before any interaction from the traction control.
Could I live with a Nismo every day? Surprisingly, you bet. I’d even take it on longer trips, and it would always feel special.
Speaking of special, the Nismo’s media launch wisely incorporated the same place where the winning Group A R32 GT-R incited a “pack of arseholes” in 1992, before being met with a royal reception when the GT3 version of the R35 won the 12 Hour in 2015. Yes, Mount Panorama.
Roaring out of pit lane, the Nismo easily hit an indicated 230km/h up Mountain Straight, right after becoming VERY light over the hump just before the braking zone. The Nismo has downforce, but not enough to pin down more than 1700kg over that.
Threading it through Griffins, it still pulled like mad up the hill and needs a good stab of the brakes to set it up for The Cutting, where it continued to pull like crazy up the steepest climb on the circuit.
Across the top, you’re leaning hard on the tyres for most of it, so the GT-R’s inherent balance inspired confidence that it would keep heading where it was pointed, which is pretty important given the amount of grass lining the track up there.
Flying over the edge of Skyline is one of life’s great thrills, but even more thrilling is dealing with the increasing frequency zig zags that are The Esses and The Dipper.
The GT-R is a big car, and you feel small within it. While this also makes the track feel narrow, it’s incredible how willing to change direction the GT-R is through here. How they used to manage this section while downchanging a floor-shifter and heel-toeing on the pedals is just amazing. In the Nismo, however, it’s two hands on the wheel at all times, plucking second with one of the paddles at precisely the right moment and a focused brake foot. And if you don’t lift the front left off the deck through The Dipper, you’re going too slow.
By the time we reached Forrest's Elbow, it was time for a fair bit of brake again. Once past its pretty iffy apex and back on the power, there’s a surprise dip that would likely upset a rear-driver under full power. Not so the Nismo, which never feels faster than rocketing down Conrod Straight.
We weren’t going for laptimes or chasing sponsorship, but our indicated 270km/h V-max is pretty impressive considering Nissan insisted on a very safe braking marker just after the second hump.
This made The Chase a pretty easy affair, but hammering out through the off-camber right-hander meant we were probably doing the double tonne again before we reached the bridge.
Confronted by the 90-degree Murrays Corner soon after, we should all agree how smart the then-controversial addition of The Chase was in 1987.
Mount Panorama is one of the most challenging race circuits in the world, and the Nismo’s ability to change direction, accelerate and stop is just astounding for such a big car. It's the track and the concrete walls that intimidate you, not the car. The Nismo does exactly the opposite, in fact.
The GT-R is the first of several hotted-up Nismo Nissans due for Australia. We'll be surprised if they're all this special, but the brand is off to a pretty awesome start. Is it worth an extra $110,000 over a GT-R Premium Edition? Probably not, but it is the most awesome GT-R yet, it’s at home on the road as well as the race track, and still a mile under what Porsche will charge you for a 911 Turbo.
|Nismo||3.8L, PULP, 6 SP DUAL-CLUTCH AUTO||$216,800 – 274,120||2017 Nissan GT-R 2017 Nismo Pricing and Specs|
|Premium||3.8L, PULP, 6 SP DUAL-CLUTCH AUTO||$112,900 – 142,780||2017 Nissan GT-R 2017 Premium Pricing and Specs|
|Premium LUX Trim||3.8L, PULP, 6 SP DUAL-CLUTCH AUTO||$116,500 – 147,290||2017 Nissan GT-R 2017 Premium LUX Trim Pricing and Specs|
|Track Edition (nismo)||3.8L, PULP, 6 SP DUAL-CLUTCH AUTO||$131,600 – 166,430||2017 Nissan GT-R 2017 Track Edition (nismo) Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||7|
|Engine & trans||9|