Godzilla Re­boots

The R35 GT-R’s most com­pre­hen­sive up­date yet proves you can still teach an old dog new tricks


Nis­san’s fire-breath­ing poster child may fi­nally have come of age, with the big­gest facelift in its eight-year his­tory

It seems like we’ve been talk­ing about Nis­san’s R35 GT-R for a long time. A very, very long time, in fact. Con­sider that the first con­cept car ap­peared way back at the 2001 Tokyo Show, and that its R36 re­place­ment isn’t ex­pected un­til 2020 (at best – it may well push out to 2022), and Nis­san’s fire­breath­ing poster child will be well clear of the moody ado­les­cent years and will be able to vote be­fore it gets put out to pas­ture.

Look what’s hap­pened in the per­for­mance world since the R35 first ap­peared in 2008: Porsche 997 ver­sions one and two, then 991. Fer­rari 458 and 488. McLaren’s MP4 12C wasn’t even a glint in Ron Den­nis’s eye when the R35 lobbed Down Un­der in 2009, a year af­ter its de­but in Ja­pan and the US.

And the word around the camp­fire in Yoko­hama is that the R36 – once thought to be on track for a 2017 launch – is still at least four years away. De­spite a 2020 Gran Turismo Vi­sion Con­cept show­ing up last Oc­to­ber at the Tokyo Show sup­pos­edly point­ing the way towards it, and much talk of a high-per­for­mance hy­brid pow­er­train gleaned from learn­ings around Nis­san’s ul­ti­mately fruit­less Le Mans pro­gram of 2015, the R36 is nowhere to be seen on fu­ture prod­uct plans, ac­cord­ing to se­nior Nis­san of­fi­cials.

So here we are in 2016, and in­stead of check­ing out an all-new ver­sion of a car that ut­terly an­ni­hi­lated the af­ford­able per­for­mance bar, Nis­san is in­stead givin­gus what it calls the R35’s big­gest and most trans­for­ma­tive facelift yet.

It’s one of the trade­marks of the R35’s life cy­cle, and the source of the oc­ca­sional tit­ter be­hind the hand when the an­nual press re­lease dropped; “Oh look! Nis­san has re­pro­filed the bolt heads on the R35’s ra­di­a­tor sup­port bar!” we’d chor­tle. A myr­iad of minute tweaks over the years, how­ever, has led us to this mo­ment, where the R35 looks to have at long last found the elu­sive bal­ance be­tween raw fire­power and real-world fi­nesse; more GT/R than GT-R, in other words.

The lat­est mod­i­fi­ca­tions in­cor­po­rate a lon­gover­due cabin up­date that in­cludes newly-de­signed seats, a re­designed dash­board and in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem, along with a sig­nif­i­cant sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of the in-cabin switchgear. Nis­san has ditched 16 switches in to­tal, re­duc­ing the num­ber to just 11, while a larger, more leg­i­ble 8.0-inch screen is fit­ted with gen­uine al­loy di­als.

An ex­te­rior de­sign re­fresh that com­prises new bumpers, a new grille and bon­net, deeper side sills and a new rear dif­fuser has also been added to the new GT-R, which still doesn’t move the car a mil­lion miles from its orig­i­nal, bru­tally pur­pose­ful looks. The rear bumper was plucked from the GT-R

The ex­te­rior de­sign re­fresh doesn’t move the car a mil­lion miles on from the bru­tally pur­pose­ful orig­i­nal

NISMO; all the bet­ter to route air­flow and ex­haust gases with, my dear. The aero­dy­namic tweaks are also said to in­crease cool­ing and down­force with­out adding drag.

A struc­tural re­design has stiff­ened the bodyshell around the wid­screen, the A and C-pil­lars in par­tic­u­lar, while a sus­pen­sion up­date in­cludes stiffer mount­ings, lighter Y-spoke Rays 20-inch wheels and revalved Bil­stein adap­tive dampers.

Re­vi­sions to the po­tent VR38DETT twin-turbo 3.8-litre V6 add ex­tra boost pres­sure and a new ig­ni­tion tim­ing sys­tem poached from the NISMO that con­trols fuel for each in­di­vid­ual cylin­der. A new ti­ta­nium ex­haust sys­tem too, com­plete with match­ing Ti back­boxes, is cooled via a duct in the rear floor, and is said to be qui­eter at low speeds. Power rises to 419kW (from 405kW) and there’s a more mar­ginal (4Nm) in­crease in torque to 632Nm.

The car will ar­rive in Aus­tralia in Septem­ber with a choice of two trim lev­els: Pre­mium Edi­tion and the awk­wardly named Track Edi­tion Tuned by NISMO. The lat­ter tops the reg­u­lar model line-up and gets its own wheels, tyres and trick damper tune.

The im­prove­ments to the cabin am­bi­ence are quite strik­ing. Most of the cheaper-look­ing plas­tics

and fid­dly switches have been ban­ished, with a slim­mer-bossed steer­ing wheel, leather-wrapped up­per fas­cia and car­bon fi­bre-clad trans­mis­sion tun­nel now giv­ing an im­pres­sion of qual­ity and lux­ury that has thus far been miss­ing.

