Refined to perfection
Are great cars always great, or do their halos tarnish with time? The answer, of course, depends on the quality of the car and the amount of time. There’s no doubting that new cars can be great. Cars that are old and great, meanwhile, can sometimes become truly divine when admired through decades-thick rose-colored glasses.
by Tim Stevens / July 11, 2016B
ut it's in the mid-term that many amazing automobiles falter. Five or ten years after a revision of a given model launches to plaudits and awards, it generally slips from favor, buried by newer rides with tauter sheetmetal and grander abilities.
Nissan’s current GT-R sits squarely within that uncomfortable adolescence. Its current generation, the R35, debuted in 2007. For the 2017 model year it gets a little more power, some very mild suspension modifications and an interior refresh that was desperately needed. These are the sorts of predictable updates made to aging models so they can limp along until their successor finally arrives.
Aged though it may be, however, the 2017 GT-R hasn’t been hobbled by time. It feels fresher than ever.
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Unless you're a serious Nissan fan, the sort of person who knows what NISMO stands for (NISsan MOtorsports, for the record), you might have a hard time spotting the visual changes made to the 2017 GT-R from a distance. But plenty of tweaks have been made, mostly around the edges. Taking a cue from last year's higher-performance NISMO model, the GT-R’s front and rear bumpers have been creased and cut with far more aggression than before, surprisingly helping the big car punch through the wind with a bit more grace.
The center portion of the nose has been resculpted as well, receiving the Nissan corporate V-Motion treatment, which looks better here than on any of its siblings. Air intakes have been opened and streamlined as well, offering more cooling for the increasingly pressurized engine.
The 3.8-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 now puts 565 horsepower to the ground through all four wheels, 20 more horses than last year thanks largely to an increase in boost and a more advanced timing system. There's also a new, lightweight titanium exhaust at the rear. The Bilstein suspension has been revised, more aggressive looking Rays wheels mounted at the corners and an electric power steering system fitted at the front.
The biggest change, though, can be found in the cabin. The old, rubbery, button-heavy interior that was introduced in 2007 has finally been gutted, replaced by a simplified infotainment experience that...well, to be honest, still looks a bit dated.
There's an 8-inch touchscreen Nissan Connect system augmented by a new rotary controller situated between the seats. This is much better than what the GT-R offered last year, but still at least a few years behind the curve. And, with neither Android Auto nor Apple CarPlay, you're pretty-well stuck with it.
Ignore the missing tech, though, and the interior is a huge leap forward. Plush leather, metal and carbon fiber replace what was before an awful lot of plastic. There's still room for improvement considering how much this car costs, but it’s a huge leap forward.
And how much exactly does this cost? The new MSRP of the 2017 Nissan GT-R is $109,990. That's an increase of $8,200 over the outgoing model. Yes, quite the hike, but if you price out a titanium exhaust system for a 2016 GT-R, even ignoring all the other upgrades things start to look downright reasonable.
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The GT in GT-R stands for Grand Touring and the R stands for Racing, two disparate goals that are difficult to achieve in a same rig. To test just how good the new GT-R is at hitting both, we needed to go somewhere with great roads and great tracks. When it comes to high-speed touring, at least, there’s no beating Germany's Autobahn.
But what about great tracks? Belgium's Spa Francorchamps is an absolute legend, and my favorite circuit on the planet. The fact that it lies just a short distance from the German border makes those two countries the perfect place to test.
Another factor just added to the appeal: the weather. The miserable, awful weather to be found there this time of year. It was drizzling when I arrived in Dusseldorf to pick up the keys to a Deep Blue Pearl GT-R, and things just got worse from there. This seemed like bad news, but it actually turned into an amazing opportunity to test the stability of the new car.
Despite a profusion of traffic and construction zones on the German highways, I was able to find enough open, unrestricted sections to get the car up to about 210 kilometers-per-hour. That's about 130 in old-world mph. Later, on the return trip, I’d hit 250 kph — just over 155 mph. That’s plenty quick on an open, moist highway.
