New 2021 Nissan GT-R Nismo review

Tyler Heatley

22 Oct 2021

1/8
The R35 Nissan GT-R is nearly 15 years old, so can an old dog really learn new tricks?

YesAuto Score:

74/ 100

This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car.

YesAuto’s exhaustive evaluation criteria considers every aspect of a car in terms of how it stacks up against rival models in the same class only. Below are the areas every car is judged and scored out of 10 on, each contributing to an overall score out of 100:

  • Interior quality and design
  • Interior tech
  • Interior space
  • Boot space
  • Engine performance
  • Engine economy
  • Ride and comfort
  • Handling
  • Driving and safety tech
  • Fit for purpose

Electric cars are scored out of 10 in the following areas instead of performance and economy:

  • Battery and motor
  • Range and charging

PROS:

+ Ballistic performance

+ Capable of shaming the most mighty supercars

+ Dependable


CONS:

- Feels its age

- Lack of refinement

- It costs over £180k


Verdict: The R35 Nissan GT-R has been around for nearly 15 years, and in some respects, this car really shows its age. However, there’s no denying that Godzilla still has claws and is capable of showing the new 911 GT3 a clean pair of heels in tricky conditions.



2021 Nissan GT-R Nismo review: the five-minute read


Cast your mind back to 2007, a time when Barack Obama had announced his presidential candidacy, the very first iPhone just launched, and J. K. Rowling finished the final Harry Potter book. However, in the world of four wheels, the biggest news was the Nissan GT-R. Godzilla had returned, sporting huge tech, incredible engineering, and its signature supercar shaming performance.


Just like Apple, Nissan continuously updated its flagship product, pushing the platform to the very edge of its capabilities. Today, the new GT-R Nismo is effectively the iPhone ‘Pro’ model, but has the car’s tried and tested formula become old hat in a world that has moved on considerably?


For the uninitiated, Nismo is Nissan’s equivalent of AMG, meaning that this is the most extreme GT-R money can buy. While the R35’s profile remains unchanged, prominent aero appendages mark this out as something much more hardcore than your average garden variety Nissan GT-R. Aggressive splitters, ducts, vents, huge diffuser and a prominent rear wing makes this car about as subtle as an ostrich falling down a spiral staircase. Excellent!


It’s not just about race car appearances, though. That familiar 3.8-litre V6 engine is now fitted with a pair of turbos directly from the GT3 motorsport machine. Output sits at 592bhp and a Tarmac torturing 600Nm of torque. Its brakes are now 410mm carbon-ceramic affairs by Brembo, there are lightweight forged alloy wheels, enhanced cooling, reworked Bilstein adaptive dampers, sticky Dunlop Sports Max tyres, and a 30kg weight saving. Make no mistake, this is a serious performance car that has its sights set firmly on the Porsche 911 GT3.



The Nismo retains its 2+2 seating arrangement, although the rear posts are only really suitable for children. Up front a pair of sporty Recaro seats grip you tight and the dashboard is bathed in Alcantara. All very nice, but it does feel a bit dated in the cockpit with its once cutting-edge infotainment graphics looking rather old school. The same goes for the switchgear, but then it’s actually rather refreshing to have physical buttons in 2021 over the fussy virtual ones of rivals.


Now for the most obvious statement, you’ll read today about a near 600bhp car with one of the most advanced all-wheel drive systems known to man. It’s fast, very fast. Not just rapid, but Exocet missile meets Road Runner ballistic. Putting your foot down clumsily results in a momentary lull of turbo lag as the fuses are lit, followed by a detonation that propels you toward the horizon like a sniper’s bullet. Your internal organs shift inside you as 0-62mph is vanquished in 2.5 seconds thanks to the AWD system continuously hunting for traction.


The real warping of physics goes on in the corners because despite weighing a hefty 1,725kg, its impersonation of a Scalextric car is incredible. Its computerised brain crunches the numbers millions of times a second, those differentials present a mechanical solution, and the result is a balanced equation that allows you to get on the throttle far sooner than many high-performance machines – especially in the wet.



Its steering is beautifully responsive and actually provides real feedback that connects the driver to the road. The same goes for the brake pedal that makes for easy modulation of those carbon stoppers. There’s little in the way of body roll with a total sense of focus running throughout the car when threading through some challenging bends. With the dampers in their firmest setting, UK roads can unsettle the chassis, but slacken them off and dial up the performance elsewhere and you have a genuinely thrilling, and surprisingly analogue driving experience by today’s standards.


