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Review: Nissan's 2020 GT-R is wickedly fast and a good value, but doesn't keep pace with the competition

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Key Points
  • The Nissan GT-R may be a decade old, but it's still got modern-car speed.
  • But while it's still fast, it feels old and unrefined.
  • It's not quite engaging enough to be our favorite driver's car and not livable enough to be a competent daily driver.
The 2020 Nissan GT-R
Mack Hogan | CNBC

The Nissan GT-R debuted in 2007 as a giant slayer. It packed crazy horsepower, was faster around the infamous Nürburgring race track than Porsches and Lamborghinis alike and set a new standard for value in the performance car world.

Since then, the competition has come a long way. Porsche, Chevy, Mercedes and others have continued pushing the boundaries of what sports cars can do. The GT-R, meanwhile, has yet to receive a ground-up redesign. It's still wickedly fast and a good value, but it's not the leader it once was.

The 2020 Nissan GT-R
Mack Hogan | CNBC

The good

To call the GT-R quick is unfair. It's insanely, violently fast. The 565-horsepower, twin-turbo V-6 powering the Nissan provides massive amounts of thrust from a standstill, rocketing to 60 in only 2.9 seconds with launch control enabled. Cars like the Tesla Model S Performance and Chevy Corvette can out-sprint a GT-R, but few things in the world feel this intense with all four wheels fighting for grip through third gear.

So while it may not be that much quicker than the 2009 GT-R that debuted in late 2007, our $127,160 tester is still one of the fastest cars for the money. That price also included the 50th Anniversary graphics package, which commemorates the original Nissan Skyline GT-R.

The 2020 Nissan GT-R
Mack Hogan | CNBC

It looks aggressive and sleek, even if it's starting to show its age. You'll also notice that this is a big sports car; few cars this fast look this big. The benefit is four seats, a decent trunk and room for taller drivers. It's a little hardcore for a daily driver, but there's certainly space.

Speaking of hardcore, the GT-R is no joke in the corners. Make no mistake, it is a hefty car. It's not going to imitate a lightweight, mid-engine sports car, but it's got truly exceptional grip. Especially with its sophisticated all-wheel drive system and sticky tires, it can carry absurd speeds through a bend and then rocket out without hesitation.

The 2020 Nissan GT-R
Mack Hogan | CNBC

The transmission is also well suited to hard driving in manual mode, flicking of quick shifts on demand. Leave it in auto for launches, though, as the car will charge through first gear so quickly that it's hard to keep up.

Inside, Nissan has done a decent job of keeping the GT-R modern. Consider this: the GT-R debuted the same year as the first iPhone, but it now has standard Apple CarPlay. You also get nice leather seats, a bunch of performance data in the infotainment system and a Bose audio system.

The 2020 Nissan GT-R
Mack Hogan | CNBC

The bad

Sports cars at this price point have not gotten much faster in the past decade. But they have gotten much, much more refined. Even sitting still, the GT-R vibrates and hums like the brawling supercar killer it was born to be. That's exciting, but it's also grating when stuck in traffic on your way to nice, twisty roads.

And even when traffic is flowing, the ride is brutal. A three-hour drive in the GT-R was exhausting, with the aggressive adaptive suspension constantly jolting you about. It drones on the highway too. None of this would be a problem in a lightweight sports car built purely for driving excitement, but the GT-R is big and heavy enough that you'd expect daily livability.

Especially because it's hard to call it the most fun vehicle for the price. It's wicked fast and handles well, but it doesn't have the excitement or drama of a Shelby Mustang, Jaguar F-Type, Chevy Camaro 1LE or Mercedes-AMG GT. If you want pure speed and track times for the money, though, your best options are this or a Chevy Corvette. Since we haven't driven the 2020 Corvette, we can't say how it drives, but the entrance price is a lot lower.

The 2020 Nissan GT-R
Mack Hogan | CNBC

Which brings us to the last and most confounding issue. While everyone else has tried to beat the GT-R's original value proposition, the GT-R itself has gotten more expensive. The 2009 GT-R had an MSRP of just over $70,000, while the entrance price today is $113,540. If you want the stiffer NISMO model, you have to spend $210,740. That's deep into supercar territory.

That's hard to swallow. It's too uncomfortable and loud to be a daily driver, too heavy and computerized to be an amazing weekend car and not cheap enough to justify those compromises.

Final thoughts

At these prices, we can't give the GT-R a full-hearty recommendation. It's still a good buy for pure speed and cornering, but there are dozens of interesting performance cars that have launched in the last decade. Some are faster, many offer more driver engagement, most look better and almost all of them are more refined.

Rating

Exterior: 3

Interior: 3.5

Driving Experience: 3.5

Value: 2

Overall: 3

Price as tested: $127,160

*Ratings out of 3

The 2020 Nissan GT-R
Mack Hogan | CNBC