2017 Nissan GT-R: First Drive

The new GT-R is still the same GT-R, just with more manners.

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The GT-R tends to polarize people. Dual-clutch gearbox, all-wheel drive, digital everything. Acceleration so glorious, they should name a constellation after it. Get all crossed up, and the chassis will do computerized handstands to save your bacon. Haters call it cheating, even cowardice. Badge loyalists make the Branch Davidians seem apathetic by comparison. 

Ostensibly, this year brings more of the same. Base model cars get revamped engine software (more boost pressure, NISMO-spec fuel and ignition maps), good for an extra 20 hp and 4 lb-ft. Additional chassis reinforcements at the A-pillars and trunk increase torsional rigidity five percent. Spring rates remain unchanged, matched with softer dampers and stiffer anti-roll bars. New front and rear bumpers improve cooling and aero. Nissan graciously attached tow hooks to both prior to my arrival at the car's media launch. 


In fairness, said media launch was at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, and during a torrential rainstorm. Even on summer tires, the car was basically unflappable. That extra power is spread evenly across the powerband, and the softer suspension setup works beautifully on a wet track. The exhaust, now titanium, sounds boomy if lacking some in character. Power steering (hydraulic, medium feedback) has been slightly retuned and requires appreciably less input at high speeds. Otherwise, the GT-R feels the same as ever. Still a bruiser, still unnaturally adjustable midcorner and relentlessly fast. You don't drive so much as mediate a hair-pulling, crotch-kicking brawl between five million data points and the inconveniences of physics. Maybe that appeals to you. Maybe it doesn't. Either way, this is still the fastest point-and-squeeze car around. 

This is still the fastest point-and-squeeze car around. 

The difference is how it drives slowly. For 2017, the interior is refreshed with better leather and a smarter eight-inch touchscreen. (Mercifully, the number of physical buttons is more than halved.) There's extra insulation, electronic noise-canceling, and an acoustic windshield, which quiets the cabin a claimed 10 decibels. It seems believable, and the drivetrain is noticeably smoother, especially at low speed. The sounds, as always, recall a pro rally-prepped cement mixer. But the transaxle is no longer vengeful at less than full-thrash—just irritated. According to the engineering team, hardware changes amounted to a revised flywheel damper and some tweaked gear tolerances to reduce lash. Mostly, it makes you wonder why the GT-R hasn't always been this way. So I asked Bob Laishley, the car's program director.


"My predecessors felt that race-car theatrics were very important," he told me, referring to Kazutoshi Mizuno, who abruptly left three years ago. "But now an entire generation has came up knowing this GT-R, and they're getting more mature."

Evidently, the original car's mechanical harshness was largely by design. According to Laishley, Mizuno-san even went so far as to strategically remove sound deadening to enhance gearbox whine. It's clear the GT-R isn't that car anymore; Nissan doesn't want it to be. This year's model is inarguably a better grand tourer, and at no detriment to performance. Whether that stifles its charms is simply a matter of opinion. 


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