Nissan GT-R Driving Impression
PRETORIA, Gauteng – CAR published its first road test of the R35-generation Nissan GT-R (introduced globally in 2007) in October 2009, the same year Volkswagen launched its Mk6 Golf GTI and Jacob Zuma became president of the Republic. Much hyped ahead of its arrival in South Africa, the R35 received some of its best press in 2008 as it famously dueled and trumped the likes of a (Walter Röhrl-driven) 997-gen Porsche 911 GT2 for the production car lap record around the treacherous Nürburgring Nordschleife – headlines that prompted the German car maker to buy and lap a GT-R of its own in an attempt to disclaim Nissan’s official time.
Inspired by a history of impressive motor racing achievements dating back to the original “Hakosuka” Skyline introduced in 1969 – and much like Toyota’s Supra and Honda’s NSX badges – much of the notoriety surrounding the GT-R badge in markets outside of Japan hinges on an aura of mystique and anti-establishment character fueled heavily by both appearances on the silver screen and a burgeoning gaming culture over the years.
What’s interesting is that, despite all the hype and intrigue surrounding these “bad boys” from Japan, the legendary NSX badge has since succumbed to a modern move towards hybridisation, Toyota managed a new Supra only with extensive assistance from BMW, and Nissan appears to have no defined strategy for what to do next with its GT-R.
In the meantime, it’s clear Nissan plans trading heavily on legacy and reputation as it attempts to keep its now 12-year-old R35 GT-R relevant. And the 50th anniversary of the badge offers as good an opportunity as ever.
It’s to the original design’s credit that the R35 has aged relatively well over the years, its front end tweaked to accommodate semi-regular performance upgrades and those massive quad exhaust outlets serving as a purposeful notice of intent. Far from compact, the R35’s form nevertheless sits as snug as possible around its front engine/rear-mounted transmission layout.
Reintroduced as part of the anniversary celebrations, surely the only colour scheme to have in the 2019 model lineup is the Bayside Blue (with white stripes) as featured in the mighty R34 generation’s palette? Regardless of whether you opt instead for one of the other two heritage colour schemes (white with a red stripe or silver with a red stripe), can we agree the deletion of the gimmicky "50th Anniversary Edition” sticker on the boot lid should be the first order of business on your purchase sheet? New 20-inch, 20-spoke alloy wheels complete the exterior package.
A hallmark of the R35’s evolution has been the progressive adoption of an altogether more rounded, comfortable and useable character as opposed to the hard-edged, somewhat uncompromised package the original car delivered. To this end, the finest example of the GT-R package the greater CAR team has experienced to date is the MY17 version that placed fourth in our 2017 Performance Shootout. As fast as ever (though never quite as potent from a standstill as Nissan claims the car can be in “ideal conditions”), the MY17 combined all of the agility and precision of the original car with newfound levels of comfort and refinement, including an upgrade in cabin plushness.
Two years later, the 50th Anniversary Edition builds both on existing levels of overall ride comfort, as well on this new standard of interior trim, introducing a bespoke grey colour scheme and including more comfortable leather seats and an Alcantara-finished roof lining. Much like the exterior, it’s a benefit of remaining unique within its segment that the switchgear still manages to feel relatively modern, though the game has moved rapidly along in terms of connectivity, usability and crispness when it comes to infotainment technologies.
Much like in our 2017 Performance Shootout, one area where the 12-year-old GT-R remains very relevant is in the way it defies its dimensions and mass to carve its way through a set of bends. Indeed, as is regularly witnessed on the timesheets of the annual Simola Hillclimb event in Knysna, in a confident pair of hands there’s still little in the way of a showroom-plucked tourer that can match the GT-R for mid-corner balance and precision, the reward being the ability to unleash masses of available torque to all four corners with the front wheels still tilted towards the coming straight.
While Nissan claims to have extensively fettled the GT-R’s 3,8-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine (including by adopting new turbo units) the reward for this is limited to a five percent increase in overall efficiency and sharper throttle response at lower revs. As such, power and torque figures remain unchanged at 408 kW and 632 N.m, respectively, for our market. Still mated with a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, I have to admit remembering the GT-R feeling much faster than it did on my brief test drive around Pretoria. Of course, it’s still a very quick car, but then there also currently exists some very capable, very rapid competition.
Nissan South Africa expects to have access to around 36 units of the limited-edition 50th Anniversary Edition GT-R, all of which will need to be ordered before the end of 2019. While I think it’s admirable the R35 GT-R keeps defying the odds by taking the fight to its (often more glamorously badged) rivals, new and old, one can’t help but feel that, especially finished in its special blue paint, this is as good as it gets for the aging Nissan. With no (standard) additional power offered, and, specifically, no new Nordschleife lap record to mark the occasion, the GT-R is now relying extremely heavily on reputation to justify its modern-day price point – especially once you consider what else is currently offered for this kind of money.
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