For so many years, the Nissan Skyline GT-R was an apparition, something to grasp at but never hold. The legendary Japanese performance car wasn’t offered in the United States, which naturally boosted its desirability. Then, it finally happened in 2009: Nissan resurrected the Skyline GT-R as a modern halo car and brought it to American shores, known simply by the last part of its name.
I’ve been chomping at the bit to get behind the wheel of one of these famed track monsters, and I finally did. I also didn’t do so alone; the car that I tested, a 2018 Nissan GT-R Track Edition, ended up making its way from Los Angeles to Chicago (the location of Cars.com’s home office), where my colleague, Production Editor Brian Normile, spent time behind the wheel.
What we tested: 2018 Nissan GT-R Track Edition
- Powertrain: 565-horsepower, twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V-6 engine with 467 pounds-feet of torque; six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
- Key features: Brembo monoblock brakes, Bilstein electronically controlled shock absorbers, titanium exhaust, 20-inch alloy wheels, carbon-fiber rear spoiler, 8-inch multimedia display with navigation, Recaro front seats
- EPA fuel economy: 16/22/18 mpg city/highway/combined
- As-tested price: $131,605 (including destination charges)
The Track Edition, which debuted on the 2017 GT-R, ups the performance quotient for the car even more (as if that was necessary) but doesn’t add any power. It has the same engine as the Premium version of the GT-R, but it gets other upgrades that tighten up the car even more for track duty, including revised NISMO suspension tuning, additional spot welding and more adhesive bonding to rigidify the frame.
In our time with the car, we both agreed that the GT-R’s age showed. After all, it hasn’t been redesigned since it debuted in 2009 (though it did get a refresh and some more power in 2014). The GT-R has slipped behind in some ways through that timespan, though its performance credentials still seem to hold up. Brian and I set out to try to fix it.
Brian Wong: OK, Brian. Although we have the same first name and everything, I get the feeling that we won’t completely agree on our assessment of the GT-R — in part because I drove it on mountain roads and opened it up, while you drove it in the city.
Brian Normile: For starters, please stop rubbing it in that you got to do anything fun with the GT-R. We’d actually hoped to take it to a drag strip and compare it against similar competitors, but those plans fell through. So I drove it mostly in and around Chicago, and a lot of that was in traffic and construction… and the GT-R was miserable for that experience: The ride, even in its softest adjustable setting, was punishing. The noise was obnoxious, too. Riding around in the car at 30 mph sounds like your terrible upstairs neighbor is using a giant vacuum cleaner. I’ve never met a car less happy to putter around in normal driving situations.
I should stress that I want desperately to love this car. I’ve been in love with the GT-R in its various generations since I played “Gran Turismo” video games as a kid. When it first arrived in the U.S., I was stoked. I should also note that I’m the idiot who believes he could gladly take an Alfa Romeo 4C as his Chicago daily driver — a car with a punishing ride and no power steering — so when I say I wouldn’t daily-drive a GT-R, realize that it comes from an already deranged perspective on what a daily driver could be.
A redesign would easily address my other complaints should Nissan ever deign to give the GT-R a new generation. The interior is fine, but materials quality and technology are extremely underwhelming for a $131,605 car, or even a $70,000 car.
BW: Rubbing it in is what I do. I had the same impression: It’s a car that hates to go slow. At city speeds or in traffic, all the things that make the GT-R such a good performance car become its detriment, from the ultra-stiff suspension to the twitchy throttle. And it makes all sorts of uncommon mechanical noises.
But once you get out on the right road, you forget about all that. The canyon roads around here have a ton of elevation change to accompany the bends, and that’s where the GT-R shines. The engine revs up quickly and has a wide powerband, so it charges uphill with little effort. The synergy between the powertrain and Nissan’s AWD system is sublime; the GT-R puts power down coming out of corners like nothing else I’ve driven. Even if you get on the accelerator a little early (or late), it doesn’t unsettle the car — it scoffs at you, keeps up grip and slingshots into the next turn.
Then I had to drive it home on the highway, in traffic, and all those annoyances returned.
You mentioned interior and technology features. Any specifics come to mind? The one that popped into my head was Nissan’s Around View Monitor 360-degree camera system, since the GT-R is hard to see out of, and some updated performance screens.
BN: Around View Monitor would be great. Screens that don’t look like they might fail a Y2K test would also be a plus, particularly in the gauge cluster. As for interior materials, I can forgive the lack of Alcantara as an aesthetic choice, but the “carbon-fiber” ornamentation in the center console and gauge cluster looks identical to the faux pieces I’ve seen in the new Altima. If it’s real carbon fiber in the GT-R, I’ll eat a few hats — and I just bought a bunch in preparation for winter.
BW: Do you prefer your hats smoked or fried? Because Nissan just confirmed that all of those parts (even the gauge cluster) are real, bona fide carbon fiber, my friend. You want ketchup with that, or do you Chicagoans not like it on anything?
It’s interesting that none of our qualms concern how the car performs, which is incredibly impressive. Performance cars seem to make continual leaps, and it’s laudable that the GT-R’s performance still feels very much in line with the competition after all this time. And that AWD system makes it feel quite different from competitors.
BN: So, Brian, how do we make the next GT-R better? For me, it’s not expensive enough to forego its responsibilities save canyon-carving and track days. You can buy a BMW M5 for similar money and have a comfortable daily driver with performance figures that come close, plus a luxurious interior that befits its price and fits real people in back. Even a relative bargain like the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye is more comfortable, though it can’t match the GT-R outside of straight-line speed. At the other end of things, a McLaren 570S Spider offers performance that keeps up with the GT-R while beating it for cachet and comfort.
If Nissan wants to make this a halo car, make it a halo car. It’s already priced like one. Give it cool track-focused features like the Chevrolet Corvette’s performance data recorder or Porsche’s Sport Chrono Package. Give it an interior that doesn’t look like it belongs in a 370Z. Ultimately, it’s still a Nissan, so it’s unlikely to end up with the type of buyer who has multiple other vehicles. Please, please make it OK to drive on a regular road every now and then — at least, a lot more so than our admittedly track-focused variant.
BW: Sort of like you, I think the GT-R’s future is as something that’s even more expensive (and it gets the commensurate bumps in power and luxury) or falls in price to make it more accessible, like the Corvette.
One more thing the GT-R needs for (hopefully) its next generation is updated styling. When it came out, the car looked unique enough, and it can still turn some heads for enthusiasts who have a history with it. But for today, it looks kind of sedate. I want to see Nissan get way out there with the styling — and given this is the automaker behind the Juke, Cube and Murano CrossCabriolet, I have faith it can do that.
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