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2020 Nissan GT-R Nismo (Part 2): Drive of the year?

You can’t fully appreciate this car until you get behind the wheel

Needless to say, this car is at its best on wide-open roads. PHOTO FROM NISSAN

I find myself strapped inside the 2020 Nissan GT-R Nismo. We head out from Berlin’s city center and onto the A13 Autobahn toward EuroSpeedway Lausitz. First thought: The GT-R feels smooth. Power delivery arrives progressively, with a healthy top end. You hit 260km/h with ease, as the autobahn is flawlessly paved despite being relatively narrow, with only two lanes per side. I want to try approaching the speedo’s indicated 340km/h in the derestricted sections as our peers from the UK have done, but lack of familiarity and some roadwork ahead prevent me from doing so.

Finally, we reach EuroSpeedway Lausitz. The track, a former coal-mining pit, opened in 2000 as a purpose-built IndyCar and NASCAR racetrack for the European legs. It features a tri-oval layout with a technical infield section that is unique in Continental Europe. While IndyCar has stopped racing here, DTM (or the German Touring Car Championship) is still a regular visitor. It’s also used by Dekra, the world’s largest vehicle inspection company that does tests when the track is unused for events and by car manufacturers. In spite of the track’s high-speed, big-balls image, it’s actually fairly easy to learn, making it a perfect venue to push the GT-R Nismo’s performance potential with lots of leeway for safety. Imagine doing this event on, say, the infamous Nurburgring. I’d be flying home in a casket.

If the racetrack is the target, this coupe is the weapon. PHOTOS FROM NISSAN

We’ve got roughly 12-15 laps per person. The first four laps are for a guided demo exercise by the instructor, so we can familiarize ourselves with the track. I’m encouraged by our instructor to relax. After those four laps, I squeeze out of the passenger seat drenched in sweat, nervous but happy. The circuit is indeed easy enough to learn—all late apexes and textbook braking straight before turn-in. And then I have a proper go. The GT-R feels alive. The R mode is flicked on for the suspension and the transmission, and the belts are tightened. I’m off.

Blasting off into Turn 2 right after the pit exit, a mild elevation change followed by a sweeping right-left shows the GT-R’s impressive tractability at lower rpms: I’m in fourth gear, taking it easy, but I can’t deploy more than 50% throttle. I keep the revs at 4,000rpm. The transition from the technical infield back to the tri-oval section is met with a bump and the GT-R skips, wanting to throw its tail far right and wide, but the all-wheel drive system reels in the rear, and the instructor encourages me to floor it from third gear. I soon find myself at a flat-out pace, pushing 200km/h before braking. When I stand on the brakes, my eyeballs almost pop out of their sockets. Suddenly, I’m practically standing still, with the instructor giggling at my seemingly panicked expression—part confused, part shocked, part embarrassed. What was supposed to be an almost flat-out hard left became a crawl. Truly, the GT-R’s Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes are phenomenal.

Any track quickly becomes the ultimate playground when you’re behind the wheel of this car. PHOTO FROM NISSAN

Once again, we speed up and find ourselves back into the technical infield. The instructors tell us that third gear is the best compromise for the infield as the GT-R has massive reserves of low-end grunt to pull us through the turns. The infield has two short straights connected by sweepers, and on each of these two straights I find myself close to 200km/h again, thanks to the massive grip allowing me to slingshot out of the corners at close to 120km/h and accelerate like a bat out of hell before the next sweeper, doing it all over again. As we reach the end of the second infield straight, the track transitions back to the tri-oval, and once again the GT-R skips its tail. But I keep the throttle planted, and the front axle pulls me away from the banked wall and back to the ideal racing line, clipping the apex and accelerating onto the pit straight. I top out at 220km/h and brake hard again, only to be met with the same chuckling expression from the instructor—I’ve stopped a little too short. Over the next few laps, I build up my confidence, scare myself silly and amuse the instructor who is probably falling asleep with my tidy, conservative driving.

