For a brand that only officially graced our shores in 2017, Nismo has well and truly hit the ground running. With a racing pedigree stretching back to 1964, Nissan Motorsports (Nismo) became a household name thanks to some speedy Datsun’s that put some muscle in a very polite Japanese car industry. Australia probably felt its first Nismo tremor with the arrival of ‘Godzilla’ at Bathurst in 1992. The R32 GTR Skyline was an instant icon, and with used prices touching on $100,000, it seems the appeal has only grown over time.
Cue the late ’90s and a seismic shift well and truly occurred.
Playstation’s Gran Turismo went platinum and Paul Walker’s Fast and Furious did over a quarter of a billion at the box office. Japanese performance went from the underground to the mainstream in a matter of weeks, and the rest, as they say, is history. So, when Nissan Australia invited me to test out the trio of cult Nismo cars on offer, I thought it was time to put down the controller and pick up the steering wheel.
On arrival at Adelaide airport, I was greeted by the newest member of the family, the Juke Nismo RS. A souped-up version of that quirky little SUV that’s now sold over 1.5 million units the world over. It’s a car brimming with character from head to toe, enticing you to get involved at every opportunity. Walking around the Juke, the performance enhancements are plentiful. Nismo bumpers, side skirts, spoiler, grille… it has a sports-focused aesthetic with a playful side.
Under the bonnet, you’ll find power and torque has increased to 160kW and 280Nm respectfully, whilst the Nismo Exhaust lets the Japanese bulldog breathe a little easier. Driving the Juke Nismo RS through Adelaide was a bag of fun thanks to a short, 6-speed manual box and an even shorter wheelbase. Understeer was kept to a minimum due to a limited slip differential and some torque vectoring trickery, whilst some comprehensive body reinforcement meant the Juke stayed firmer when it counted.
After a 2-hour drive heading North from Adelaide, we arrived at one of the world’s newest motorsport parks, ‘The Bend’. Compromising of over 7kms of racing circuit, multiple skid pans, garages and a hotel, it seemed the perfect place to set the Nismo kids loose for the day. My first challenge was the skid-pan and my noble steed was none other than the infamous 370Z–a car that’s instantly recognizable and has now established its own legacy touching on a decade.
Since 2009, the 370Z has been in a constant state of evolution for what was already a well capable package. In its current trim, the 370Z boasts 253kW of power and 371Nm of torque from that 3.7 litre V6. On the skidpan, the 370Z was like putty in your hands. A front engine, rear drive combination that bizarrely, almost feels nostalgic in 2018.
The manual gearbox is nicely weighted, and after a few power slides and timed slaloms, you could feel that the 370Z still punches harder than a few of its younger rivals.
But if the 370Z earned itself a loyal fan base, then its big brother’s following can only be described as pure-cult. It doesn’t matter which way you spin it, the Nissan GT-R is a behemoth. A car that’s won more trophies than it has Newton metres of torque at its disposal.
The standard Nissan GT-R is probably more than enough car for most people, but for those that crave that something exceptional, it has to be the GT-R Nismo. The exterior is dripping in GT3 derived performance upgrades; Carbon-fibre fascia’s, boot, rear spoiler and side sills, RAYS forged lightweight aluminium wheels inspired by the GT500 race car… every detail is purposeful and cohesive.
Lift the bonnet and you’ll find further track-focused goodies; bores have been plasma-sprayed for reduced friction, lighter weight, enhanced cooling, power output, and fuel efficiency… Turbochargers are Nismo high-capacity IHI huffers used for GT3 racing… if you had any doubts about the GT-R Nismo’s racing pedigree, they should well and truly be diminished.
As impressive as the specs are on the GT-R Nismo, it’s something that has to be experienced to be truly realised. On the track, the push and pull of multi-directional G-Forces do strange things to your mind and body. That combination of power, torque, grip and braking is something unique to the GT-R Nismo. With a fresh racing circuit and expert driver training at my disposal, you fell deeper in love with every apex. Bilstein has developed custom suspension for the GT-R Nismo, and coupled with that infamous drivetrain, the Nismo huffed, puffed and pulled its way around every turn in a way that defied logic. It truly is a masterpiece on a circuit, and if you ever manage to be the lucky owner of one, I suggest you block out your calendar and fill it with track days.
With owners ranging from tradies to tech-heads, Nismo is one of those rare brands that seems to transcend classes and cultures. A line-up lead by the people’s supercar, the GT-R Nismo, it’s a combination of history, performance and approachability that make the Nismo brand so popular.
Whilst there are vast differences in price and performance between the three models, no matter which Nismo you drive, you always feel something special while behind the behind the wheel. Whether it’s the playfulness of Juke, the approachable performance of the 370Z, or the outrageous concert that is the GT-R, you’ll always hop out with a cheesy grin on your face, even if it has moved a little.