Is the 2017 Nissan GT-R the ultimate car for road and track?
We head to Europe to drive on the world's greatest road system and drive on the planet's greatest racetrack to figure out whether Nissan's latest has still got it.
At this speed you're going to get plenty of wind noise — much faster and sonic booms may become a worry — but with the suspension in Comfort mode the GT-R floated serenely along the (admittedly perfect) German asphalt. When traffic or limits necessitated slowing to more approachable speeds the GT-R became silky smooth and whisper-quiet despite a ready throttle response encouraging you to go as fast as you dare.
Other updates this year include acoustic glass up front, more insulation in the wheel-wells and a Bose Active Noise Cancellation system. All of these conspire to make the interior a very relaxing place to be. In fact, it’s so quiet that Nissan felt the need to add some digital sound back in. Yes, there's some BMW-style fake engine noise pumping through the speakers when you get on it, and that does make me a little sad. Digitized or not, the car sounds quite good when you really explore the rev-range of that now-boostier engine.
In terms of on-road handling, GT-R is immensely capable on twisty back roads, so much so that I’ve previously called it boring to drive legally. That’s still largely true, but it can at least now be properly cossetting when boring. Comfort mode is noticeably more comfortable than before, and the six-speed transmission has finally been exorcized of its low-speed bucking and balking. Pulling gently away from a stoplight no longer requires a soft right foot and a neck brace for your passengers.
But, as ever, to really get the most out of the GT-R you're going to need to push it harder than the road will allow. Even such roads as the Autobahn.
By the time I got to the circuit at Spa Francorchamps it was properly raining. Not "I wish I'd packed an umbrella," raining, but "I wish I'd packed some waterproof trousers" raining. I've been on other sports car launches at racetracks where light showers caused nervous product representatives to send every miserable journalist home.
After describing the weather as "ideal," Nissan's representatives told us to take it easy for the first few laps around one of the fastest, most difficult circuits in the world, then slapped helmets on our heads and pointed us in the direction of the track.
And you know what? The conditions were ideal. Multiple rivers ran across the track, many exactly where you'd ideally be hard on the brakes. Hydroplaning in these conditions was not just a possibility, it was something that happened many times each lap.
Every time the GT-R squirmed under braking or acceleration it was just a hiccup, a quick shimmy to remind you that you're still alive. The car would then regain grip instantly and do exactly what you want. After a few sessions on the track I was really pushing the car, experimenting by running off the racing line to find more grip, going faster and faster up the hill through Eau Rouge, the most famous corner in motorsports, before challenging myself to brake later and later into Les Combes, at approach speeds of 230 kmph (nearly 150 mph).
That’s in the wet, remember, storming into fog so thick I was tempted to ask whether Nissan would offer a snorkel as a dealer-installed accessory.
When I entered a turn too quickly the car's nose slid out, safe understeer reminding me to brake a little earlier next time. When I got too eager on the throttle corner exit, the GT-R kicked its tail out, a little waggle to encourage more patience. But, despite some truly appalling conditions, the car never failed to be an incredibly rewarding drive.
As the GT-R enters its awkward adolescence, and as competition like the Acura NSX arrives to the party, there's more pressure than ever to perform. And perform is exactly what this car does.
Yes, I can find plenty of things to complain about. The transmission still shifts too slowly and roughly at times, there's still an almost complete lack of active safety systems like lane-keep assist and I really want my Android Auto.
But these are minor complaints. The few remaining rough edges on the GT-R have been polished even further and the sharper bits honed yet again, producing a precision tool even more compelling than it was almost a decade ago. May you be lucky enough to wield one yourself some day.
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About the Author
Tim Stevens Tim Stevens is Editor in Chief of Roadshow. He 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. Currently he pursues interesting stories and interesting conversations in the technology and automotive spaces.