Test drive: Nissan GT-R Nismo

Nissan GT R Nismo

With the power of a Porsche 911 Turbo at the fraction of the price, the Nissan GT-R won a cult following. The latest, possibly final, version is far from cheap, but it still leaves Tiff Needell grinning from ear to ear

If you’ve ever wondered what the definition of a cult car is, then look no further than the Nissan GT-R. It stunned the supercar world when it arrived in 2007. At first glance, it seemed like just another slightly bulbous Japanese GT with fancy flared arches that would prove to be all show and no go. Yet, with 480hp and four-wheel drive, it had enough electronic trickery to make it perform like a nimble sportscar.

It followed in the tyre tracks of the legendary Skyline GT-R, Nissan’s first gran turismo racer. Having dominated the Japanese touring car scene in the early 1970s, the Skyline GT-R was born again in 1989 to begin 10 years of success on the Group A racing scene – especially in Australia, where it was nicknamed Godzilla.

The arrival of the new GT-R marked the end of a gentlemen’s agreement among Japanese manufacturers that had limited production car power to 280hp. It had a price tag of £55,000 but the performance of a £90,000 Porsche 911 Turbo. It wasn’t sold directly in the UK until 2009, but its reputation spread quickly and private imports started pouring in. Over the years the power has gradually stepped up from 480hp to its current 570hp, with a price tag of £79,820. The 911 Turbo S now costs £146,000 – and it still can’t outrun this eastern upstart.

But that is for the standard GT-R, because in 2015 Nissan introduced a new version: the 600hp Nismo. Built on a special production line, it featured an engine upgrade and a fine-tuned suspension and aero package. Its red-trimmed carbon front spoiler and side skirts, plus a carbon rear wing, made it stand out, but the main improvements could really only be appreciated on a track, where the extra downforce and enhanced suspension combined to reduce lap times.

Now, after 10 glorious years and with a new GT-R surely coming soon, there’s perhaps the final version on offer: an even faster GT-R Nismo! Not with any more horsepower but with further suspension and aero development to shave a few extra seconds off its Nürburgring lap time.

The only visible difference is the gentle curve of its red-lined front splitter, as opposed to two steps and a horizontal line, so you’ll have to park it facing outwards if you want any passer-by to notice. But anyone inside the car will feel the difference out on the road – this is a very stiffly sprung, track-honed special. The handling of the GT-R has never been what I’d call classic: with four-wheel drive, clever differentials and turbo lag, it always seems to have a mind of its own; you’re just there to hang on for the ride. The Nismo simply accentuates that, lights up the grin on your face and pumps the adrenaline through your veins.

This car is neither for the fainthearted nor for those seeking a comfortable long-distance cruiser. And, if you want what will probably be the last incarnation of the GT-R, you’ll have to pay an even less comfortable price for the honour. But at least you’ll own the rarest version of a cult classic.

Nissan GT-R Nismo: the verdict

Top speed 196mph                         Acceleration 0-62mph
in 2.9 seconds

 Engine 3.8 litre twin-turbo V6 generating 600hp Gearbox six-speed twin-clutch automatic

Economy 23.9mpg                         Price £149,995

Performance 9/10                        Handling 8/10

Economy 4/10                                Comfort 6/10

Quality 7/10                                    Desirability 8/10

View the gallery (click to enlarge)

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About author

Tiff Needell

Tiff Needell

Tiff Needell is a former Grand Prix driver who spent most of his professional career racing in the World Sportscar Championship including 14 Le Mans 24 Hour races where he had a best result of third in 1990. He is however perhaps better known as a former presenter of Top Gear throughout the nineties and then helped to create ‘Fifth Gear’ which enters its 14th year in 2015. Tiff recently wrote his autobiography Tiff Gear, is Director magazine’s columnist, races whenever the opportunity arises and has now rejoined Clarkson, co-presenting at Top Gear Live.

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