In my first post of 2021 with things to wish for in 2021, I mentioned a hope that Japan would again bring car enthusiasts something to cheer about. Unfortunately they didn’t, and I guess that in terms of combustion cars, it will never happen again. What they did do however the year after, in 2022, was to cancel the production of the Nissan GT-R for the European market. The GT-R is a true beast of a car, perhaps the best sports car ever to come out of the land of the rising sun, aunched 15 years ago to take on the the European supercar bunch but none more than the 911 Turbo as we’ll see later. It more than held its own doing so driving-wise, but without the brand but partly also the elegance of at least two of those three (sorry Lambo…). As production will stop globally this year, it’s time to pay tribute to the brute from Japan!
Back in 2007 I remember a young colleague as crazy about cars as me, telling me that the then brand new GT-R that had just set a record on the Nürburgring of 7 min 38 secs, quicker than the 911 Turbo at the time. He told me this was proof if it being the best sports car in the world, ahead of anything from Stuttgart or Maranello. I told him that wouldn’t matter much for sales numbers, since anyone buying a Ferrari cared far more about the brand than about lap times of the Nürburgring. It’s probably fair fair to say we were both right – the GT-R was and still is one hell of a sports car, but one that hasn’t come near the sales numbers of Porsche and Ferrari that Nissan was certainly hoping for. Unfortunately for Nissan, it didn’t convert many Ferrari drivers either.
When the once so celebrated Carlos Ghosn became CEO of Nissan in 1999, one of the first things he wanted the company to start planning for was a sports car that would represent the vision he had for the brand. His idea was to build on the heritage of the Nissan Skyline GT-R, the sportiest version of the luxury Skyline coupé, a car that never made it officially to the West and was only available as right-hand drive, but which since then has achieved a true hero’s status and been imported privately many times. The new car would retain the round rear lights from the GT-R and importantly, it should also beat the lap time of the 911 Turbo on the German Nürburgring (commonly also referred to as “the green hell”) that Ghosn had set as benchmark. Work on the GT-R thus started in the early 2000’s and in 2003, Ghosn announced the car would be launched at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2007. Unlike a certain Elon Musk, he kept his word!
The chief engineer of the GT-R was a certain Kazutoshi Mizuno, previously chief engineer of the Skyline GT-R and more known as “Mr. GT-R” well beyond Nissan. He was no doubt a key person in the project, notably convincing the not-easily-convinced Ghosn that the new GT-R had to be built on a completely new platform. The car Mizuno put together was one of the most advanced constructions that had been made at that time, with a body combining steel, aluminum and carbon fibre, an advanced chassis, four-wheel drive, crucial in bringing the power of the 3.8 litre, V6 turbo engine to the tarmac, and a dual-clutch, six-speed box mounted in the back in a transaxle construction. Initially the GT-R had around 470 hp which over the years and the different facelifts increased to up to 100 hp more in the standard version. The engine is however also a favorite among tuners, and it’s not difficult to find GT-R’s with well beyond 700 hp.
Already in the standard version however the GT-R is an extremely competent car as illustrated by a long list of racing successes in various GT categories. I’ve been lucky enough to experience a few of these over the years, both as a passenger and behind the wheel, and it’s really a car like no other. It has a very muscular, “heavy” appearance, looking bigger than its 1700 kg. Getting behind the wheel feels like stepping into a mix of a spaceship and a video game, with an interior that has what may be the largest amount of buttons on any car, before the large screen infotainment age. It fits the purpose but does so without any frills, fancy materials or much design, which is a bit of a shame. Having said that, and you tend to forget any concerns you may have had the same moment as you turn the key and wake up the lion family under the hood…
The twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V6 engine produces a growling sound and works in perfect harmony with the six-speed dual clutch box and the razor sharp steering to provide a really pure driving experience. The first version of the GT-R was produced until 2009 is the only one needing more than 3 seconds to 100 km/h (3.2 to be exact), all subsequent cars had more power and made the sprint in less than 3 seconds. Not only that, the torque of at least 600 Nm happily kicks you in the butt whenever you want it to. This is a seriously quick car but not only that, it’s one that outclasses most other cars if you bring it to the track. That may also be the place you want to use your GT-R, given it’s far less practical than the outside may have you think. The back seats are not made for humans and the boot is so small that it barely has enough room for a weekend bag.
There’s been a multitude of updates and versions through the years but I’ll limit it to the two most important here. There was a larger facelift in 2016 that on one hand brought more power and an improved gearbox, but also visual changes on the outside an an upgraded interior with better materials. Before that however, the Nismo edition of the GT-R had been introduced in 2013, being built as the most advanced version of the GT-R ever since. Power in the Nismo was increased to 600 hp and it set what was at the time the fastest time ever around the Nürburgring, shaving around 30 seconds off the already very competent time of the standard GT-R!. Both suspension and brakes were improved as well and on the inside, Recaro seats did their best to hold the driver and passenger in place.
If you’re the no frills kind of person that that puts the driving experience ahead of the logo and being seen, then there’s probably no better sports car in the world than the GT-R. And that’s even before we’ve talked price, because at the price point where GT-R’s trade, this IS quite simply the best sports car in the world – full stop. An early car with sub-100′ km is yours for EUR 50-60′, a post-facelift one will cost you EUR 20′-30′ more, which to me is well invested money. It’s only the Nismo cars that add significantly to the budget, trading for EUR 150′ and upwards. This is of course very much less than any comparable car, be it Italian or German, including Nissan’s benchmark, the 911 Turbo. Not only that, the GT-R has all the Japanese quality you could wish for so given a serious history, a high mileage doesn’t have to be problemtic. You should be careful with tuned cars and as said, go for a post-facelift car if you have the budget but from there, you can’t really go wrong. The GT-R is the best car to ever come out of Japan, and chances are it will remain so!