No longer curious about the fast and furious Nissan GT-R Nismo
I've always been a bit ashamed to admit it, but up until now I'd never done it.
It always seemed like everybody else in my peer group had. They certainly talked about it a lot: the nerves, the thrill, the ultimate sense of satisfaction.
Anyway, this week I finally did it. I drove a Nissan GT-R.
Not just any GT-R, either: the genuine Nismo-enhanced job, which has just been launched here as Nissan New Zealand rolls out the performance brand in this part of the world.
Nismo needs no introduction, of course. Nissan International Motorsport has achieved icon-status in a relatively short space of time (it was launched in Japan in 1984). It's essentially Nissan's version of Audi Sport, BMW M or Mercedes-AMG. It certainly attracts a similar cult following.
Like M or AMG, Nismo can do spoilers and stripes with the best of 'em. But like M or AMG, its credibility is actually built on exquisitely developed, track-focused versions of road cars. And they don't come much more exquisite than the GT-R Nismo. It takes the GT-R to the next level.
As it should. At $308,000 the Nismo machine is $103,000 more than the standard GT-R, which is already a legendary performance car. And yes, that's the right number of zeros.
The Nismo GT-R's hand-built 3.8-litre V6 twin-turbo engine goes up from 419kW/637Nm to 441kW/652Nm. It has the same turbochargers as the GT-R GT3 racing car, a Nismo ECU and fuel pump, plus a modified cooling system.
Nismo does not claim a 0-100kmh time for the GT-R, but the standard model achieves the benchmark sprint in 2.7 seconds. So this'll be... a bit faster. But it's not really about straight-line speed.
The suspension is also Nismo-specific, with hollow stabiliser bars and racing-style 20-inch super-light alloys by Rays - supplier to both Nismo and the cars of the Fast & Furious franchise, no less. The braking system is carried over from the regular GT-R, but the Nismo's rims are fixed with higher-torque 14mm studs, to better withstand the stress of track work. The Dunlop NR1 tyres are also specific to this car.
On the outside, naturally, there's an aero body kit and a lot of carbon-fibre, including bumpers, spoilers, sills and the bootlid - which wears a racing-style "super high" spoiler.
The front guards are slightly wider to accommodate the larger wheels and the body is "Nismo bonded", with extra adhesive added to many welds to increase stiffness.
The interior has Nismo instruments, Alcantara in place of leather and carbon-backed Recaro seats with manual adjustment.
It's a rare car. Only around 200 are made annually and NZ has been allocated just one per year. So even for the GT-R veterans in the media group, it was pretty special to get behind the wheel of the GT-R Nismo at Hampton Downs.
The GT-R has a reputation for being a bewilderingly sophisticated and outrageously capable track car that seems to defy the laws of physics. So it proved on on a few prized Hampton Downs laps, with brutal acceleration and the computer-controlled all-wheel system adjusting the chassis in milliseconds to compensate for whatever ham-fisted move the Nismo-novice driver made.
An oft-repeated criticism of the GT-R is that it feels artificial - like the car is doing too much of the work. There's certainly a sense of video-game dynamics about the instant response from both powertrain and steering wheel, but you'd have to be a very cynical person to think it's dull. It's not just the OTT speed - it's the fact that you can feel all that software and hardware working together in extremis.
It's an undeniably heavy car at 1725kg (only 20kg lighter than standard), so you do feel that weight in rapid changes of direction. But what you mostly feel is power and a virtuoso distribution of torque rocketing the GT-R around the track. It's an incredible sensation.
If you're a Nismo nut who can't get (likely) or can't afford (even more likely) this GT-R, there's also a fettled 370Z set for launch in August. There are eight extra kiloWatts and Newton-metres, taking the totals to 253kW/371Nm. It runs on sports suspension with lightweight 19-inch alloys and Nismo-specific rubber, wears an aero kit with smatterings of carbon-fibre, and picks up Nismo interior trim.
First seen in 2014 (but not in NZ), this Nismo 370Z looks like a highly appealing tweak to a car that's been around since 2009 but is having a resurgence in popularity among Kiwi buyers. Sales last year were higher than the previous three - something Nissan NZ partly credits to interest in the Ford Mustang. After all, the 370Z is the only other front-engined, rear-drive sports coupe on the market.
There's lots more to come from Nismo, which intends to spread its talents across the entire Nissan range. Another lesson from the Germans, perhaps?
There are already Nismo incarnations of the Micra (don't laugh) and Juke in Japan, but expect pumped-up versions of everything from the Qashqai to the Navara in the future.
Nissan NZ says there's nothing beyond GT-R and 370Z in its product plans for the moment - but a Nismo Navara would have to be a no-brainer for our ute-obsessed market, surely? See you at the track day.