First drive: 2017 Nissan GT-R

Finally mature but no less ferocious, Nissan's 2017 GT-R is all grown up

The latest Nissan GT-R shoots for refinement in its latest update while still maintaining the performance we demand from it.

Nissan’s GT-R is the car that made “Godzilla” a household name again — only this time we’re not talking about a city-destroying lizard. Instead, we’re talking about an all-wheel drive sports car that packs a 3.8 liter twin-turbo V6 under the hood that produces 565 horsepower.

Updating a car like that isn’t about more power, although the 2017 model gets a multitude of tweaks — inside and out — to improve upon an already legendary level of performance. It’s about refinement.

Whenever I’ve driven the GT-R in the past, I felt like it handled whatever I threw at it with too much ease, like I wasn’t offering the car enough of a challenge. But on the street, the car left much to be desired. To see how the 2017 Nissan GT-R shapes up on and off the track, I trekked to Belgium and visited Spa-Francorchamps, one of the most demanding tracks in the world.

Skin deep

At first glance, it might take a couple seconds to notice how the 2017 GT-R differs from its predecessors, but a closer look will reveal a number of small tweaks made to increase the airflow efficiency.

First off, the intimidating front facia is a little wider, and gains the V-Motion grille present in all current Nissan products. It also makes more use of the space up front for better airflow to the brakes. Opening this up was done with care, as to not create additional drag while improving engine cooling. Even the hood has been angled slightly to increase aerodynamic performance. In short – more efficient, slippery, and meaner-looking.

Most people will see the back of the GT-R a lot more than the front, and here it retains its distinct round taillights and menacing haunch. The bumper that the 2015 GT-R NISMO sported is now standard, along with new side vents and a silver-finish diffuser for even smoother airflow.

Boy racer, all grown up

Like the swords from Japanese mythology, the GT-R’s engine is hand-assembled by a Takumi craftsman and wields incredible power.

Things stay driver-focused in the cabin, but have been cleaned up to look more modern and symmetrical. For instance, the center stack retains its commanding position, but looks much more streamlined as the number of switches drop from 27 to just 11. The larger eight-inch touchscreen has been revamped as well, with a more user-friendly interface. Lastly, the paddle shifters to the six-speed dual clutch transmission move from the steering column to the wheel.

For all the things that have changed, however, much stays the same. The transmission and suspension switches stay right where we left them, that big red R still stares back at us from the steering wheel, and the back seats are still just for show.

Spa treatment

Underneath it all, of course, is the GT-R’s 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6. Like the swords from Japanese mythology, the engine is hand-assembled by a Takumi engine craftsman and wields incredible power.

Now with an output of 565 horsepower and 467 pound-feet of torque, the GT-R has a wider power band and improved mid-range acceleration. The refinement throughout the build is astounding, with changes to the boost pressure, cooling, and ignition firing designed to increase efficiency. In the end, it means that with each stamp of throttle, the GT-R warps forward with prodigious, time-bending acceleration.

Power is channeled through a sequential six-speed dual clutch transmission that sees updates for smoother gear transition, particularly during lower speed cruising, when it’s now quieter and less clunky. The GT-R’s all-wheel drive system, maintains a fairly healthy rear bias, but can split torque 50-50 when conditions warrant it. I was happy to have at my disposal on a soaking wet track.

Spa-Francorchamps is intimidating on its own, but having it drenched in rain doesn’t help things. The first corner of the track, La Source, is the hairpin that sets you up like the initial crest of a roller coaster. From here, it’s a fast and wild ride downhill and immediately up to Eau Rouge, possibly the most famous set of corners in racing history. With its sharp incline and a left-right-left kink to negotiate, Eau Rouge eats even the best race car drivers alive if they’re not on their game. As a lowly mortal, I had to put my faith in the GT-R.

Mercifully, the car was able to support the hair-raising maneuvers, made all the more terrifying due to wet curbs. It tackled the track’s hairpins, switchbacks, and high speed turns with incredible competence. Power stayed to the rear wheels for most of the drive, only shooting to the front wheels when necessary. This translated to stability when I was on the edge of things, but I was still able to apply rotation to the car around some of the sharper turns. The last chicane set us up for another white-knuckle run, and giving things a break was the last thing on my mind.

AutoBahn-voyage

The GT-R is stiffer than ever for 2017, but a driver-adjustable DampTronic system means it doesn’t always have to feel that way. Nissan engineers told me the suspension has been adjusted to feel a bit softer when in comfort settings, but the added structural rigidity allows its sportiness to be unaffected – sort of improving the “GT” without ruining the “R.”

Heading (sadly) away from the historic track, the car is civil, even at the high speeds that unrestricted roads allow. The GT-R climbed effortlessly to the totally-legal 155 mph we were able to maintain on my departure from Belgium. Active noise cancellation along with a smattering of insulated hard-points throughout the body work helps dull the roar, especially low-frequency sounds.

