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2017 Nissan GT-R review: First drive

4.5

The Good

  • Still looks the part
  • Greatly improved interior
  • More refined

The Bad

  • Very thirsty
  • More refined

Not since 2007 has the Nissan GT-R been so extensively revised, but is the 2017 model the Godzilla it once was? Ben Griffin finds out.

When the Nissan GT-R first blasted onto the scene, it promised mind-blowing all-wheel drive performance – and for not a lot of money. No wonder, then, its list of nicknames included the 'supercar killer' and Godzilla.

On test is the MY2017 model, which Nissan says has seen the biggest number of revisions since the GT-R was first released in 2007. But nearly ten years is a long time, which made us ponder whether Nissan could have possibly done enough to keep its flagship car competitive?

We drove from Germany to Belgium before blasting around the mighty Spa-Francorchamps Formula One circuit to put the latest iteration of a legend through its paces.

Design

The new Nissan GT-R is slightly different to its predecessor, but it's hardly a radical departure. More a bit of spit and polish on the original, which was and still is unlike anything else. From the circular rear lights to the meaty, tall stance, it is still the antithesis of the typical supercar.

Look closely and you may see the addition of daytime running lights, a revised V-motion grile in a matte chrome finish and a larger area for the front grille. The bonnet has also been made more rigid, the rear spoiler extended and lowered and the C-pillar redesigned.

Besides making the GT-R look a bit fresher and help justify the new model to buyers, it actually improves aerodynamics. Nissan wanted more cooling and improved downforce but without increasing drag, a task it says it achieved.

Of all the GT-R's tweaks, the best news can be found within. The interior was starting to look dated, not to mention ergonomically challenged, which makes the lower and larger central display, improved materials and styling a huge welcome.

It is still hardly what you would call special, but then this is an £80,000 car – far cheaper than the sort of cars it wants to embarass. And the reduction in buttons from 27 to 11 makes it easier to use.

Look towards the steering wheel and another big change presents itself. Rather than attach the flappy paddles to the steering column, Nissan has mounted them on the steering wheel. This means you can make up and downshifts without having to move a hand.

For a touch of bling, a Nappa leather upper-dashboard can be specified and paying extra for the Recaro model adds sportier Recaro seats.

Practicality

By being taller and generally bigger than other supercars, the two-door Nissan GT-R manages to offer a good deal of driver and front passenger head and leg room. The boot, meanwhile, has 315 litres of space so it can take on the role of Grand Tourer for jaunts into Europe.

Unfortunately the rear seats (if you can call them that and keep a straight face) are comically inadequate when it comes to leg room. Quite honestly, you would be better off sitting in a crisp packet – and that's before anyone in the front decides to move their seat back.

The old Nissan GT-R was capable of long journeys and you might even get to your destination in a good mood, but it was a noisy beast at motorway speeds. Thankfully, a touch of active noise cancellation makes it more civilised almost all of the time.

Performance & handling

By increasing the boost pressure and adding a new ignition timing system, Nissan has increased the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6's power output to that of the old Nismo edition, giving it 562bhp and 469.8lb/ft of torque – an increase of 19.7bhp on its predecessor.

A modest increase, admittedly, but the majority of torque is now available from much lower down in the rev range, which means those flat moments in the old GT-R are less common. Only in the later gears does the horizon stop being blurry.

The official 0-62mph is something Nissan wants to hold onto, but we witnessed it in 3.2 seconds. That's far from the reports of 2.8 seconds and it definitely feels on the plus side of three seconds, but it's no deal-breaker.

Apply the brake, bury the accelerator and lift off the former and the resulting launch is almost painful. Second and third gear come in rapid succession – long before your stomach has time to catch up. It's less brutal than the Tesla Model S P85D and R8 V10 Plus, but still devastatingly effective.

Obviously the all-wheel drive system helps melt your face all-too successfully, but the gearbox deserves a special mention as it is vastly improved. Shifts are almost non-existent in feel, even when going from third to second at low speeds. There's still a noticeable clunk sound but the new GT-R is much smoother to drive, unless in its sportiest 'R' mode.

On the subject of being civilised, the start-up sound can be muffled by way of an electric valve in the exhaust (reducing the noise by 10dB) and there are no exhaust pops when you lift off the accelerator, which means a Focus RS will draw more attention.

Making the GT-R more livable and quieter may seem akin to trying to domesticate a killer whale, but its competitors have all got faster, more powerful and more capable in the bends yet better as a daily driver and so Nissan had little choice.

