FORREST’S Elbow. Bathurst. Not a place you’d normally associate with a moment of crystal-clear realisation, and yet, as the GT-R Nismo launches from the downhill lefthander, its traction-control light blinking with epileptic urgency at the top of fourth gear, 200km/h already on the dial, that’s exactly what happens. My mind drowns out the fighter-jet roar of the twinturbo V6, the slight tugging on the wheel as the semi-slick Dunlops scrabble for traction, and instead zeroes in on the battle-scarred piece of cement to my right.
“Huh,” I think. “That’s where Jim Richards aquaplaned into the wall in his R32 GT-R in 1992…” Reality returns with a rush and seconds later I’m resisting the urge to lift as the car goes light over the crest on Conrod at 280km/h, yet the moment isn’t lost.
Richards’ crash during that rain-soaked race, and his resulting controversial victory alongside teammate Mark Skaife, is at the core of the Skyline GT-R’s legend in Australia.
And now, 25 years later, Godzilla has returned to The Mountain. And what a return it is.
In the hierarchy of GT-R, this Nismo version is the biggest, baddest and fastest of the lot. It’s also the most expensive. Nismo will only build around 200 a year, 20 or so of which will make their way to Australia for the princely sum of $299,000. In the GT-R pecking order, that’s a whopping $101,000 more that the already rabid GT-R Premium, and $72,000 more than the GT-R Track Edition, which shares the Nismo’s bonded chassis (for an eight percent improvement in rigidity), stiffer suspension componentry and semi-slick rubber (255/40R20 up front, 285/35R20 out back).
So what exactly are you getting for the extra coin?
Well there’s more grunt, for a start. Nismo versions use the same 3.8-litre twin-turbo VR38DETT V6 as other GT-Rs, but score larger turbochargers from Nissan’s GT3 racing car, for a power hike of 22kW/20Nm. Total outputs now read 441kW/652Nm.
There’s also a more resolved aero package – headlined by that monster carbonfibre rear wing – which Nissan says provides an extra 100kg of downforce at 300km/h.
The suspension has been overhauled too, and is even more focused than the Track Edition.
Nissan has revealed the GT-R Nismo will soon be joined by two other hardcore models, as the company moves to build an “authentic” performance car brand Down Under. Leading the charge will be the ageing 370Z Nismo expected to arrive in late 2017. “I didn’t want the GT-R Nismo to be an isolated product,” said Nissan Australia boss Richard Emery. “Certainly I’d like the second model to arrive within the first 12 months...it’s probably the oon 370Z that makes the most sense.” A third Nismo model, tipped two to three years. “Having three be great,” said Emery. “We’re looking at what’s available, so there’s GT-R, there’s 370Z, there’s Juke, they make a Patrol Nismo for the Middle East but the chance of us getting that is remote. But Nismo needs to be authentic.
It needs to be real performance, not stripes and alloys.” model i ped to be the Juke SUV, is mooted within the next h e Nismo models would l
The spring rates, shocks and dampers are all Nismo specific, and there’s also a hollow rear anti-roll bar.
Oddly, given the Nismo’s track focus, the brake package (390mm ventilated discs up front, 380mm rear) remains unchanged from the entry-level GT-R Premium, though there are additional cooling ducts.
What has changed is the weight, but not by as much as you’d expect given the Nismo’s extra lashings of carbonfibre, which also extends to the front and rear bumpers and the bootlid. Officially, the Nismo hits the scales at a hefty 1739kg, just 26 kegs less than the regular GT-R.
Still, incremental gains have long been the GT-R calling card and as I pull out of the pits onto Mountain Straight for the first time, I’m instantly reminded of the staggering way this thing stacks on speed. The VR38DETT isn’t what you’d call particularly raucous or sonorous, but it is eyeopeningly effective. There is some turbo lag down low, but once on song the V6 rushes to its 7100rpm redline with ferocious intensity.
Another welcome reminder is just how connected the GT-R feels. In a world of polished, refined supercars the GT-R Nismo is refreshingly analogue, its diffs grumbling and transmission clunking at low speed and its hydraulic steering providing a tactile sense of communication. Nismo’s engineers have added a little more steering weight, and the result is a tiller that’s immediate, direct and instantly confidence inspiring.
If the bottom of Mount Panorama is all about power and big braking, then the top is about finesse.
And the GT-R comes to the party. It turns in hard, is eager to change direction, and demonstrates a sense of balance and grip that defies its substantial heft.
It’s particularly impressive through the high-speed sections, where it feels almost unflappably stable. The brakes are mighty too, though several hard laps does
result in some fade and a longer pedal.
The Nismo is also a car that’s easy to over-drive. Get too fussy with the steering or too eager on the throttle and you’ll run into understeer and power oversteer.
Better to be smooth, to settle the car and revel in the grip and the way the rear-biased all-wheel-drive system edges the back-end wide on corner exit. Is it as engaging and as rewarding as rivals that weigh 200kg less? That’s questionable, but in isolation the Nismo is a staggering thing.
Where it makes less sense is on a public road. On old, pockmarked tarmac around Bathurst, the flipside of the Nismo’s extra focus is immediately felt. The suspension isn’t crashy, in fact it’s well controlled, but there’s no hiding that it’s super firm. Tramlining is rampant too, and if you do hit a big bump at speed, the whole car skips half a lane across the road. Is it unbearable? No. Is it acceptable? Just, if you’re driving to a race track. For regular use, the far cheaper, and only slightly less focused Track Edition makes more sense. Which brings us to the core of the issue facing the GT-R Nismo: do its exclusivity and incremental performance gains justify the $300K price tag? Objectively, no they don’t. But as a car to experience, as an expression of what the GT-R is capable of, the Nismo is one of the most engaging, talented and characterful cars on sale. It’s deserving of its place at the top of Godzilla’s family tree.
Model Nissan GT-R Nismo Engine 3799cc V6 (60°), dohc, 24v, twin-turbo Max power 441kW @ 6800rpm Max torque 652Nm @ 3600-5600rpm Transmission 6-speed dual-clutch Kerb weight 1739kg 0-100km/h 2.7sec (estimated) Economy 11.7L/100km Price $299,000 On sale Now