Sure, you could use a Nissan GT-R Nismo every day, but its firm ride and noisy drivetrain might start to grate on you after a while. However, as an automotive experience, this is one to be savoured. The R35 not only wins a long service award, but the Nismo claims the distinction of being one of the most impressive performance cars to come out of Japan. It might be in its twilight in 2021, but this car is more than the sum of its parts.


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Extended read…



2021 Nissan GT-R Nismo interior and infotainment


The weakest link in any new R35's chain is the cabin. While perfectly functional and projecting a strong sense of durability, it does feel dated. Blocky architecture and an excess of buttons and toggles very much make this car feel its age. This Nismo does deliver on sporty seats – carbon if you’re willing to pay an extra £3k – and some plush materials such as Alcantara. Don’t get us wrong, it still feels like a special environment, just one from over a decade ago.


It’s a similar story with the infotainment system that had its performance graphics created by the boffins behind Gran Turismo. The system is fine, just nowhere near as slick as the latest tech of today. However, it is pleasing that key switchgear remains physical and hasn’t been absorbed into the screen. Sure, it might look a bit aesthetically messy, but in terms of function, a real button trumps a virtual one every time.



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2021 Nissan GT-R Nismo practicality and boot space


Considering the GT-R Nismo’s keen focus on the race track, it retains those jump-seats in the rear. There’s a little more legroom than you’ll find in a Porsche 911, but it’s still cramped and headroom is drastically sacrificed for that sloping roofline. However, these seats are ideal for small children or some additional luggage space.


Speaking of luggage, the GT-R features a boot that isn’t far off the volume of a hatchback. A full 315-litres is good enough for suitcases, providing you can thread them through a narrow opening. If you want your Nismo to be at its absolute lightest, you can also option a carbon boot lid.




2021 Nissan GT-R Nismo engine


All Nissan GT-R engines are engineering marvels. The Japanese firm actually creates them in a hermetically sealed space to ensure they are free of contamination. It’s this level of care and precision that results in such dependability, not to mention the 1,000bhp+ capabilities the aftermarket has extracted.


This 3.8-litre V6 has been around for a while, but Nissan continuously evolved the unit to produce what is the beating heart of today’s Nismo. As mentioned, the turbos come straight from the racing car for less lag and lower inertia. Churning out 592bhp and 600Nm of torque, it grants the Nismo 0-62mph in 2.5 seconds and a top speed reaching 196mph.


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2021 Nissan GT-R Nismo driving


Once upon a time, the GT-R Nismo was accused of being a bit too point and shoot in a world of hairy-chested supercars, but in 2021 many of these cars have died off or evolved into much more civilised creatures. As the R35 Nissan GT-R is the automotive equivalent of a living fossil, its driving experience is all of a sudden much more invigorating sat next to today’s sterile and grownup alternatives.


The keyword with the GT-R is traction as this car seeks it out like a well-trained pig does truffles. It is astonishing how efficiently this thing puts all 592 horses to work with very little in the way of wastage. Devastatingly fast acceleration is one output, but a boost in driver confidence is another. On a stormy day a Porsche 911 GT3 can not be driven as hard as this Nismo, a clear indicator of what an amazing system its all-wheel drive setup is. Even in the dry, it is far easier to extract ultimate performance from the Nissan – no bad thing as we’re not all Lewis Hamilton.


There’s a sense of theatre behind the wheel as that V6 howls, the turbos sneeze like Darth Vader suffering from hay fever, and you are sucked back into your seat. Clearly, the car has pace in the straights, but its delightfully tactile steering is a joy to aggressively tip into corners, gauge your grip levels, and get on the power early thanks to the computing power onboard. That said, there’s a very mechanical feel to how the Nismo goes about its business. Like a Terminator, it has a supercomputer for a brain, but it’s the mechanicals that delivers on brute force.


It’s clear that the Nismo is an incredible performance car in all weathers and the ability to dial performance up and down via various modes is great for tailoring the car to given situations, however, even in Comfort, the ride is a bit brittle for the UK. Over high-frequency bumps, the GT-R can unsettle itself with the dampers in R, or rogue road imperfections send a thumb right through the cabin even in Comfort. Refinement in competitors has moved on, the 911 being a model citizen, but we doubt this will bother the true GT-R apostles the Nismo is aimed at.


If you’re after the most capable Nissan GT-R to date, here you go. Its steadily perfected recipe has yielded a machine that not only embarrasses exotica but is impressive in its own right. However, the GT-R isn’t the bargain that it used to be, so brace yourself for the £180k price tag.


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Tyler Heatley

22 Oct 2021