New Car Reviews

Quick Take: 2018 Nissan GT-R

Godzilla, you’ve still got it

It’s easy to write off the 2018 Nissan GT-R for any number of reasons: Too old, too hard, too soft, too big, too expensive. And to be fair, all of these criticisms are valid. But I submit that no one who as actually driven a GT-R will ever write it off*—and they sure as hell won’t forget it.

* Write it off in the metaphorical sense. As for writing it off in the insurance sense, yes, that’s going to happen. Probably a lot.

The GT-R has been with us for a decade and Nissan has made updates every single year, refining the interior, civilizing the ride, and always, always, always adding power. (Today’s GT-R, at 565 horsepower, is up 85 ponies from the original.) At this point, I think they’ve got the formula just about right. The GT-R is the road-going equivalent of your psycho ex: Warm and loving one minute, screaming bloody murder the next. And sometimes it does both at the same time.

My colleagues do a great job explaining how cars feel at the very limits of traction, but how do you accurately describe what feels like a bottomless well of grip? It’s my job to push cars hard to see what they do, but with the speeds the GT-R can achieve on narrow curvy roads, unemployment begins to feel like a very sensible option. I’m sure there are people who would feel comfortable driving the GT-R at its limits on public roads, but I wouldn’t want to ride with them. What started out as a quick test run in L.A.’s Tujunga Canyon wound up feeling like my own personal episode of “Fear Factor.” I knew my nerve would give out long before the GT-R’s grip, but I didn’t expect my bowels to be in the running.

Not that the GT-R has any really bad habits—at least none that I can drive fast or well enough to goad it into—but the speed that it can develop, and the rapidity which with that happens, is a force with which to be reckoned. And all the time, the GT-R mocks you: Its 220-MPH speedometer is arranged so that the pointer hangs flaccidly at any speed under 100. (Subtext: You aren’t a real man until you hit triple digits.)

So I took the coward’s way out, diving into the turns with as much gusto as I dared, turning in and letting the car take a set, then feeding in the power as I straightened up and enjoying the jet-like burst of thrust, all the while staying well within the GT-R’s prodigious handling envelope. I’m pretty sure I could have done all of my driving with the three mode switches (powertrain, suspension, stability control) in their softest settings, though flipping the first two to “R” mode keeps the engine at hyperactive revs and irons out some residual floatiness in the suspension. As for putting stability control in “R”—no thanks, there’s not enough hair on this old boy’s chest for that.

I did notice one odd quirk: The steering felt twitchy on smooth roads, with small steering inputs translating to big directional changes. It exacerbated one of my bad driving habits, which is to use the steering wheel for support—with weight on the hands, a bump in the road translates to a jerk of the wheel. A racing instructor once taught me to concentrate my weight in my butt and let my hands be light. This turned out to be a great technique for driving the GT-R, but I found one that was even more expedient: Crank up my speed and load more weight onto those outside tires.

Funnily enough, when driving on the rougher surface of Big Tujunga Canyon Road, the GT-R’s grip seemed to improve to the point that it was almost completely unperturbed by bumps—though a big enough lump in the asphalt will throw a speeding GT-R off its line, and I have the soiled underwear to prove it.

And then there’s the power—oh, the power! Some cars are quick, but the GT-R is crazy. Full-on, stark-raving, talking-to-the-voices, don’t-sit-next-to-it-on-the-bus crazy. The 0-60 time of less than three seconds doesn’t tell the whole story, at least not to those who haven’t experienced a car this quick. The GT-R’s launch mode—powertrain in “R”, brake to the floor, accelerator to the floor, then dump the brake—is the closest I have ever come to experiencing teleportation. One second you’re looking over there; the next, you are over there. If Scotty could have beamed people back to the Enterprise this quickly, none of those nameless ensigns would have perished.

Nothing I’ve written so far will be news to anyone who is familiar with the last ten years’ worth of GT-R production. We know the GT-R is insanely fast and we know it sticks to the pavement like Velcro. No, to truly experience the magic of the latest GT-R, you have to do something mundane, like driving it to work on L.A.’s 405 freeway (motto: “Cheapest parking lot south of the San Fernando Valley!”). That’s what really amazed me about the GT-R: With all the mode switches on their softest settings, it’s the sports car equivalent of a Buick. Not that it’s completely tame; it still makes a cacophony of clanks and clatters that I would find greatly disturbing had I actually paid six figures for this thing. (I’ve driven enough GT-Rs to know this is just what they do.) Still, it’s a remarkably pleasant car to drive when you’re just driving.

Now, I’m sure there are a lot of armchair enthusiasts yelling at their screen, telling me that if I care about comfort I should buy a Lexus. Yeah, yeah, yeah. One of the things the brochures don’t tell you is that the best curvy-road cars can be downright miserable for day-to-day driving. You can buy a fun car for the weekends and a sensible car for your commute, or you can buy a GT-R and enjoy it every day—and that’s something I never expected to write about a 200 MPH all-wheel-drive supercar.

So can we write the GT-R off for being too old, too soft, too big, or too expensive? I don’t think so. Granted, it’s a bit difficult to justify the GT-R’s $102,000 price tag (let alone the $120,000 for our Premium-trim tester or $177k for the even-faster NISMO version) when you can get a very loud and very fast Corvette Stingray with a proper manual transmission for less than sixty grand. At the GT-R’s prices, you’re also well into Porsche 911 territory.

But while there are plenty of cars that do what the GT-R does—some faster, some better—there’s nothing that does it quite the same way. Ten years since its inception, the GT-R’s blend of turbocharged thrust and computer-aided all-wheel-drive grip still thrills in a way no other car does. Today’s GT-R continues to deliver that evil-killer-robot driving insanity, and now it behaves itself for those low-speed runs to the grocery store. It may be hard to justify it on paper, but the fact is that there’s nothing else quite like the Nissan GT-R. Long may it ride.

2018 Nissan GT-R Specifications

ON SALE Early 2019
PRICE $101,685 (base) / $119,885 (as tested)
ENGINE 3.8-liter 24-valve DOHC twin turbocharged V-6/565 hp@6,800 rpm, 467 lb-ft @ 3,300-5,800 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 16/22 (city/highway)
L x W x H 185.4 x 74.6 x 53.9 in
WHEELBASE 109.4 in
WEIGHT 3,933 lb
0-60 MPH 2.8 sec (est)
TOP SPEED 196 mph (est)

 

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