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The 2020 Nissan GT-R Track Edition, Driven Not on a Track

Is Nissan's decade-old super coupe still relevant, even with a hardcore name?

At the top of White Pass, elevation 4,500 feet, in Naches, Washington, we had to pull over for a photo. The fresh, powdery snow had been growing in height along the roadside for miles and while it was barely getting to November, it appeared winter was already upon Naches' 795 residents. Coincidentally, that population figure came from the 2010 census, which was conducted just two years after the current-generation Nissan GT-R's launch. Now, 11 years on, we were steering the contemporary version of that same GT-R past all that snow.

When it first appeared, the GT-R changed America's streets, racking up accolade after accolade and showing how advanced all-wheel-drive technology, a then state-of-the-art 480-hp twin-turbocharged V-6 engine, and a whole host of electronic trickery could usher in a whole new era of affordable performance. Remember, the $70,000 Nissan's performance sniffed around Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Porsches costing many times more. And all this despite a porky curb weight of nearly 4,000 lbs.

Today, nearing the end of 2019, virtually all the big-name performance cars that were mentioned in the same breath as the GT-R back in 2008—such as the Porsche 911, Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, Lamborghini Gallardo and Chevrolet Corvette—have all been replaced by at least one successor. Not the GT-R. It has survived with simple refreshes, several minor and one major, and near-annual power increases for its twin-turbo 3.8-liter engine. Park a new GT-R next to an 11-year-old example and you'll see some changes, but it's clearly the very same car. Nissan now sells the GT-R in three basic trims: Premium, Track Edition, and NISMO.

For our increasingly snowy journey, we found ourselves in the 2020 Nissan GT-R Track Edition. Among its host of upgrades over the Premium spec-car, the most critical is from the NISMO-tuned engine that punches out 600 horsepower and 481 lb-ft of torque from its 3.8 liters, thanks mainly to new turbochargers lifted from Nissan's GT3-class GT-R race car. (The least powerful '20 GT-R makes 565 horsepower.) Other changes are aimed squarely at track use (hence, the Track Edition moniker), including a NISMO-tuned suspension that is both lighter and more stiffly sprung than that found in Premium GT-Rs. Wider front fenders hide girthier 20-inch Rayswheels for more grip; a carbon-fiber roof and spoiler reduce weight and increase rear downforce; and additional spot welding and adhesive bonding in the body ups its rigidity. Inside, red and black upholstered Recaro seats do a good job of keeping your rear from sliding around during high g-load maneuvers, letting the driver focus more attention on the, ahem, track ahead.

Inflation, plus all this additional development, mean that Nissan's GT-R no longer is bargain priced close to $70,000. This 2020 Track Edition had just one option, a $15,000 Nissan/Brembo Carbon Ceramic brake package with six-piston calipers up front, four-piston units out back. Adding in the $1,650 destination charge brought the total MSRP to $162,235. To be fair, when the GT-R cost $70,000 in 2008, it was still largely unaffordable to the masses, even if it was affordable relative to similarly hot stuff—now, it's just that much further beyond mainstream attainability.

But never mind the cost. Is the GT-R still a thrilling drive or just an aging relic of years gone by? To find out, we pointed the Track Edition east of Tacoma, Washington on U.S. Highway 12 towards Yakima and the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Follow Highway 12 for long enough and you'll have crossed most of the country, landing in Detroit, Michigan, though most cross-country travelers these days rely on wider and faster-running Interstates 90 and 94.

Even though 600 ponies aren't what they used to be in this age of 700-hp-plus Dodges, and we weren't on, you know, a track, there's no question the GT-R is still a very, very quick car after all these years. On a long uphill straight with no traffic ahead, the car simply feels unstoppable with the throttle pedal pinned under our right feet. While Nissan still hasn't done much to make the 3.8-liter V-6 sound as glorious as it should, there is no denying that its power delivery makes the GT-R feel much smaller and lighter than it actually is. Even more impressive is the way it controls not only its power, but its weight. The combination of an excellent, performance-oriented all-wheel-drive system, big grippy 255/40ZR20 front, 285/35ZR20 rear Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT 600 tires, and expensive carbon ceramic brakes mean that even when the going gets hairy, there is little drama from behind the wheel.

Case in point, coming up over White Pass on Hwy 12 and hitting some unexpected snowfall failed to generate any white knuckles or haphazard slides toward the two-lane road's edge. Confident that the worst weather would soon be behind us, we ventured further east. As the road descended out of the mountains, the snow tapered off and soon we were in Washington's Yakima Valley, one of the state's earliest wine-making regions and also home to a fair number of apple growers. A stop at Tieton Cider's headquarters and tasting room was mandatory, and we left with a few bottles of their excellent bourbon-barreled peach cider to enjoy after finding our hotel for the night.

The following day dawned bright, clear, and crisp and we pointed the GT-R Track Edition's nose west once again, bound for home. It would be a hard ride—literally. One area the GT-R hasn't improved much through the years is ride comfort. The car has always been a single-focus machine, and while a slightly firm suspension in such a capable car isn't unacceptable, even the GT-R's softest "comfort" drive mode isn't very comfortable. In the DampTronic system's one-step-stiffer normal ride mode, the GT-R can feel downright harsh. Comfort mode goes the opposite way, giving the car a pogo-like ride quality which makes it feel like the plusher damper setting can't quite keep up with the aggressive spring rates, meaning wheel control suffers. It doesn't crash over sharp road imperfections, but does take a couple up-down motions before it settles. The sporty R mode is entirely too firm for anything but a race track, as typical. Nissan simply hasn't spent the money on a magic carpet ride suspension, despite the price increases over the year. The car is just bearable over longer trips, but the ride is the first thing that will wear passengers out and simply isn't as strong as the more adaptable systems these days in Porsches, Ferraris, heck . . . even the C7 Corvette, let alone the C8.

Likewise, the GT-R's cabin has become fairly dated, with a simple analog display, many of the same buttons and switches that have been around since its launch, and very few of the modern day safety tech that competitors have adopted. Of course, some may celebrate a lack of blind-spot monitoring systems, lane departure warnings, and active pre-brake collision systems. Even the stability programing is dated, with settings for Normal, R-mode and Off, with no half-way modes for inclement weather.

One thing the GT-R does have going for it as a road trip option is a spacious trunk and token rear seats that are best left to stash whatever gear doesn't fit in the trunk (not people, at least beyond children). On our overnight venture, we enjoyed having room for water, caffeinated drinks, and snacks in the rear seat, while our two small overnight bags were dwarfed by the cavernous trunk.

All said and done, we put nearly 1,000 miles on the GT-R by the time we arrived safely home. With the car ticking as it cooled in a light rain in our driveway, we wondered how many more chances we'll have to spend a couple long days behind the wheel of another GT-R. The car holds up, even if it is in desperate need of replacement. Good thing, then, that Nissan seems to suggest that a next-gen GT-R (code-named R36) is on the way in the next couple years and while we still enjoy the current R35, there's no way its successor won't be warmly welcomed after all these years.

 

2020 Nissan GT-R Track Edition Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $147,235/$162,325 (base/as-tested)
ENGINE 3.8L twin-turbocharged DOHC, 24-valve V-6, 600 hp @ 6,800 rpm, 481 lb-ft @ 3,300-5,600 rpm
TRANSMISSIONS 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 16/22 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 185.4 x 74.6 x 53.9 in
WHEELBASE 109.4 in
WEIGHT 3,918 lb
0-60 MPH 2.7 sec (est)
TOP SPEED 193 mph
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