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Believe it or not, the R35 Nissan GT-R has been with us for a decade. But old as it might be, I promise, driving this car is just as exciting now as it was way back in 2008.
The GT-R’s most recent update came in 2016, in which Godzilla received a much-needed dose of civility. It’ll still carve corners with knife-like precision, but is no longer a total chore to drive around town. The real-life Gran Turismo ethos is still fully present. But after a decade of fine tuning, Nissan’s supercar has finally learned some manners.
Nissan’s iconic GT-R adds much-needed civility for 2018
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The 2009 GT-R was intimidating from the moment you opened the door. Buttons and dials and toggles everywhere, a huge steering wheel with exposed metal, chunks of black and gray plastic all bolted together. It felt like stepping into one of those arcade racing simulators.
Slide inside the 2018 GT-R and it’s a wholly different aesthetic. Huge swaths of leather line the dashboard and wrap the redesigned steering wheel. The overall button count has been reduced by more than half. The seats are supple and supportive, and look downright luxurious in my test car’s amber hue. Even the carbon-fiber trim along the center console feels as good as it looks.
But if there’s one area that’s deserving of a “most improved” award, it’s the overall reduction of unpleasant noises. If you’ve ever driven a GT-R, you’re familiar with its, let’s call it, unique aural demeanor. The way it buzzes and whirrs at idle. The way the transmission clunks and chunks when you shift between Park, Reverse and Drive. The way it always sounded like some engineer left a loose wrench somewhere in the transmission tunnel.
Make no mistake, some of those characteristically GT-R noises are still there — this is a car that makes a racket simply by existing — but they don’t permeate the cabin with such a jarring nature. Wind noise is nearly nonexistent. Powertrain harshness is far more refined. In fact, the only noise that truly stands out is the roar of the run-flat tires on pavement at high speed.
Thanks to a retuned Bilstein DampTronic adjustable shock absorber system, and an honest-to-god Comfort suspension setting, the GT-R is no longer punishing to drive for long distances or around town. It’s not quite as everyday-plush as an Acura NSX or Audi R8, but the GT-R is no longer a one-trick pony of high speed shenanigans.
Insane as it ever was
Of course, don’t you dare think the GT-R’s mellowed-out mannerisms have affected its incredible dynamic prowess. Sure, the car’s updates have a greater focus on its ability to coddle rather than commove, but this is nevertheless the Godzilla we’ve always known.
The hand-built (and oh-so-eloquently named) VR38DETT V6 engine remains, displacing the same 3.8 liters, with a pair of turbochargers bolted on for maximum oomph. Output is now rated at 565 horsepower and 467 pound-feet of torque — increases of 20 and 4, respectively, over a 2016 GT-R — routed to all four wheels through the same 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Really, the GT-R is the same back-road monster it’s always been. The suspension’s supple quality has not reduced its ability to provide incredible balance and poise. This is a car that’s endlessly communicative: The direct, heavy steering provides a clear description of what’s happening at road level. Quick turn-in is met with immediate response, and quick back-and-forth motions don’t upset the chassis. Ditto the tires; this GT-R Premium test car comes shod in sticky Dunlop SP Sport Maxx summer tires, with 255/40-series rubber up front and 285/35 out back, wrapped around 20-inch Rays forged aluminum wheels, that never give up even a hint of grip unless violently provoked.
Acceleration is immediate and unrelenting. It’s an experience that makes you say “oh yeah, definitely” when prompted with Nissan’s sub-three-second 0-60 estimate. The transmission fires off immediate gear changes when left to its own devices, and it’s an absolute joy to work thanks to the large, steering wheel-mounted paddles. Brembo brakes are fitted at all four corners, with 15.3-inch front and 15.0-inch rear rotors clamped by six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers. They feel endlessly powerful with no signs of fade after a long session of fast canyon driving.
I definitely appreciated the GT-R’s quieter demeanor most of the time. But I wish the exhaust had a more spirited character, truth be told. Even with the Premium model’s titanium exhaust system with “active sound enhancement,” I hear more of what’s happening under the hood — and under the tires — than what’s roaring out back. It’s a small complaint, and a trade-off I’ll deal with if it means less overall harsh driveline noise. But considering how well-known many supercars are for their exhaust soundtracks, this is an area where Nissan could stand to let loose a little more.
If there’s one place where the GT-R’s age is most obvious, it’s in terms of technology. I’m not just talking about infotainment tech, either. Aside from a backup camera — which is now required on all new cars sold in the US — the GT-R is entirely devoid of any active drivers’ aids. I mean, you get parking sensors and push-button start, but in the year 2018, and on a $100,000 car, I expect a little more.
Infotainment duties are handled by the automaker’s NissanConnect system, housed in an eight-inch touchscreen atop the center console. (You can also control the system through a rotary knob on the console next to your right thigh, but considering how easy the touchscreen interface is, I never once used this.) The menus are intuitive to move through, with large icons and colorful displays, but overall, the graphics are decidedly low-res, especially on the maps in the navigation system. Apple CarPlay comes standard on every GT-R, but Android Auto is nonexistent. Wi-Fi connectivity is unavailable as well. But don’t worry, you can still nerd out over engine data and G forces thanks to the built-in performance information pages.
How I’d spec it
The 2018 GT-R starts at $101,685 for the Pure model, including $1,695 for destination. The Premium model that I have starts at $112,185, and nets you niceties like a Bose audio system and active noise cancellation. If you need sharper on-road (or on-track) chops, Nissan will sell you GT-R Track Edition and Nismo models, for $130,185 and $177,185, respectively. That also includes destination.
Unless you’re actually planning to track your GT-R — or you absolutely must have the best version — I say stick with the Premium. It’s the most amicable to use day-to-day and still packs a wallop for backroad blasting.
My ideal GT-R Premium wears no-added-cost Deep Blue Pearl paint and adds the $4,280 Premium Interior Package, with the Rakuda Tan semi-aniline leather. I’ll bypass any other unnecessary dealer-installed accessories, and the end result is a GT-R that costs $116,465, including destination. The car you see here, meanwhile, costs $119,885, thanks to its $3,000(!) Super Silver exterior and $420 carpeted floor mats.
Better than ever
None of the GT-R’s updates take away from its outrageous character, a car that looks and feels impeccably “Japanese supercar” in execution. It’s still a thrill to drive fast, but it won’t kill you when you’re just slogging through traffic. I still wouldn’t take one over more well-rounded sports cars like, say, a. But for fans everywhere, rest assured — the GT-R’s newfound civility hasn’t changed the fact that it’s still a formidable supercar that offers an experience unlike any other.
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