If you lined up a spectrum of powerful, fast cars with comfort cruisers at the one end of the scale and all-out track stars at the other, I am certain which end the Nissan GT-R would occupy.
But as I trundled along the autobahn from Dusseldorf airport towards Belgium in relative comfort I began to consider that my scale may need resetting.
No long distance cruiser
I recall driving the very first GT-R that came to South Africa, about ten years ago. It was magic on any track you chose to attack, but once the hard lapping was over the Nissan key fob was not the first you reached for when heading back home. Subsequent models seemed to display similar affinity for track work.
The older cars were unrepentant in their quest for speed and lap times, Hiroshi Tamura GT-R chief product specialist admits as much. R35 models have always delivered on performance claims, both in a straight line and in terms of outright cornering ability, but they’ve done so at the expense of ride quality and comfort.
This area was obviously either criticised by owners or Nissan realised that its supercar could do with a less of an edge. Areas of ride quality and NVH have been dramatically improved in the latest (MY17) GT-R.
To ensure that the new model rides with a decent level of pliancy new valve housings are employed in the Bilstein active dampers and the revised units are controlled by new ECU software. This upgrade, in conjunction with the slight softening of the bespoke Dunlop tyre casing carried out a few years back have resulted in a marked improvement in ride.
More GT than R
Helping to underline the impression of comfort as created by the suspension tweaks, the interior has been given a cleaner and tidier treatment. The older central interface has been replaced by an eight-inch full colour touchscreen unit, while the previous 27 buttons to control the system has been replaced by just 11.
Soft Nappa leather has been used in the Premium models and both grades boast new seats, designed to be more comfortable over longer distances, yet still hug occupants during hard cornering. And they work, too.
Typically, older GT-Rs were near unbearable after a few kilometres but the 200 km journey to Spa in Belgium was nowhere near as painful as could have been the case. In part the ease of driving has been helped by slightly less steering heft.
Quiet and slippery
A comprehensive reworking of aerodynamics has resulted in lower levels of noise permeating the cabin. Lessons learnt on the Nismo GT-R have been employed here.
Some of the changes are quite noticeable: remoulded bumpers at both ends, deeper side skirts and V-shaped bonnet are the most obvious. The less obvious has been slight reshaping of the C-pillar, which has resulted in smoother flow around the rear of the car, especially through the spoiler.
If you are a GT-R aficionado you would have noticed that the front intake is also much larger, up by 20% in fact. This was done to allow more fresh air into the motor.
While increasing the size of the front air intake would otherwise hurt the car’s low drag coefficient figure of just 0,26, the changes elsewhere have helped to maintain that value.
More power and torque
As with each model upgrade the twin-turbocharged V6 motor has been given a slight increase in power and torque, which is why the front air intake size was increased.
Power has risen by 15 kW to 419 kW while torque climbs by only 6 N.m to 637 N.m, though the peak figure is available over a much wider spread than before. That said, the final maximum values for the SA market have not yet been confirmed.
Once in a lifetime
Time spent behind the wheel on the way to Belgium displayed the improvements to make the GT-R more user-friendly and comfortable, but Nissan was keen to show that its supercar hasn’t lost all of its edge.
For this we were presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity to drive one of the most famous racetracks in the world: Spa-Francorchamps.
On track behaviour
Learning this tricky piece of tar would take far more track time than the half a dozen laps available to us but in the GT-R attacking the famous corners of the circuit showed that the car has lost none of its prowess.
To help counter the softer dampers Nissan suspension boffins have uprated the anti-roll bars on both axles so there is no loss in grip levels during hard cornering.
One aspect that has always stood out for me is how GT-Rs, as heavy as they are, tend to be quite pointy and easily placed, none of which has changed. In the right-left sequences at Les Combes and Pif Paf, just an ease of the throttle helped change the angle of attitude enough to tuck in the nose to attack the second apex.
Planted at speed
The aero revisions have helped the car stay settled, by creating downforce at both ends, so on the run from Stavelot through Blanchimont and all the way to the Bus Stop, the car feels planted and can dial up serious numbers on the speedo.
One of the nicest tricks in the GT-R's arsenal is the ability to exit low-speed corners in a power-on oversteer, despite being an all-wheel drive car, which it does easily as you enter the pit straight and leave the La Source hairpin.
At the very start of its lifecycle the GT-R delivered its performance with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Since then, with every round of updates, Nissan has filed away the rough edges making the car far more effective and user-friendly. And, as Tamura-san is quick to point out, the latest model is the best GT-R by far.