2021 Nissan GT-R review: When Godzilla becomes Snowzilla
If the R35 Nissan GT-R were a child, it'd be in eighth grade, dealing with acne and developing a know-it-all attitude that'd make you want to wring its neck. Yeah, it's that old now, but Nissan hasn't completely neglected the GT-R. Every year, small changes make this aging supercar better and better, and as far as winter warriors go, the GT-R is surprisingly capable.
Until now, I've never mushed through the snow in a GT-R. Around racetracks and backroads on clear summer days? Totally, countless times. At road courses and on surface streets in the pissing rain? Yup, done that, too. Snow time is a new page in my extensive GT-R scrapbook.
Since the GT-R's stock Dunlop Sports Maxx GT600 ultra-high-performance tires would get me nowhere in snow except for maybe a ditch, Nissan threw on a set of Bridgestone Blizzak LM-25 winter tires. And good thing they did, because a couple of small snowstorms came roaring through Southeastern Michigan just in time for my GT-R loan.
How does the GT-R do in the white stuff? Phenomenally well. Winter rubber, all-wheel drive and a 3,900-pound curb weight all help get things rolling effortlessly in 4 inches of snow. A delicate driving style with smooth throttle and steering inputs have the Japanese supercar handling the snow admirably. It's surefooted around turns with the all-wheel-drive system unnoticeably doing its thing. Braking distances do increase some, but that should come as a surprise to nobody who's ever driven on snow or ice.
Even with traction control in the Normal setting, the GT-R gives you enough rope to let the rear step out when you juice it around a turn. Get too far out of shape and the electronics cut in to straighten things out, but not in an abrupt manner. For maximum grins, killing traction nannies opens the world of controlled drifting with the right amount of throttle and steering manipulation -- on a deserted country road or unplowed parking lot, of course.
When the roads aren't icky, the Nissan is nicely compliant, thanks to the years of refinement to the Bilstein DampTronic dampers. There was a time when the suspension's Comfort setting wasn't really, well, comfortable, but it works as advertised now, letting you shuttle around town and take longer journeys without having jolts from bumps and ruts beating you up.
The 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V6 is still a monster, delivering 565 horsepower and 467 pound-feet of torque, getting the GT-R to 60 mph in about 3 seconds. This engine has a snappy throttle response and pulls madly to the 7,100-rpm redline, and while it sounds mean, I wish Nissan could tune the GT-R's exhaust to make it even throatier.
Routing power to the wheels is a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, which is also the best it's ever been, providing seamless launches and crisp and well-timed gear. And being a GT-R, all the whirls and crunching noises from the driveline are still present -- at this point, it's just part of the GT-R experience. Driving the GT-R normally returns an EPA-estimate 16 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway, not that this really matters to GT-R ownership.
After all these years, I still love the way the GT-R looks. It's chunky and purposeful, garnering lots of love from people young and older. Thumbs-ups on the road and comments from folks in parking lots are common -- not bad for the old-guy-in-the-supercar segment. My favorite portion is the rear with its iconic round lights that I can't help but admire every time I walk towards the car.
The GT-R got a small cabin update a few years ago, and it still looks good, especially with the hand-stitched leather on the seats, dash and door panels, which are included in the optional Premium Interior Package. The front buckets offer some cushiness and are comfy enough for long hauls, and there's enough side support to keep occupants in place while cornering. The back seats are pretty much useless for passengers, but fine for hauling cargo. In addition to that, you'll find 8.8 cubic feet of space in the trunk.
Where the GT-R really shows its age is in the tech department. The NissanConnect system quarterbacking infotainment is serviceable, but the 8-inch touchscreen's menu and map graphics aren't vibrant by today's standards. There's an 11-speaker Bose audio setup, navigation, Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay. If you're an Android user, you're out of luck because Android Auto capabilities are still missing from this outdated setup.
On the safety front, the GT-R has a backup camera with terrible resolution and parking sensors on the front and back. That's it. You're not going to find forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring or lane-departure warning -- but honestly, I'm fine with that. It's a supercar, after all, and none of those niceties are high up on my list of must-have features in this case.
How I'd spec it
For 2021, Nissan is offering the GT-R in the Premium trim or the bananas Nismo model. Since I can't see myself spending north of $200,000 for a GT-R Nismo, I'd stick with the Premium that begins at $115,335, including $1,795 for destination. Put me down for the new $1,000 Bayside Blue paint because it's awesome, but that also requires ponying up for the $4,280 Premium Interior Package for the nicer leather-draped cabin. Tack on the $277 for floor mats and it brings the bottom line of my ideal car to $120,892. Not a huge savings over this $121,040 test car, but it's something.
After all these years, the R35 Nissan GT-R is still a hugely satisfying machine. I know there's probably a large contingent of bench racers out there who will complain about it being too old and say nobody cares about it anymore, but I'd beg to differ. Its performance chops keep it world-class, and the experience behind the wheel is something that's unique.
And now, after thrashing through snow in one with a jolly grin on my face, I'm a bit more smitten with this oldie-but-goodie GT-R. No matter the season, environment or circumstance, the GT-R can deliver, making it a formidable supercar even at its advanced age.