The 2021 Nissan GT-R Still Annihilates Anything It Wants
Nissan's supercar slayer has barely changed over the past dozen years, but it still rocks.
Nissan has delivered six generations of its GT-R since 1969, known as slayers of twisty mountain roads and race circuits. My appreciation for Nissan's most hardcore car was initially developed by playing Gran Turismo as a teenager, fueled by the legendary All Japanese Grand Touring Championship models I frequently used. The Nissan GT-R R35 generation landed on the scene in 2007 offering wild performance for a fraction of the price of supercars it could smoke.
Few cars have had underpinnings stick around as long as the current R35 platform. Even though it has been around since George W. Bush was still occupying the White House, Nissan's halo performance car still earns some serious street cred as a dream platform for many tuners. In the current GT-R's lifespan, Nissan has only introduced small facelifts and iterative updates, yet has steadily increased the price. Does Nissan's R35 GT-R stack up against the current crop of performance cars at a bargain price like it did when it was launched?
The Big Figures
The Nissan GT-R is powered by the twin-turbo VR38DETT 3.8-liter V6, which is still assembled by hand--in a chamber that's cleaner than most operating rooms--by specially-trained technicians known as Takumi. This powerplant produces 565 horsepower at 6,800 RPM and 467 lb-ft (633 Nm) of torque from 3,300 - 5,800 RPM. Hooked up to a six-speed dual-clutch transmission driven through a rear transaxle and all-wheel-drive, the GT-R can rip from 0-60 MPH in 2.9 seconds, hit 100 MPH in 6.9 seconds, and will make a 1/4-mile sprint in just 11.2 seconds.
The Nissan GT-R's body looks massive versus its competition that includes the Porsche 911 Turbo and Mercedes-AMG GTR, but I love its impactful proportions and its continuation of the iconic four circular taillights. The R35 is 183 inches long, 75 wide, 54 tall, and tucks a 63-inch track front and rear with a 109-inch wheelbase inside its dimensions. Overall, it's just longer and slightly narrower than a Porsche 911 Turbo, but boasts a huge 13-inch wheelbase advantage.
When the fighters weigh in, the GT-R does take a knock, as its curb weight is a hefty 3,935 pounds (1,785 kilos), nearly 300 more than the Porsche. Composed of a combination of steel, carbon fiber, and die-cast aluminum, the GT-R doesn't get the same attention to shaving weight as its more modern competitors. The Nissan's exterior may look the same as the car from 2009, but in 2017 the GT-R received plenty of updates to sharpen the edges while making it slightly more slippery through the air.
When the R35 was launched as a 2009 model, it was $70,000. Nissan has creatively adjusted the GT-R's price over the years, to make the 2021 Nissan GT-R Premium now start at $113,540. Covered in the quad-coat Bayside Blue paint (also used on the iconic R34 Skyline GT-R and the 50th Anniversary Edition), GT-R badged floor mats, the total MSRP of my tester rings up at $121,040. If you need more performance, Nissan offers a NISMO GT-R which cranks out 600 horsepower while offering a stiffer body and chassis, and incorporates plenty of carbon fiber body panels to shave weight and provide an even meaner appearance, but you'll drop over $200,000 to get one.
A Remarkable Grand Tourer
Despite its obvious performance credentials, the Nissan GT-R is a wonderful car to drive in normal city conditions. Ride quality and compliance are civil in ordinary driving, thanks to Bilstein's DampTronic 3-position driver adjustable suspension, and the speed-sensitive steering is simple to use anywhere. Packing a ton of power, the GT-R's engine is remarkably chill when you want it to be, but it will pounce if you smash the accelerator. I like that the engine tone is subtle when you're driving with the powertrain in the normal setting, with the slightest rumble from that potent front-mid-mounted monster.
Considered to be a 2+2 coupe, the GT-R's rear seats are better suited to a laptop bag than humans, and thankfully the front seats are big and plush. Opt for the $4,280 optional premium interior upgrade, and the majority of the cabin gets wrapped in thick, soft leather rather than Alcantara. There's a bit of sound deadening in the GT-R, but the extra grippy Dunlop tires exhibit a ton of road noise, which Nissan's active noise cancellation couldn't eliminate.
I can't overlook the switchgear from a decade-old Nissan Altima, which really has no place in a six-figure performance car. Stuck with the awful infotainment system used in lesser Nissan models, the GT-R does benefit from Apple CarPlay for using your preferred music and navigation apps, and the Bose audio system does thump.
