2020 Nissan GT-R Nismo review: Performance at a price


Think about how much you’ve changed since 2008. How many favorite bands have come and gone. How many relationships. How many, uh, bad choices. Now consider the Nissan GT-R. After more than a decade, Godzilla is largely the same as it’s ever been. And though it’s certainly starting to show its age in a number of areas, make no mistake, the GT-R is every bit as entertaining to drive now as it was back in 2008.

That’s especially true with the range-topping GT-R Nismo, which gets its own slew of updates for the 2020 model year. This is the 600-horsepower, track-ready version of the GT-R, with myriad vents and scoops and carbon-fiber components helping to visually convey that message. I won’t call it pretty, but it’s certainly purposeful. Like something straight out of Gran Turismo, the GT-R Nismo means business.

For 2020, the Nismo gets a redesigned carbon-fiber hood, as well as wheel arch vents to better extract heat from the new, 16.1-inch, carbon-ceramic Brembo front brakes. The carbon-fiber bumpers, fenders, roof, side sill covers, trunk and rear spoiler also help with weight savings, meaning the Nismo is 68 pounds lighter than the standard GT-R Premium. Nismo to Nismo, this is a 44-pound reduction for 2020.

The 20-inch Rays wheels are made from forged aluminum, saving more weight, and they’re wrapped in 255/40 front and 285/35 rear Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tires. The tires have an 11% wider contact patch than the ones they replace, meaning the GT-R offers better grip at all times. However, the wider rubber also makes these tires a bit louder than before, and you’ll definitely notice a drone at highway speeds.

Perhaps most interestingly, the lower weight means Nissan had to retune the suspension geometry. The dampers have been softened by 5% in compression and 20% in rebound, and while you might think that dulls the outright sharpness of the GT-R’s on-road manners, the truth is, it actually improves them. The outgoing GT-R Nismo was too harsh for most surfaces — one of the most back-breaking cars I’ve ever experienced. And while the 2020 model is still no slave to comfort, it’s also no longer totally unbearable. I promise that’s a compliment, backhanded or not.

New vents, new wheels, new brakes, new tires. Most of what’s new for the 2020 Nismo is all in this photo.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Of course, if you’re buying a GT-R Nismo, you probably aren’t too concerned with everyday comfort. And out on a great canyon road (or more appropriately, a race track), the big coupe is quick to impress. For starters, there’s the engine: Nissan’s horribly named VR38DETT 3.8-liter, twin-turbo V6. In the Nismo, this powerplant is cranked up to produce 600 hp and 481 pound-feet of torque, increases of 35 hp and 14 lb-ft over a base GT-R. These specs aren’t new, but the 2020 Nismo uses different turbochargers sourced from the company’s GT3 racer, which are said to spool up quicker, for better response. There’s some noticeable lag below 3,000 rpm, but when you’re humming above that, power delivery is nothing short of immediate.

The Nismo uses an older six-speed, dual-clutch transmission, which in this case is actually a good thing. With fewer gears to choose from, you can hold third gear for long stretches of S-curves, keeping the engine on boil between 4,000 and 5,000 rpm the whole time. Paddle shifters offer immediate response should you desire a cog swap, but honestly, you won’t need to use them. The transmission’s default automatic mode has been reprogrammed for 2020, and it’s perfectly tuned for every type of driving. Whether tooling around town or giving it hell on a great road, the dual-clutch ‘box always behaves appropriately.

This all sounds great, but the thing is, the 2020 Nismo doesn’t feel like a vastly different or updated car than the GT-R Premium I tested in 2018… which didn’t feel like a huge step up from the original car that debuted 10 years prior. So much of the GT-R experience is the same: It can be twitchy at times, though I like the overall weight and action of the steering and the never-gonna-give-up power of the big Brembo brakes. The engine has that same… unique sound, but despite a new titanium exhaust, not much of the rearward roar can be heard from inside the cabin. Oh, and in case you were worried about the GT-R losing any more of its character, rest assured that when you shift from Park to Reverse or Drive, or maneuver the car at low speeds, it still sounds like someone left a loose wrench inside the transmission tunnel.

The Nismo’s Recaro seats are comfortable and supportive.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Move inside, and again, it’s the same coupe as before, though Nissan at least gave the GT-R a nice interior refresh in 2016. The Nismo-specific Recaro seats offer support in all the right areas, and they’re pretty comfortable, too. The dashboard and steering wheel are covered in nice-looking Alcantara, and the leather accents are of higher-quality than they appear in photos. The carbon-fiber trim along the center console isn’t so glossy that it looks fake, and I actually quite like the tasteful application of this lightweight material. Overall, the cabin’s layout is simple, and front passengers have lots of room. The Nismo still has two rear seats for some reason, and with the front chairs in a comfortable position, back-seat legroom is totally nonexistent.

On the other hand, after a day or two inside the GT-R, you’re reminded that this car is a product of the mid-2000s, not the mid-2010s. The switchgear around the steering column feels like it was ripped from a 2008 Altima — probably because it was. And while I don’t hate the look of the analog gauges in front of the driver, compared to the digital, reconfigurable setups that are the norm for supercars these days, this is hella outdated.

The same goes for multimedia. Infotainment duties are handled by the NissanConnect software, housed on an 8-inch color display on the dash. The low-resolution graphics and slow responses are a blast from the past, and while Apple CarPlay is standard, Android Auto is nowhere to be found.

Want advanced driver-assistance systems? The GT-R doesn’t have any. You get a back-up camera and nothing more. I know supercars aren’t exactly a shining beacon of ADAS tech, but other cars in this class — even ones costing half as much — at least offer blind-spot monitoring, or something.

Much of the GT-R Nismo’s body is made from lightweight carbon fiber.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Which brings me to the biggest point of contention: the price. The 2020 Nissan GT-R Nismo starts at $212,435, including $1,695 for destination. That’s slightly more than both the McLaren 570S and the Porsche 911 GT3 RS, both of which are arguably better performers, with better interiors, better tech and better daily-driving manners.

But more to the point, the Nismo is some $97,000 more expensive than a standard GT-R Premium. And while it’s hard to argue against the Nismo’s higher power, lower weight and sharper handling, the truth is, the general experience is so vastly similar to the base car that you’d be better off just buying one of those. Turns out, that’s another thing that hasn’t changed.

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