Luckily the increase in performance contrasts nicely with the generally quieter experience. But let's not mince words, the new GT-R makes the Audi R8 V10 Plus look like a Bentley. Stop & Start technology? Don't make the Nissan engineers laugh.

This is a 196mph missile that relies on a mixture of clever electronics and brute force to make Ferraris sweat. It feels like its predecessor, only a tad more grown up and faster. A prime example of evolution, not revolution, then. Or to put it another way, Godzilla in comfortable shoes.

The absurdly grippy all-wheel system inspires bucketloads of confidence at full tilt, but it has a sort of hammer feel to it. Momentarily easing off before slamming down the power can stave off understeer, while the level of feel through the wheel makes oversteer just as counterable.

And yet it never feels like a precision instrument. It is, quite honestly, unable to stave off the fact it is a bit of a fatty, no matter how quickly it can tear up corners.

Economy & environment

Driving from Dusseldorf Airport in Germany to the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium via the partially unrestricted roads of the Autobahn saw the GT-R drink nearly half of its 74-litre tank. Blasting around the circuit itself for six laps as fast as we could drank another half.

It is anything but an economical car, with fuel economy of 23.9mpg combined emissions at 275g/km of CO2 making it only slightly better than the more powerful R8 V10 Plus's 22.9mpg and 289g/km. The lack of Stop & Start really shows, as it routinely drops into single figures. Expect lots of fuel stops.

Equipment & value

There are three models available for the standard GT-R and a full-on Nismo version, which is yet to have a price. The entry-level 'Pure' starts from £79,995, or £81,995 if you want Recaro Sports seats.

Standard equipment across the range includes navigation, air-conditioning, carbon fibre centre console, Bose sound system, 20-inch alloys, Alcantara and leather seats, front and rear sensors and the aforementioned eight-inch display.

Prestige costs from £82,495 and adds Black Touring leather seats. An extra £1,000 gives you the option of said seats in tan, ivory or red.

Then there's the Track Edition, which costs from £91,995 and has customers who want their GT-R to be a bit harsher covered, just like old times. Recaro Sports leather seats, enhanced body rigidity, front-over fender, carbon fibre rear spoiler uprated suspension and roll-over bar and 20-inch Rays alloys justify the higher price tag.

We never got to drive the Nismo edition (it was only unveiled to us and remained static), but that adds carbon fibre-backed Recaro seats, carbon fibre bodystyling, uprated turbos and Nismo bits and bobs including an Alcantara steering wheel. A price is yet to be announced for the Nismo, but around £100,000 seems likely.

The GT-R would cost far more with an Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini or McLaren badge, so it is exceptional value if speed is of the essence. Only bizarre single-seaters will give it much to worry about, especially as the similarly priced Jaguar F-Type R is about a second slower to 62mph and has two seats.

Safety

Cars this mindblowingly quick can be fatal in the wrong hands, but at least the all-wheel drive system makes it capable of surviving slippery conditions without much effort. It also has massive brakes that can bring its 1,752kg kerb weight – 12kg more than its predecessor – under control in emergencies.

The car is more structurally rigid than its predecessor so that will help in the event of a crash, as will the Nissan Advanced Airbag System (AABS) that can vary the rate of air bag inflation depending on the severity of the crash.

Then there's the Electronic Traction system, Advanced Vehicle Dynamic Control, Anti-lock Braking System, RearView Monitor and a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System for added safety, but sadly no Automatic Emergency Braking to prevent those moments where you fail to react in time.

Conclusion

You could accuse the new GT-R of being underwhelming when you consider the changes are minimal for a car that is nigh-on a decade old and that rivals have closed the gap significantly. While that may be true to a point, it is still delightfully effective at defying the laws of physics.

By becoming more civilised and relaxed – a transition from supercar to a bonkers grand tourer, if you will – the 2017 GT-R is a more livable proposition. That old-school brutality is still very much alive and well, but turning down the insanity a notch makes it easier to live with.

The GT-R has less of a wow-factor, then, but there's still nothing else like it. For the best combination of performance and value for money, no other four(-ish)-seater will do.

As for those who want something more extreme, the Track Edition and Nismo have you covered providing, of course, you are willing to front up Porsche money for a Nissan.

Key Specs

  • 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6
  • 562bhp (570PS)
  • 469lb/ft (637Nm)
  • TBC
  • 275g/km
  • 23.9mpg (combined)
  • From £79,995

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