Trial Mountain. Grindelwald. Apricot Hill. Grand Valley Speedway. If you grew up playing Gran Turismo, the names of these fictional circuits are as evocative as those of real racetracks, such as Silverstone or Spa.
Indeed, while my friends were drinking Smirnoff Ice and talking to girls, I was holed up in my bedroom with a Playstation, racing Japanese sports cars. And my go-to weapon of choice was the Nissan Skyline GT-R.
The GT-R badge dates back to 1969, but the modern template – turbocharged six-cylinder engine, four-wheel drive, an arsenal of chassis tech – starts with the R32 version in 1989. Nissan’s ‘legendary supercar’ has been upsetting the establishment ever since, both in pixels and in the metal.
Sadly, huge corporate losses and tightening emissions rules mean this R35 GT-R may be the last one. If so, ‘Godzilla’ isn’t going quietly.
This is already an old car. The current GT-R (which shed the ‘Skyline’ prefix) debuted in late 2007, back when Gordon Brown ran the country and Take That ran the charts. Since then, it has been constantly updated, the ultimate expression of this Japanese kaizen philosophy being the new GT-R Nismo.
With a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 and lightweight bodywork, the Nismo (NISsan MOtorsport) GT-R rips to 62mph in 2.8 seconds and tops out at 196mph. It also lapped the Nurburgring in a fearsome 7min 8sec, matching a McLaren 600LT, albeit with a number of ‘track options’.
At £180,095, though, the flagship GT-R is also priced on par with blue-blooded supercars. Blitzing all-comers in Gran Turismo is one thing; can a fast-and-furious Nissan really compete in such company?
I’ve parked some pretty exotic cars outside my house, yet few have stopped Croydon traffic like the Nismo. At one point, the driver of a bin lorry simply blocked the road, then leapt out to take photos. And while only the cognoscenti know what it is, even the most car illiterate can’t miss that towering, Super GT-style rear wing.
As you’d expect, the changes to the GT-R’s bodywork are all functional, designed to increase downforce and reduce weight. The bumpers, front wings, bonnet, roof and boot lid are made of carbon fibre, saving 10.5kg, while carbon-ceramic Brembo brake discs lose a further 16kg. The Recaro seats are 1.5kg lighter and forged alloys weigh 25 grams less apiece. It all adds up.
From behind – the view most people will see of the Nismo – the GT-R’s signature round tail lights seem like a cheeky swipe at classic Ferraris. As for the four titanium tailpipes, scorched blue by the heat, they look large enough to hoover up a Nissan Micra whole.
On paper, the Nismo’s 600hp output looks disappointing. After all, the standard car produces 570hp and is roughly half the price (from £86,095). The mightiest GT-R is about more than raw numbers, though.
The engine’s twin turbochargers are lifted straight from Nissan’s GT3 race car and have 10 vanes rather than the usual 11, each one 0.3mm thinner. That saves 15 percent in weight and helps them spool up 20 percent quicker.
Each VR38DETT V6 is also meticulously hand-built in Yokohama by one of four takumi master craftsmen, who attach a signed plaque when their task is complete. Mine was the work of Hiroyuki Ichikawa.
Long before anyone had invented the word ‘infotainment’, the GT-R offered up more driving data than anyone could ever need. Its eight-inch touchscreen shows acceleration, deceleration and cornering G-forces, throttle position, brake pedal pressure, steering angle, turbo boost, torque bias, lap times and much more.
However, while in-car tech has evolved somewhat since 2007, the blocky graphics still resemble those of my ancient Playstation. At least you can use Apple CarPlay.
The rest of the GT-R’s cabin has dated, too. Plush leather and Alcantara sit awkwardly alongside switchgear that would look more at home in a Qashqai. Oh, and that lurid red and black colour scheme is compulsory; in stark contrast to most of its rivals, the Nissan has no options list whatsoever.
Prod the start button and the GT-R clanks into life like heavy machinery. There’s no theatrical throttle blip, just a strident, industrial rumble that makes curtains twitch and dogs back away nervously. The paddle-shift transmission doesn’t stand on ceremony either; it bumps into gear like a twin-clutch ’box from 14 years ago. Funny, that.
The waaaait-for-it turbo lag is also quite old-fashioned, then the boost arrives like switching from dial-up to broadband. The GT-R bludgeons down straights, ripping holes in the horizon with an exultant bellow. Throttle response is startling, the dizzying rush to the 7,000rpm redline all-consuming. Even compared to the standard R35, it feels ferocious.
More so than even most supercars, you need a restrained right foot in the Nismo. The ultimate GT-R is catnip for boy racers – everyone wants to see it in action. And sometimes, the temptation to casually swat away a pesky Golf R or C63 AMG is just too great.
My time with the GT-R coincided with Britain getting a battering from Storm Christoph. So while thankful for four-wheel drive, I was acutely aware of its track-focused Dunlop tyres, which have their outer grooves removed for a wider contact patch.
Whatever the weather, this car forces you to raise your game. Its steering is alert and hyper-sensitive, even around the straight-ahead. And the ride – despite slightly softer Bilstein dampers to account for a 30kg weight saving – feels utterly unflinching. Around town, it jostles and jolts like a racing bicycle.
Only when you go faster does everything start to coalesce. The suspension crushes the tarmac into submission as the GT-R locks onto the road like a guided missile. Line it up for an apex, feel the front end dig in, place your faith in the neutral balance and huge traction, then slingshot onwards. There’s real finesse here, but you need to dig deep.
This is truly a car of contrasts. A ‘digital’ hero that feels entirely mechanical. A tech pioneer left behind by progress. A boisterous brute with delicate road manners. An ‘everyman’ supercar as expensive as the real thing.
You’d need to be a fully-paid-up (and fulsomely paid) GT-R fanatic to countenance spending £180k on the Nismo. Especially when you can buy a used GT-R from around £40,000, then tune it to 600hp and beyond for not much more.
Perhaps that misses the point, though. If you’ve spent years idolising the GT-R – in video games, movies, magazines or motorsport – the Nismo has more kudos than any Ferrari or Lamborghini. And this could be your last chance to buy one.
Me? I’ll have to settle for the Playstation version. But I won’t forget those few head-spinning days with the real thing.
Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research
0-62MPH: 2.8 seconds
TOP SPEED: 196mph
MPG COMBINED: 19.2