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2020 Nissan GT-R Nismo first drive review: Better (and more expensive) with age

More than a decade on, Nissan's GT-R supercar isn't much different, but it's still damn good.

2020 Nissan GT-R Nismo
The 2020 Nissan GT-R Nismo.

This, surely, must be the last one. The usual lifecycle of a car model is about seven years, but the current R35 generation of the GT-R has been around for well over a decade. This being the Nismo version, it is the ultimate $210,740 extrapolation of the GT-R and it would seem like an appropriate place to finish. But you never know...

Listening to the engineering team explain the updates to the latest Nismo you get the sense that, for them, it will perhaps never be finished. If they were Van Gogh they would still be adding stars to the sky or petals to the sunflowers, unable to lay down the paint brushes even when the paintings hang in a gallery.

Not that I'm suggesting the GT-R is an oil painting, although it is extraordinary that it doesn't look terribly old. The angular samurai styling might be familiar, but there is nothing fuddy-duddy about its bold, brutal lines. The biggest visual clues that this is the new Nismo are the vents over the front wheel arches. First seen on a Porsche 911 GT3 RS a few years ago, they are now a must-have aero on the agenda for any serious track car, so it's no surprise to see them on the Nissan. From some angles they do look a little like an afterthought, but matching them to the rest of the body color helps that.

Mechanically, the brake discs hiding behind the new forged wheels are the biggest change. The GT-R is heavy and yet also track focused, so repeated, punishing stops are very much the order of the day and carbon ceramic brakes seem like a very obvious upgrade. In fact, it seems strange that the previous Nismo didn't get them, particularly as the limited edition (only 110 were produced) V-Spec had them fitted all the way back in 2009. Curious. Nonetheless, it's good to have them now.

However, the stopping power, welcome though it is, is arguably not the biggest benefit of fitting the carbon ceramic brakes. That lies in the suspension and specifically in how much softer you can make it. Because the brakes are an unsprung mass, their lighter weight means the dampers can be softened without affecting control. The new, marginally lighter forged wheels help too in this regard and as a result the dampers have been softened by 5% in compression and a serious 20% in rebound.

This might sound like the new Nismo has been made into a less focused machine, but the truth is that its predecessor was simply too jarringly stiff for the road -- I'm not sure I have ever driven anything with a firmer ride and a license plate. This new car retains a noticeably firm intensity to the suspension, the edges have just been smoothed off the impacts a fraction and as a result I think it feels like a much better resolved package.

New brakes and suspension hardware make the GT-R Nismo an even better performer. Wheel arch vents are a new addition for 2020.


Under the new carbon fiber hood you'll find Nissan's familiar VR38DETT turbocharged V6 engine. In fact, if you were to only look at the spec sheet, you would assume that it was identical to what had gone before. The 600 horsepower and 481 pound-feet of torque remain, however, for this latest (last?) model, the forced-induction has been upgraded and the puffing is courtesy of two GT3 race car turbos.

While these don't add any extra power, they are said to spin up faster and therefore improve throttle response. Certainly the reactions of the car above 3,000 rpm feel impressive and more than ever it feels like an engine that thrives on revs. As you only have six gears to play with, this means you really want to work at the paddles to make sure you have the needle constantly in the right place on the rev counter.

Or you could leave the paddles alone and let the car take care of shifting duties. It's not something I would normally advocate, but the 'box's auto mode has received a serious upgrade for this latest version and, as a result, it has an uncanny ability to change just when you think it should. Of course the most noticeable change to the whole powertrain is the new titanium exhaust, which not only has a lovely blue sheen to the four round tips but sounds very entertaining, particularly on the overrun.

Most of the GT-R's interior carries over unchanged.


The final pieces to the whole Nismo jigsaw are the new tires which have an 11% larger contact patch. They have the same sizes written on the sidewall as before, but thanks to a change in tread pattern and a modification of the overall profile there is now more rubber in contact with the road.

When you add up all these relatively minor changes you might expect quite a radically different character or feel to the car, but the truth is that the effect is relatively subtle. That's not to say this isn't better than its predecessor, because it is, particularly in the braking department. But it also doesn't feel wildly different to the very first R35 GT-R that I drove 12 years ago. Ever since they were launched they have felt like they've had around 600 horsepower, and the handling has always had the same freakishly agile and overtly all-wheel drive nature. It remains a distinctive car. So much so that if you like the gritty, grippy feel of a GT-R then still, 12 years on, you have a very short shopping list. There are no substitutes.

And is the Nismo the best GT-R? Yes, in purely dynamic terms, I think it is. Is it the best value? No. Unless you do lots of track days and need the fade-resistant properties of the carbon ceramic brakes, I would stick to the Track Edition which has almost identical suspension settings and therefore an almost identical sense of alacrity to the way the front end turns in. Yes, on paper it has less power, but in reality its 565 horsepower is pretty much indistinguishable. At $80,000 less, it remains the one that I would recommend. For now. Because who knows when the next iteration will be announced.

It's always felt like the car has had around 600 horsepower.


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