The in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem, although a small im­prove­ment on what went be­fore, re­mains quite blocky to look at and can be slow to re­spond, but you can now use an al­loy ro­tary knob to mar­shal its func­tions, which is a wel­come al­ter­na­tive to jab­bing at the touch­screen.

Re­fine­ment has in­creased, too. The du­al­clutch au­to­matic transaxle gear­box is al­most un­recog­nis­able from the clunky, shunt­ing sixspeeder that the R35 came with orig­i­nally. It jug­gles ra­tios smoothly and qui­etly on part-throt­tle and at low speeds, although it slurs a bit when you’re press­ing on. Cabin noise has been re­duced and ride com­fort im­proved, so the GT-R can now cover big dis­tances with­out tak­ing such a toll on your senses.

The ex­tra 14kW doesn’t, ac­cord­ing to Nis­san, make the car any quicker to 100km/h from rest – but as part of a cu­ri­ous new gen­tle­men’s agree­ment with fel­low Ja­panese man­u­fac­tur­ers, Nis­san no longer quotes an of­fi­cial 0-100km/h time. For­tu­nately, our test route af­forded the chance of a mo­men­tary bit of per­for­mance bench­mark­ing us­ing satel­lite tim­ing gear that we, er, just hap­pened to have on hand.

On an ap­par­ently level and av­er­agely well-sur­faced stretch of road, the car hit 100km/h in 3.3sec and 160km/h in 7.6sec, sta­tis­tics that place it nar­rowly be­hind the cur­rent su­per-sports car crop and well ahead of the ma­chines it di­rectly com­petes with at that mid-to-high hun­dreds price point. It’s still not as fast as the fig­ures pre­vi­ously touted by Nis­san that have al­ways looked good on pa­per but have been some­what harder to achieve in the real world.

What re­ally stops the GT-R from run­ning with the Audi R8 V10 and new Porsche 911 Turbo is its heft – all 1752kg of it. The car feels po­tent where it can be given its head, but it no longer feels quite like it be­longs in the big per­for­mance leagues re­de­fined by the likes of the Fer­rari 488 GTB and McLaren 570S. The Nis­san’s giant-killing days would seem to be over – or at least on hold.

Weight also con­tin­ues to limit its han­dling ap­peal, although the GT-R still has a trick or two up its sleeve. Feel­some, di­rect and ac­cu­rate, the newly re­cal­i­brated steer­ing draws you into the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence by your fin­ger­tips, while the stiffer chas­sis con­tin­ues to pro­duce the same prodi­gious

The GT-R’s limit han­dling re­mains some­thing to be ex­plored with cir­cum­spec­tion

lat­eral grip and awe­some trac­tion that have made the GT-R so fa­mous for so long.

As well as re­mark­ably flat body con­trol for some­thing so heavy, the Bil­stein-based sus­pen­sion con­jures a much more set­tled ride over hard-charged bumps than it used to, and the all-wheel drive sys­tem re­mains suf­fi­ciently rear-bi­ased to al­low you to adopt a neu­tral cor­ner­ing at­ti­tude un­der power that feels poised and ad­justable.

Be­yond gen­tle ini­tial slip an­gles, the GT-R’s limit han­dling char­ac­ter re­mains some­thing to be ex­plored with cir­cum­spec­tion, though. When grip lev­els are breached, they drop away quite sud­denly and the rear of the big car picks up mo­men­tum dis­con­cert­ingly quickly. Keep­ing the car on line as the driveline shuf­fles power away from the rear axle can feel like an ex­er­cise more of luck than judge­ment – and if your luck runs out, you’d best hope it runs out some­where there’s a lot of runoff.

So it’s clearly some­what long in the tooth, it’s still rough around the edges and it could still do with los­ing a few pounds. And yet the facelifted GT-R re­mains gen­uinely, prop­erly fast enough in ev­ery sense to shrug off the no­tion that it’s in any way past it. Those who like its mus­cle-bound, old-school ‘han­dle with care’ char­ac­ter won’t ob­ject to the lack of dy­namic del­i­cacy. At all. They could even be en­cour­aged by it.

More­over, a fiercely loyal cus­tomer base should con­tinue to be mo­ti­vated by a bang-for-buck ar­gu­ment that, if not as sen­sa­tional as it once was, con­tin­ues to earn the car we once knew as the Sky­line a place among the fastest and most ex­cit­ing new mod­els that a re­motely re­al­is­tic amount of money can buy.

Giant-killer or not, the GT-R con­tin­ues to pack a mighty punch. It’s also mel­low­ing nicely with age.

Nis­san bravely chose the fear­somely fast SpaFran­cor­champs cir­cuit in Bel­gium as the launch venue for the up­dated R35 GT-R

New lights, bumper, grille and bon­net make the 2017 GT-R look even chunkier than ever be­fore

Out­puts from the hand-built VR38DETT con­tinue to creep up, climb­ing from an ini­tial 353kW/588Nm in 2008 to the cur­rent 419kW/632Nm

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