Road tripping in the Nissan GT-R is easy thanks to a massive trunk, with loads of depth to swallow up all your luggage, and a big 19.5-gallon fuel tank. Having spent a long day driving to another city and back to get my COVID vaccination, the GT-R stunned me with its cruising comfort. EPA fuel estimates are 16/22/18 city/highway/combined, and I actually hit the combined estimate during my test week that included a blend of behaved driving and--I'm not ashamed to say--a not small amount of driving the absolute piss out of the GT-R.
Godzilla Unleashes The Fury
Tinkering with the engine over the years, Nissan has mildly increased power while improving cooling and efficiency. Revisions include upgraded turbochargers (as of 2020), revised exhaust manifolds, and an incredibly light titanium exhaust system that flexes some ultra cool blue tips. Spouting from those tips is a wonderful soundtrack that's equal parts mechanical and angry, and avoids the muted tones too many modern turbocharged supercars suffer from. The GT-R's gauge pod is the same old unit that Nissan stuck in the R35 when it launched, but it gets the job done. The center screen instrumentation is still designed by Gran Turismo creators Polyphony Digital, which offers a ton of custom setups, and looks ridiculously cool.
True to supercar form, the Nissan GT-R is wickedly fast when you storm a back road. Toggle the R modes for the powertrain, suspension, and stability control, and the GT-R will turn any stretch of tarmac into a wasteland without being too harsh on its driver. The R35's engine exhibits a good chunk of old fashioned turbo lag, but once the boost arrives, you'll giggle while seeing the analog speedometer needle soar. Even without using launch control, the GT-R surges ahead with the intensity of an F-14 launching from an aircraft carrier.
Underneath, Nissan meticulously engineers the GT-R to provide optimal performance when you want to thrash it. Steering design and calibration is done so that drivers have to make minimal corrections when pointed straight, even at speeds up to 186 MPH. In R mode, the steering weight increases perfectly, with razor sharp response and exceptional precision, and while the suspension firms up, it isn't too jittery. When I flung the GT-R into a fast corner, I was stunned how easy it was to carry a stupid amount of speed, stab the throttle, and smoothly let the steering wheel unwind as the software---and likely some witchcraft--made the GT-R exit the bend with controlled ferocity.
Managing the GT-R's power is Nissan's ATTESA E-TS all-wheel-drive system that exhibits 0:100 rear-wheel torque distribution during normal driving conditions, but will distribute up to 50% of the torque to the front wheels under high demand. The R35 computes the perfect balance of power distribution based on tire slip, road surface, vehicle speed, lateral acceleration, and yaw rate. Gearshifts through the 6-speed twin-clutch transmission are exceptionally quick, and are aggressive yet precise when the R mode is engaged.
The GT-R's transmission sports an adaptive shift control that's designed to adjust shift schedules based on the driver's inputs and behaviors, which will provide even more performance on-track. On a favorite back road, I preferred using the magnesium paddle shifters in manual mode, which give a nice click and an instant gear change. High road noise from Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT 600 rubber is greatly outweighed by the sheer level of grip in the most demanding conditions, with those tires wrapped around lightweight forged RAYS 20-inch wheels. When you're disposing of a silly amount of speed before turning in, Brembo-supplied 15-inch steel rotors front and rear are squeezed by six-piston front and four-piston rear monoblock calipers, and despite being steel they never exhibited any fade.
You'll be reminded that the R35 isn't small nor light when you're flogging it, but its composure in any corner at any speed is obscene. As momentum increases, the GT-R seemingly shrinks around you, making it dance like much more expensive and more modern supercars. What takes some of the fun out of thrashing the GT-R on a fun back road as a proper driver is knowing that the software will make you look good behind the wheel even if you aren't, but to truly exploit the R35's abilities your driving skills need to be well above average.
The GT-R Still Rocks For The Money
When the R35 first arrived, it was a technical exercise that employed so much engineering and software trickery that supplied silly amounts of grip to make any ham-fisted idiot appear more competent. It isn't easy to ignore the fact that the Nissan GT-R has increased significantly in price over the years while only mildly being updated. I don’t care that the 2021 GT-R is dated versus the more popular supercars that it can contend with. Even at $120,000, the GT-R is still significantly less expensive than its competition, and more closely aligned to what you pay for a Porsche 718 GT4.
The aspects of the GT-R that make it dated also allow it to retain the sensations of a more involved and raw driver's car. The Nissan GT-R continues to be ridiculously fast on any stretch of pavement, gets plenty of respect from people that are into performance cars, and still pleases this demanding driver who gets to play with all sorts of modern fast metal. I'd happily rip the GT-R around twisty roads and race tracks for several years while paying homage to the iconic Skylines I have loved since high school.