When the current generation of the Nissan GT-R came out 12 years ago, it was a sensation. Nissan took all its technical know-how, manufacturing resources, and a lot of capital, to make THE preeminent Japanese sportscar. One worthy of the “Skyline GT-R” lineage.
“Godzilla” they called it, and it was an apt nickname; it was ferocious in its performance. Here was Nissan’s king of the hill, the first GT-R coming to American shores.
But now… that body that was so distinctive, controversial, and even unattractive in some circles, isn’t so special anymore. The interior technology, which at the time had data visualization charts and graphics created by the video-game masters Polyphony Digital (publishers of the Gran Turismo series of video games) appear from a different era. Even the car’s mechanicals are basically same from its initial debut.
There’s no doubting the prowess of this car, even several years later. But does the car still hold up as a “current” model for sale? In other words: Is Godzilla still a scary monster? Or have Mothras (Porsche 911?) and Rodans (BMW M8?) from other automakers slayed the once mighty beast? Let’s find out.
The current GT-R
For this test Nissan (NSANY) loaned us the 2020 Nissan GT-R 50th Anniversary edition, which includes a special graphics package highlighting Nissan’s race-winning 2000GT-R that won the JAF Grand Prix in its debut race, and then won 52 races in domestic Japanese competition in the years following. My aesthetics usually don’t veer toward a ‘boy racer’ vibe, but I actually dig the graphics and heritage color scheme Nissan used here. I find it tasteful and not too garish.
Elsewhere from an exterior design point of view there’s no use in belaboring the point - either you like it or you don’t, and the GTR has been the same since this generation came out - save for a few tweaks. In my opinion the design is still a draw - nothing looks like it, and it is as aggressive as anything out on the road today (costing below $200K that is).
Under the hood
The real reason you love this car though (as many fans do), is that sweet engine. The formula is still the same: a boisterous, powerful 3.8L DOHC twin-turbocharged V6 pumping out 565 HP and 467 lb-ft of torque. Sounds like a lot, but I think as others have mentioned in the past, that Nissan is underselling the power here. It seems like there’s more.
The engine sends power to all four wheels, via a system that includes a carbon-composite driveshaft that meets up with a mechanical limited-slip rear differential, and a dual-clutch 6-speed transmission.
Trying to tame Godzilla
Sitting in the driver’s seat of the GT-R is like sliding into cockpit of a MIG-35. It’s all business with the thick steering wheel and magnesium shift levers facing you, carbon-fiber ingrained tach and speedo (that goes up to 220 mph!), and several screens of telemetry graphics designed by Polyphony Digital giving you oodles of data.
The famous driver-selectable mode switches are also there, allowing you to customize the Bilstein Damptronic suspension system, the transmission, and Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) - which allows you to dial-in traction control and stability to your liking. I put the suspension in normal, and engaged ‘R-mode’ for the transmission and VDC settings. I found this setup gives you all the aggression of the GT-R, with a compliant, almost daily-driver like ride.
Step on the accelerator and the rush of speed is immense. We’re talking almost McLaren 720S freakout-inducing speed here. The GT-R is astonishingly fast, and the engine doesn’t feel like it will ever stop pulling. I’d say it’s that wonderful combo of the twin-turbocharged V-6 with oodles of low-end torque, going to all-four wheels that’s producing that prodigious amounts of thrust. And let’s not forget that engine and titanium exhaust producing a wonderful soundtrack to that drive.
When you’ve gotten accustomed to the fact the GT-R means business, and you’d better be careful with jabbing that right pedal, you’ll discover that the car can be induced to oversteer - but it’s controllable, and likely down to that wonderful AWD system.
The steering feels good too: The car moves where you want, the steering feels very direct, and then when you punch it, the GT-R takes you where you want to go — fast. I found shifting the gears on my own preferable, and the rifle-like nature of running through the gears with the magnesium shift paddles was most satisfying. In ‘auto’ mode shifts take a bit of time, though it’s a comfortable experience when you’re stuck in traffic, but if you want to really have an engaging experience, you need to shift with the paddles on your own.
Is Godzilla still king?
Let’s face it, this car is a bit old in the tooth. There’s no denying it doesn’t have the massive wow factor it once did.
But Nissan did something special when it made this car. The GT-R is still a performance machine, one that pound for pound can still deliver the goods against more modern cars in its price range. Sure it costs as much as a brand new Porsche 911 (992), but these are radically different cars and Nissan isn’t trying to compete with the “it does everything perfect 911.”
The GT-R is still a testament to Japanese auto manufacturing done right: over-engineered, mechanical precision wrapped in a futuristic skin. I think that’s why the GT-R still has staying power. It was so well done those many years back, that in the present day it’s still a performance benchmark.
Godzilla isn’t dead my friends … The king lives on.
Base price: $113,540
Price as tested: $125,160