Conclusion

The 2017 Nissan GT-R builds upon the legacy that the R35 chassis has developed since its debut a mere decade ago. It remains stunningly powerful, incredibly easy to control, and its added smoothness makes it easier to live with when not devouring high-speed corners.

All these improvements can be yours for around $109,990, which is a solid jump from the $101,770 price for the outgoing model. Still, it’s well under the asking price of its supercar competitors, and can still make short work of them.

Spa was plenty of track to challenge the Nissan GT-R, but it was more than capable of taking it on. And when it’s not playing track-attacking sidekick, it’s now more livable on the street than ever.

Highs

  • Updated exterior look
  • Streamlined interior
  • Improved gear changes, far less clunky at low speeds
  • Smoother steering inputs

Lows

  • Back seat still useless for people-carrying
  • Seat bolstering can’t be adjusted. You fit or you don’t
Emerging Tech

Bill Nye the Science Guy talks “solar sailing” and the new space race

If successful, The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 will be a milestone in spaceflight, the first craft to raise its orbit around the planet using just the power of sunlight.
Product Review

Diesel On Full Guard 2.5 watch has killer looks but deadly battery life

Diesel’s no-holds-barred watch designs are awesome, so we hold its new smartwatch to a similarly high standard. While Diesel holds its end of the deal up, the On Full Guard 2.5 is let down by the battery and Wear OS.
Emerging Tech

Walmart using A.I.-powered cameras to spot dodgy shoppers at self-checkouts

Walmart is using computer vision technology at some of its stores in an effort to spot sneaky behavior at its self-checkout counters. The A.I.-powered cameras automatically identify any dodgy activity and then alert staff.
Cars

Bentley will offer a hybrid powertrain on every model by 2023

Bentley is preparing to electrify its entire lineup. The storied British automaker will offer a hybrid version of every model by 2023, and will launch its first electric car by 2025. The Bentley Bentayga Hybrid SUV will kick things off.
Cars

Airbus-backed Voom could take on Uber’s on-demand flying taxi service

Airbus-backed Voom says it's planning to take its on-demand helicopter taxi to more U.S. cities this fall, a move that could put it in direct competition with Uber's app-based air taxi service launching soon in New York City.
Cars

Volvo invented the three-point seat belt, and it might be the company that kills it

Volvo didn't invent the seat belt, but the firm patented the three-point configuration found in every new car in 2019. Autonomous technology will force automakers to rethink how they keep motorists pinned to their seats, and Volvo is…
Product Review

2020 Mercedes GLS shows what happens when unstoppable force meets immovable luxury

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS is more than a luxury family-hauler. Yes, it’s got all the luxury features and all the bells and whistles of modern technology, but this three-row Teutonic tank has some serious off-road chops as well.
Cars

Airstream inspiration Road Chief puts an off-grid luxury camper on the road

Updated for off-grid camping for four people, the Bowlus Road Chief Endless Highways awaits your tow hitch and your wallet. Bowlus design, build quality, and technology in a world-class trailer towable by most mid-sized SUVs.
Cars

Ford promises exciting GT supercar news at Goodwood Festival of Speed

Ford will make an announcement regarding its GT supercar at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed. The GT's racing career is winding down, but could Ford be planning a hotter road-going version?
Cars

This ’60s Ford Mustang EV has Tesla-like specs and a Rolls-Royce-like price

British startup Charge Cars planted its flag where electric cars and muscle cars meet when it unveiled a battery-powered 1960s Ford Mustang. Starting with a reproduction shell, the firm added an electric powertrain and modern electronics.
Cars

U.S. firm plans to power soccer stadiums using aging Nissan Leaf batteries

We've heard of aging EV batteries being repurposed to power homes and other facilities, but how about an entire sports stadium? An American firm is already doing just that, and now has plans to expand its system across Europe.
Cars

Think hybrids can’t be sporty? BMW’s Vision M Next is here to prove you wrong

BMW unveiled a concept named Vision M Next that shows what sports cars could look like in the not-too-distant future. It is a plug-in hybrid model with 600-hp, and a driver-focused interior packed with futuristic tech features.
Cars

Chevrolet’s in-car pizza-ordering app is the start of an ecommerce revolution

Chevrolet has added Domino's in-car pizza delivery app to Marketplace, an ecommerce platform that equips millions of cars built since 2017. Users can order a pizza on-the-go by tapping the screen a few times, and have it delivered where…
Cars

It’s tough to buy a fully American-made car, but here’s 15 that come close

In the age of global supply chains, tariffs, and multinational companies, what does it mean to be American-made? The traditional answers no longer apply, and the vehicles with the most American content may surprise you.