It’s only after I hop into the older 2017 GT-R Nismo that I truly see the difference and improvements. First, the brakes. The 2017 model’s conventional steel brakes offer impressive stopping power, but they lack the feel and the progression of the 2020 model’s carbon-ceramics—amazing considering carbon-ceramic brakes have been harshly criticized for having poor feel and modulation. They also feel spongy by my fourth lap, unlike the 2020 model. GT-R product specialist Hiroshi Tamura says they spent a considerable amount of time reengineering the hydraulics and tweaking the brake fluid lines and the brake bias to give the carbon-ceramic brakes far better feel. This car is definitely on a par with the Porsche 992 I drove in Spain.

The 2020 GT-R Nismo is definitely on a par with the Porsche 992 I drove in Spain

Next are the tires. The 2020 model’s rounded-shoulder front tires give less kickback through high-g-force corners, whereas the older model tends to fight and struggle a lot with you. Not amusing when you’re pushing 140-180km/h on a sweeper with a banked wall beside you. And the tweaked suspension feels more supple, more stable and more composed. The transition from infield to tri-oval that saw the 2020 GT-R Nismo skip and hop is even hairier in the older 2017 version, where some corrective lock is needed—as is more space to let the car run slightly wider to recover from the hop. After the session, the older GT-R Nismo’s tires are cording, while the 2020 model’s tires look worn but still usable for another track session.

Lastly, the transmission feels harsher under full-throttle shifts. And both the 2017 and 2020 models have comparable mileage, so both are in a relatively ‘fresh’ state or condition. I leave the 2017 model feeling more tired, and slightly on edge after the somewhat harrowing experience. But after six more laps in the 2020 unit, it’s all good. I go faster and harder, braking later and less, and I corner as fast as my wits (and my balls) would allow. The front would push slightly wide, but the electronics would start working organically, carefully reeling me back to safety. None of the sudden and harsh corrections of all previous GT-R models. I don’t want to stop. I want to keep going. Faster, harder, more aggressively.

The author is one lucky fellow. That’s all we have to say. PHOTOS FROM NISSAN

Alas, all good things must come to an end. After a vomit-inducing, hot-lapping session with the instructor, we call it a day and head home. Again, I try to do at least a 300km/h run, but traffic is working against us. Perhaps it’s the road, but at 260km/h, the 2020 GT-R Nismo feels so smooth and so composed. At 120km/h, it feels like we’re walking as the GT-R feels so calm. As we hit Berlin rush-hour traffic, the transmission’s new algorithm shines. Crawling in traffic is less obtrusive and more relaxed.

Ah, here is a GT-R that captures both the heart and the mind of the driving enthusiast. It’s a keeper, something you can grow and develop your skills with. Something you can use every day as the trunk is useful in size, the transmission in automatic mode is seamless enough for bumper-to-bumper traffic, and ride comfort on long drives is superb. I’m sure the sound system is decent, but for our drive, the only soundtrack worth listening to is the wail of that angry VR38, the swooshing of the turbochargers and the roar from the titanium exhaust.

Just another fun day at the office. What a sorry job. PHOTOS FROM NISSAN

The not-so-good news is the price. In the US, the 2017 GT-R Nismo cost roughly $155,000. The 2020 version will sell for about $212,000, representing a massive 37% price increase, putting it further and further away from the average enthusiast’s reach. I ask Nissan Philippines if we will receive any allocation for the 2020 model; they can neither confirm nor deny at the time of writing.

The 2020 GT-R Nismo is epic. Its performance is fantastic. Its comfort and civility are just as impressive. I may never be able to afford this car, but I’m thankful Nissan continues to soldier on and deliver gains and improvements on a car as old (and as special) as the current GT-R. Let’s see what Tamura-san and his boys will do next.

Botchi Santos

Botchi is your friendly, walking car encyclopedia. He loves helping people choose the right vehicle for themselves as much as he enjoys picking the right one for himself. Expect him to write about car culture, test drives and car-shopping advice. His regular column is called ‘Car Life’.