The Nissan GT-R is an anachronism.
Conceived in a time before mass hybridization, built on an assembly line filled with everyday sedans and designed with (some) utility in mind, the GT-R is a bit of an odd supercar, especially in 2018.
Put another way, it’s a rare car, both in terms of unit sales and as a member in the line-up of a mainstream manufacturer.
That the GT-R is rare is not surprising in the least (only 30 sold in Canada in 2018 through the end of May), as many cars with a starting MSRP of $125,600 tend to be slow sellers.
And when those cars have just two doors and run on supreme (93+) gas only?
Well, that’s just another reason to consider more practical alternatives which explains why the GT-R has such little competition, especially amongst its Japanese rivals. The only one that really compares is the Acura NSX, although it could be argued a six-figure price tag is all it really has in common with the GT-R.
The GT-R is a throwback, at least in spirit, to a time when supercars didn’t have to conform to the same rules that govern other cars that share the same family badge. The current NSX, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. Futureproofing it with hybrid technology was a significant factor in it being greenlit for production – it likely wouldn’t exist otherwise.
The GT-R is not that car. It’s not here to ease your environmentally-conscious mind.
No. It’s an immensely fast and powerful car designed to turn you into a track junkie in a need of a soothing fix every weekend.
The heart of the beast
The current GT-R, known internally as the R35, has been around since 2007 and is the descendant of the Skyline GT-R that spawned four generations between 1969 and 2002, none of which were ever sold in North America although plenty of grey-market Japanese models have been imported here over the years.
The R35 is built on its own unique platform – premium midship – that places the transmission, transfer case and differential at the rear of the car to improve weight distribution and lower the centre of gravity. Two driveshafts, one connecting the engine to the independent rear transaxle and another running from the transfer case to the front differential, sends power to the front wheels.
The rear transaxle is connected to the ATTESA R-TS all-wheel drive system is rear-biased and has a variable torque split that varies from 50/50 to 100 percent rear depending on speed, steering angle, road surface and other variables. Torque is also split variably on a left-right basis to both front and rear wheels to reduce wheelspin and improve grip.
Power is derived from Nissan’s VR38DETT, an all-aluminum 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 that is the most powerful engine the company has ever built. As is the case with the GT-R’s 6-speed dual-clutch automatic, the VR38DETT is assembled by hand by master craftsmen known as Takumi. Each GT-R engine carries a badge with the name of the Takumi team member who built it.
As one might imagine for a GT-R engine, the VR38DETT (DETT stands for dual overhead cam, electronic fuel injection, twin-turbo) is no ordinary V6. Aside from being hand-built, it also utilizes plasma-sprayed bores for reduced friction, weight savings, improved power output and better fuel efficiency. Also present is a symmetrical independent intake and exhaust manifold system and twin high-performance IHI turbochargers.
The resulting power output is prodigious: 565 horsepower / 467 lb-ft. of torque. The latest power bump came in the spring of 2016 when the refreshed 2017 GT-R was unveiled at the New York International Auto Show.
The ’17 model year brought a slew of other changes, most of which are cosmetic such as a redesigned V-motion grille, new hood, front spoiler and front bumper, the latter of which are designed to generate more front downforce.
Other aero upgrades include side sills that have been pushed out to improve air movement around the car for better high-speed stability and revised rear bodywork that also includes functional side air vents located on either side of the GT-R’s quad exhaust tips.
The interior also received a significant update, with a new dashboard and instrument panel wrapped in a single piece of nappa leather. The centre stack layout has also been overhauled with an emphasis on decluttering the GT-R’s previously busy-looking interior.
Nissan accomplished this by integrating the navigation and audio controls, which reduced the number of switches from 27 to 11. The infotainment/navigation touchscreen has grown from seven to eight inches and has new, larger icons. The Display Command knob on the centre console is also new.
At the risk of leaning too far into cliché, driving the GT-R is a unique experience.
From the flip-out door handles to the console-mounted start button to the gurgling sound the engine makes as it fires up, Nissan has a done a masterful job of making the GT-R into its own thing.
Sliding behind the wheel, my eyes darted everywhere as I took a moment to absorb the details even though I’ve driven the GT-R previously.
Running my fingers along the exposed stitching in the dash cowl and over the carbon fibre in the centre console and even over the GT-R badge in the steering wheel hub was something I felt compelled to do in honour of the occasion.
Firing up the VR38DETT too is a reminder of the GT-R’s specific character. The gurgling sound that starts slow and then turns into a steady thrum upon full ignition is distinctive, and even though an owner will surely get used to hearing it, it’s a nice touch nevertheless.
Once underway, the GT-R sprints to cruising speed before a whoosh of twin-turbo spool-up launches the car into triple digits in a few heartbeats. Published figures have the GT-R’s 0-100 km/h time in the low three-second range which puts it in elite company with the Audi R8 and Porsche 911 Turbo despite costing roughly $60,000 less.
Speaking of fast, the GT-R is one of the most stable cars I’ve driven at highway speeds. Nissan engineers have spent a lot of time fine-tuning the GT-R’s aero in wind tunnels and on test tracks and it really shows. This car is easy fast, but it’s not wild and woolly at speed – it feels precise and composed. The rich, growly exhaust note it emits as it goes about its business also enhances the driving experience.
Although my time with it was short – less than 72 hours – I found the GT-R to be pleasing to drive at slower speeds as well. It has a reasonably comfortable ride, while still being stiffly sprung, and offers a high degree of utility for a supercar (useable back seat and trunk, standard AWD).
Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t the main reasons to drop $125,000-plus on a GT-R, but they are nice ancillary benefits nonetheless.
In sum, the GT-R is in a precarious position. As much fun as it is to drive, it’s also a relic from a vanishing era when supercars played by their own rules, and those days will undoubtedly come to an end eventually.
Hopefully, that won’t happen for a long time, but it’s just another reason to be glad we still have the GT-R. For today, at least.
2018 Nissan GT-R
BODY STYLE: 2 door, 2+2 high performance sports coupe
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, All-wheel drive
ENGINE: 3.8L twin-turbo V6 Power: 565 hp @6800 rpm; Torque: 467 lb-ft. @3300 – 5800 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
CARGO CAPACITY: 249 L
FUEL ECONOMY: (supreme 93+) 14.5/10.7/12.8 L/100 km city/highway/combined
OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 13.8 L/100 km
PRICE: $125,600 (base) as tested $131,900