For Nissan, that string of digits -- seven minutes, eight seconds, and change -- was the mantra of the GT-R Nismo, chanted at the recent Tokyo motor show reveal by everyone from Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn to test driver Michael Krumm. For the world's sports cars (excepting a couple of million-dollar babies), the Nissan's lap time at Germany's Nürburgring Nordschleife course represents a fearsome new bogey.
For all the tiresome obsession with 'Ring times -- the simplistic, reductive refuge of fanboys the world over -- the Nissan's time, a record for a volume production car, says something objective about its real-world capabilities. That lap is fifty seconds quicker than Cadillac's in 2008, when the 556-hp CTS-V became the first showroom sedan to run below eight minutes. The Nismo's lap beats the GT-R's previous best by ten seconds.
So a pit-lane, champagne hose-down for the Nissan, yes. But also caveats: The stratospherically expensive McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder have smashed the seven-minute barrier at the 'Ring. And the GT-R Nismo ain't cheap. The 600-horse bruiser will start at about $150,000 beginning this summer, and it should surpass 160 large with the track package that helped Krumm escort his camouflaged "time attack" GT-R so stirringly around the 12.8-mile course.
That's a lot of dough for a Nissan that, when standing still, might get confused for a Tokyo-tuned Ford Mustang. It costs decisively more than a Chevy Corvette ZR1 and is on par with a Porsche 911 Turbo or an Audi R8 V10, to name three sports cars that add refinement to the endorphin rush. And it's double the price of the first Godzilla to stomp ashore in America, which came in at $70,850 for 2009.
But fear not, PlayStation pushers. A modestly reworked 2015 GT-R is now hitting showrooms. Compared with the Nismo's Hyde, lying in wait to murder unsuspecting exotics, the standard GT-R isn't exactly Jekyll, not with the carryover 545-hp, 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6 and idiot-proof all-wheel-drive system.
Hiroshi Tamura, the GT-R's chief product specialist, did focus on the "GT" side of the name, aiming for a more mature, less punishing car without sacrificing a jot of supercar performance.
That goal has been met, although visible changes are subtle. New adaptive LED headlamps and four-ring taillamps flare to life on start-up. Interior fit and finish are improved, although the available ivory leather seems almost effete for a child wild enough to rock a loincloth.
Nissan actually softened stabilizer and damper rates of the adjustable Bilstein shocks to reduce load fluctuations among the wheels and to boost suspension stroke at high g's. Steering effort is lighter at city speeds. Brembo brakes are recalibrated for more linear response and improved wet performance.
In tandem with twenty-inch Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tires with stiffer sidewalls and a new compound, the added compliance translates into more grip and confidence by better pinning the tires to undulating pavement -- as experienced on the 'Ring, one reason that it's the world's leading gauntlet for handling development.
Captain Nismo's ship makes 481 lb-ft of torque, up from 463 lb-ft in the base GT-R, and spools up its 55 additional horses by using larger, GT3-racing-derived turbos, a higher-pressure fuel pump, and revised ignition timing.
A carbon-fiber wing flips a salute from the carbon trunk lid. There's a ground-scraping lower front fascia and flaring bumpers, with more carbon fabric wrapping the Nismo's nether regions. The body changes generate an extra 220 pounds of downforce at 186 mph. Stiffer adjustable Bilstein dampers join revised front links and more rigid wheel-hub bolts. The body is adhesive bonded. A hollow, 0.7-inch rear antiroll bar trims weight and adds stiffness.
Inside, the Nismo has carbon fiber this and Alcantara that, including a suede-y three-spoke steering wheel. But some obligatory materials, even the stellar Recaro seats, can't paper over the general impression: in contrast with other six-figure supercars, the Nissan's interior is like Carl from Caddyshack guzzling brews in the Bushwood dining room.
GT-R fans, of course, would choose Carl over pompous Judge Smails any day and would take the Nissan over some precious Porsche 911. To them, the GT-R's kill-the-rich personality is integral to its charm.
To gauge the Nismo's charm attack, we were granted some teasing test laps. Clawing around Japan's cozy Sodegaura Forest Raceway, the Nismo felt insanely, unstoppably fast. What else is new? We'll await side-by-side testing of both models to offer judgment.
On two-laners, a standard, right-hand-drive GT-R showed its near-criminal talent -- contributing to the delinquency of grown-ups -- but with welcome gains in civility and ride quality. Added sound deadening and noise cancellation via the Bose audio system quells nasty powertrain frequencies. Shift quality from the six-speed, dual-clutch automatic will no longer provoke panicked calls to the dealer. The driveline feels less lashy, noisy, and mechanical.
Some diehards, we suspect, will accuse Nissan of wimping out. But two miles on brutalized pavement in the 2015 GT-R should quell complaints, along with extraneous whirring, clacking, and trembling. Now -- giving the Nismo its numerical due -- if we could only shut down the white-noise 'Ring debates, the world would be a better place.
2015 Nissan GT-R/GT-R Nismo
|On Sale:||Now/mid-2014 (GT-R/GT-R Nismo)|
|Price:||$101,000/$150,000 (GT-R/GT-R Nismo, est.)|
|Engine:||3.8L twin-turbo V-6, 545/600 hp, 463/481 lb-ft|
|Est. Fuel Mileage:||15-16/22-23 mpg|