2017 Nissan GT-R: The Refreshed R35.5 Debuts in New York

Nissan breathes more fire into its long-serving GT-R.

The wonderfully eclectic Lane Motor Museum is located a few miles from Nissan's U.S. headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee. In a locked room in the basement is Nissan's corporate heritage collection—55 cars and trucks dating back to the company's earliest days.

Since this is primarily a U.S. collection, there is nothing to prepare you for the 2009 Nissan GT-R sitting proudly front and center—nothing that, philosophically or stylistically, guides us through Nissan's previous 20 years or so, evolving into this sports car that is understated in design, overstated in performance.

This isn't true in Japan, of course, where the Skyline GT-R was a performance staple since 1969. The U.S. enthusiast base didn't really sign on until 1997, when Sony PlayStation's "Gran Turismo" video game debuted, starring the Nissan GT-R. Add to that the debut of "The Fast and the Furious" movie franchise, also starring the GT-R, and by the time the car finally arrived in the U.S. in 2008 as a 2009 model, demand for it was at a fever pitch.

All that fever translated into 1,730 sales in calendar year 2008, the best year for the GT-R in the U.S., with the Premium model priced at $72,900. That isn't a lot of cars, but that was fine with Nissan, which never intended to build a car as mainstream as, say, a Chevrolet Corvette. But those numbers have slid since 2008, down to 2015's sales of 1,105 copies, suggesting it was time for a GT-R makeover.

And that's exactly what we get for 2017: a made-over car, not a next-generation model. If this is still the R35 model, consider it the R35.5, a very nice placeholder until Nissan gets around to building the long-delayed R36.

It might be a far too modest, subtle makeover to suit some customers, but with an enthusiast base as loyal and informed as any in the business—where the tiniest change is celebrated in online forums with the same sort of gravity usually reserved for a new pope—rest assured the changes for 2017 won't be overlooked.

In another (locked) room at Nissan's headquarters, the company parked the new 2017 GT-R Premium next to a 2016 Premium, and indeed there are more changes than you'd think at first glance.

The Premium, incidentally, has always been the bread-and-butter model since 2009, when it made up 95 percent of sales, and it still is. We will again reach the 2016 level of four GT-R models with this new version eventually, but the Premium rolls out first this summer, by itself.

Let's start at the front, which is noticeably different: a matte chrome horizontal bar separates the top and bottom of the grille, resting on top of the black bumper. Two (nonfunctional) mesh openings on each side appear to be brake coolers, and conceivably could be. But there are functional channels that move air from the front and expel it from a vent inside the front fenders.

There's a body-colored front spoiler below the front bumper and a spoiler lip below. Nissan says this increases downforce, easy to believe since the current GT-R has virtually nothing up front that looks as though it was designed with downforce in mind.

On the side, the "7"-shaped accent just ahead of the doors is now partly body-colored instead of all silver, one of several changes inspired by the GT-R NISMO. Along the bottom, an aero-minded, NISMO-inspired rocker sill narrows directly beneath the door to make ingress and egress easier.

The 20-inch standard wheels are also new on the Premium, and they move a little of the unsprung weight farther outboard. Dunlop rubber remains the same.

There are some changes out back too, including functional side air vents next to the quad diffuser exhaust tips. Those exhaust tips are attached to a new titanium exhaust, another gift from the GT-R NISMO. Each body panel has been touched, but sometimes it's hard to see what's new. Example: A tiny crease across the C-pillar that has always been there is now gone, a big win for the Japanese designers, but barely evident to those of us who prefer to look under the hood instead of inspect C-pillars.

Open that new-for-'17 hood, and you'll find the familiar 3.8-liter, double overhead camshaft, turbocharged V-6. Except it now has 565 horsepower, 20 more than before, and there's a slight improvement in torque—4 lb-ft, spread over the powerband, thanks to fine-tuning the ignition timing and the turbochargers. Each engine carries a plaque with the engine builder's signed name. (Mr. Ooyama, in this particular GT-R).

The transmission is a refined six-speed, dual-clutch unit that shifts smoother and quieter than before. Engineers completely restyled the car's underside to channel air in at the front, out at the back.

You'll see changes inside too, where Nissan single-mindedly tried to make the GT-R more upscale. There's Active Noise Cancellation, coupled with more sound-deadening materials and an acoustic glass windshield. The whole car—body and chassis—has improved stiffness, something that will be especially welcome after 50,000 hard miles, if past experience in GT-Rs holds.

Recaro-based front seats are wider and more comfortable. Designers have eliminated 16 switches in an effort to make the GT-R's cockpit more user-friendly, and it works. The entire dashboard is new. And one feature many of us have asked for repeatedly has been added: The shift paddles are now mounted to the steering wheel, so they move along with your hands as you steer. Even the outboard air-conditioning vents have been re-engineered.

In the car Nissan gave us a firsthand look at, a new tan interior color for the Nappa leather, called Rakuda Tan, matches what is bound to be a popular new optional color, Blaze Metallic, which is a very rich copper. Painted this color and with the exterior changes, the 2017 GT-R Premium is a far more striking car than the 2016 model sitting next to it.

So, how much? The 2016 GT-R Premium is $103,365 including destination, and Nissan tells us the new 2017 car should be "comparable." Of course, that titanium exhaust is a $12,990 option on the NISMO, but building them in mass will lower that price considerably, but it is a legit reason for the 2017 to cost more than the 2016. We're guessing no more than a $4,000 premium, and maybe less.

Nissan would love to sell 1,710 again in the 2017's first year, but it will be happy with, say, 1,250. The 2016 Nissan GT-R is a good car, and the 2017 model should be better. We'll know soon enough, as the car goes on sale this summer.

