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2016 Nissan GT-R review: A supercar icon that's showing its age

The 2016 version of Nissan's epic GT-R marks the eighth version of the car officially imported to US shores. Driving one is still an amazing experience, but you can't help thinking perhaps it's time for an update.

Tim Stevens Former editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
Tim Stevens
5 min read

For the uninitiated, Nissan's GT-R is a bit of an unusual proposition. It's a big car with a compact cabin, room in the rear seats only for small children or legless adults. It's a heavy car, but one that feels light and nimble, more at home on the track than the road. And it isn't a particularly aggressive-looking car, yet it's faster than damn near anything else out there.


2016 Nissan GT-R

The Good

Brutal acceleration and amazing performance in any condition, despite being reasonably practical and even occasionally comfortable.

The Bad

Lacking in smartphone connectivity and driver-assist features. Interior is overall quite dated.

The Bottom Line

Nissan's GT-R is an icon, but one that's definitely in need of a refresh.

It's also something of an old car, entering its eighth model year for this, the 2016 GT-R. That it's still a contender in the ultracompetitive performance scene is a testament to how impressive that first, 2009 model was. It's also a sign that perhaps it's time for some changes.

Despite looking largely the same it has for the better part of a decade, Nissan has continually evolved and changed what's under the skin. 2012 saw the biggest leap, jumping from 485 horsepower to 530 while receiving a raft of internal and exterior changes. Since then, the tweaks have been far more incremental. 2016's updates are perhaps the slenderest yet, with very little changing since we reviewed the 2015 GT-R.

New, 20-spoke wheels are the biggest change in 2016. Tim Stevens/CNET

Owners will find this latest GT-R rolling on new 20-spoke, 20-inch Rays wheels that are forged, and in my opinion, quite striking -- though last year's 10-spoke design was far from frumpy. Tires are still Dunlop Sport Maxx on all four corners, filled with nitrogen as before. This not only prevents thermal expansion, it gives you a fun conversation starter that will make you the life of any party.

Beyond that...nothing has changed. There is a new color, a sort of Champagne gold Limited Edition designed to commemorate the GT-R's 45th anniversary. Before you fret about why Nissan didn't save this for the 50th anniversary, know that fewer than 30 gold cars will come to the US, so it's unlikely you'll be troubled by one in the real world.

Thankfully, the GT-R is available in a swath of other hues. For those going for a sophisticated, somewhat understated look, the Deep Blue Pearl color in our test car would be a good choice. It's darker than it looks in photos but lives up to its name with a subtle metallic luster that really only shines in direct sunlight. It's one of seven standard colors available (including two reds, black, two silvers, and a white), all of which carry over from last year.

Still a nice place to be, but not the revolution it once was. Tim Stevens/CNET

The interior remains unchanged, and that's a real shame because it's beginning to feel a bit dated in here. What was once hailed as a high-tech car for the PlayStation generation is now teetering dangerously close to Gen-X obsolescence. You can pair your phone to the car for hands-free calling and music streaming, but that's about as advanced as it gets. Owners will find no app integration of any kind, and neither Android Auto nor CarPlay are available. Those fancy, Polyphony Digital-crafted series of virtual gauges are still here, including G-force and throttle position and such-like, but given they were created in the PlayStation 2 era, it's definitely time for a refresh.

Thankfully, the performance is still decidedly next-gen, particularly the launch control. Uncorking the rush is a three-step affair. First, hold the transmission-control switch up for a few seconds until an ominous red light comes on. This makes the shifting particularly brutal, while the light seems to ask "Are you sure about this?" Next is the suspension switch, which sits just to the right. Hold that switch up and you get a much firmer ride and another red light, asking "Does your chiropractor know what you're about to do?" Then comes the traction-control switch, with a final menacing light.

With all three LEDs illuminated, you need only find a vast, desolate, safe area and come to a complete stop. Left foot on the brake, use your other foot to put the throttle to the floor. Then, make sure you have your head against the headrest before releasing the brake. In less than three seconds you will have accelerated to 60 miles per hour. Your intestines and your senses will take slightly longer to reach that speed, which is what makes it such a rush.

It's a thrilling ride guaranteed to impress your friends, and it's almost worth the price of admission by itself. Thankfully, though, the car holds up in other areas. It has amazing handling through the corners, the sort that will likely see you running out of courage before you run out of grip. Inclement conditions bring those limits closer to reality, but the car's amazing AWD system doesn't give up easily. If there's grip to be found, it will be located.

However, while those astronomical limits will serve you well on the track, on the road they can actually make the GT-R a bit underwhelming. It is so fast, so capable that driving it within the reasonable bounds set forth by law and common sense makes for a ho-hum experience. It just doesn't feel alive unless you're pushing -- and pushing hard.

A twin-turbo V-6 lurks beneath the hood. Tim Stevens/CNET

It doesn't feel particularly comforting, either. With the suspension on soft the GT-R isn't punishing, but neither is it cossetting. The transmission, too, is livable on its more comfortable setting, but the double-clutch, six-speed setup makes the car buck and kick whenever you come idling up to a stop light. The car is always ready to storm off into the distance, but sometimes you just want to come to a gentle stop.

And then there's the economy. The car is rated at 19 mpg combined, 22 on the highway and 16 in the city. Over four days of generally spirited driving, we came in right at the city figure, just like we did in last year's car. That's not a lot, but remember, this is a 545-horsepower, all-wheel-drive machine. It's a supercar with a big trunk. Fuel economy isn't really within its remit.

It is, at least, rather cheaper than most supercars, though still far from affordable. Starting price of the Nissan GT-R Premium is $101,770 in the US. (International pricing not available at this time.) The special gold Limited Edition will set you back another $1,000, if you can find it, while the Black edition, with special wheels, seats, and a carbon-fiber spoiler, is $111,510. Or, for the ultimate, you can step up to the $149,990 600-horsepower GT-R NISMO, which is very choice indeed.

Tim Stevens/CNET

Whichever you choose you're getting a performance bargain compared to the likes of Lamborghini or Ferrari or the like. However, you're also getting a car that lacks the visceral thrills of many of those more exotic machines. Whether that makes them worth the extra cost is a decision we'll leave to you (perhaps after advising your financial planner).

Regardless, it's clear that the GT-R is due for some updates. The exterior, which looked radical in 2007, now feels familiar, and that interior is desperately in need of an overhaul. Hopefully a next-generation GT-R is coming soon that will address these issues. And, with any luck, it'll add a little heart to this most brainy of supercars.


2016 Nissan GT-R

Score Breakdown

Performance 9Features 7Design 7Media 3