2017 Nissan GT-R Specifications

On Sale: Summer
Price: $107,000 (base) (est)
Engine: 3.8L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/565 hp @ 6,800 rpm, 467 lb-ft @ 3,300-5,800 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
Layout: 2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD coupe
EPA Mileage: 16/22 mpg (city/hwy) (est)
L x W x H: 185.4 x 74.6 x 53.9 in
Wheelbase: 109.4 in
Weight: 3,950 lb (est)
0-60 MPH: 2.8 sec (est)
Top Speed: 196 mph (est)

GT-R NISMO: The Beast Gets Better Manners

It was April 2008 when we finally got the new-to-America 2009 Nissan GT-R on a racetrack, at Reno-Fernley Raceway near Reno, Nevada. Fast? Yes. Happy? Not really, for either us or the car.

Yes, it was blindingly fast but seemed uncomfortable on the rough little track. Gears and motors whirred; switches clicked. Inside it sounded like … "Like a cement mixer?" a Nissan executive offered, helpfully. Yes, like a cement mixer.

Fast-forward—and we do mean fast—nearly seven years and we're at the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course, behind the wheel of a new Nissan GT-R NISMO. It's more than double the cost of that 2009 GT-R we drove, and with 600 horsepower, it has a lot more oomph, but it's the sophistication that impresses.

The cement mixer soundtrack is gone. Engine power still comes on in a rush, but it's more manageable, and the transmission is far more prepared to maximize the muscle. The suspension could hardly be called compliant, but it no longer makes every dip feel like a sinkhole.

We don't yet know what the 2017 GT-R will drive like, but knowing it was inspired by the NISMO is encouraging, and we can only imagine it'll be happy on the racetrack too. Which makes us happy. And in a year or so, when Nissan is expected to introduce the 2018 GT-R NISMO, the grins should be even bigger.

Nissan GT-R in the U.S.: A Brief History

2009 Nissan GT-R

Key Specs: 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6, six-speed dual-clutch transmission with all-wheel drive; 480 hp, 430 lb-ft of torque

Japan's performance king was back in action with a whole new face, and for the first time charged its way onto U.S. soil. Fans were thrilled. Porsche and Ferrari were not.

2010 Nissan GT-R

Key Specs: 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6, six-speed dual-clutch transmission with AWD; 485 hp, 434 lb-ft

Key Upgrades: Power jumped by 5 horsepower, torque increased by 4 lb-ft, and the GT-R received new transmission tuning, Bilstein shocks, and rigid brake lines.

Minor revisions for 2010 revealed one of the coolest aspects of the GT-R program: Nissan engineers treat it as an ongoing project, implementing ongoing modifications to the all-wheel-drive monster. For 2010, Nissan massaged the car for increased drivability.

2012 Nissan GT-R

Key Specs: 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6, six-speed dual-clutch transmission with AWD; 530 hp, 448 lb-ft

Key Upgrades: Power rose by 45 hp with an additional 14 lb-ft of torque through increased turbo boost, valve timing, and intake and exhaust modifications. Downforce increased by 10 percent, with less aerodynamic drag. The exterior received a modified front fascia and a new set of wheels.

The GT-R began to widen the gap between being a very fast sports car and an outright supercar. A sub-3-second 0-60 mph figure sent Internet fanboys into a frenzy, and the car gained a whole new legion of devotees in the process.

2012 Nissan GT-R Black Edition

Key Specs: 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6, six-speed dual-clutch transmission with AWD; 530 hp, 448 lb-ft

Key Upgrades: Special black lightweight Rays wheels, red and black interior, Recaro leather seats, and darkened headliner.

While it didn't improve performance, the Black Edition added some much-needed visual flair to the relatively sedate GT-R. The package is still available today.

2013 Nissan GT-R

Key Specs: 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6, six-speed dual-clutch transmission with AWD; 545 hp, 463 lb-ft

Key Upgrades: An added 15 hp and 15 lb-ft came from modifications to the intake and exhaust. Transmission internals were strengthened with a new flywheel housing. Nissan added suspension upgrades and a new rear wing for the Black Edition.

This performance boost edged the GT-R ever closer to hypercar territory, being one of four cars on sale at the time to crack the sub-3-second 0-60 barrier. Power for the plain Jane GT-R will remain at 545 hp through the 2016 model year, as engineers continued to strive for more drivability with the hardcore supercoupe.

2014 Nissan GT-R Track Edition

Key Specs: 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6, six-speed dual-clutch transmission with AWD; 545 hp, 463 lb-ft

Key Upgrades: Revised suspension, increased brake cooling, new front spoiler, and rear seats removed to cut weight.

Limited to just 150 units, the Track Edition was the first package to significantly improve the GT-R's performance. Binning the rear seats saved about 30 pounds. The car also benefited from the addition of lightweight wheels from the Black Edition.

2015 Nissan GT-R NISMO

Key Specs: 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6, six-speed dual-clutch transmission with AWD; 600 hp, 481 lb-ft

Key Upgrades: New GT3 racing-sourced turbochargers, plus a new fuel pump and modified engine timing. NISMO-specific suspension, aero kit for increased downforce, special compound tires, and upgraded Recaro seats.

Quick hit: This is the GT-R track-weapon fans clamored for since the car's debut. With aggressive aero, new tires, and a bootfull of extra power, the NISMO shredded the Nürburgring in 7 minutes, 8 seconds.

2016 Nissan GT-R 45th Anniversary Edition

Key Specs: 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6, six-speed dual-clutch transmission with AWD; 545 hp, 463 lb-ft

Key Upgrades: Special 45th Anniversary Gold paint, gold-tone VIN plate in engine bay, and commemorative plaque on center console.

Like the Black Edition, the Anniversary Edition added nothing to performance and focused on unique paint and trim pieces. Only 30 are coming to our shores. -- Conner Golden

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