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When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

A person is shown with their hand on the spoiled of a red 2021 Nissan GT-R.

Blink and You’ll Miss the Most Powerful Nissans Ever

Sometimes it seems like Nissan is everybody’s bronze medalist brand from Japan. I mean, I’m generalizing, but with Mazda for enthusiasts, Honda for pragmatists, Subaru for Maritimers, and Toyota for everybody else, what’s Nissan’s niche? “Cheaper than Toyota?” Sadly, it can seem that way on the surface. But don’t sleep on the brand that invented NISMO. Sure, the outgoing Frontier is nearly legal drinking age, but this is the same brand that brought us the LEAF––the first successful mass-market EV––and sports car icons like the Z-cars and the GT-R. With that range of products in the lineup, your Nissan dealer has one of the most diverse lots in Canada!

Since Nissan tends to fly under the radar while attention gets lavished on everybody else, let’s revisit some of Nissan’s most daring designs. Sure, the Micra could barely power a lightbulb, never mind overtake on the highway, but there are plenty of Nissans that could light up an entire city block and then some!

Off-the-Shelf Ponies: The 5 Most Powerful Nissans You Can Buy

I want to start with models you can (or could) buy off the lot, no limited editions, no secret clubs, no JDM tuning houses. These are the five most powerful “everyday” Nissan models for your consideration:

#1 – GT-R

In a stunning reversal, I’ve turned this into a count-up! You knew the car they call “Godzilla” would be on here, and I promise it’s far from the only time it makes an appearance in this blog post. The base turbocharged 3.8L V6 has been making 565 hp for the last five model years, making it the most powerful regular ol’ Nissan ever built! Sub-3.0 s 0-100 km/h times, lightning-quick dual-clutch transmission shifts (with automatic “throttle-blip” downshifting), and handling that lives up its legacy all come standard on the modern GT-R. Nissan drives a hard pace with the super sports car, with its only Japanese competition coming from luxury marques Acura and Lexus––fine (and expensive) company for the Nissan brand!

#2 – Three-Way Tie: Titan / Armada / Z

Sadly, the Titan is only available in the US market as of 2022. Before we lost access to Nissan’s full-size pickup, it went through a 2020 refresh that brought a lot of improvements––one of which was a bump in power for the 5.6L V8 to a total of 400 hp! That made an entry-level Titan the most powerful “base” truck on the market, which was awesome…until you factored in the price and what the competition could achieve at the same price point that Nissan’s lone engine could not. Yeah, okay, the Titan’s market was slim. But with 400 hp right out of the gate, it’s still the second most powerful basic Nissan of all time!

Honourable mention here to the Armada, which we still have access to and which has included that same V8 engine with 400 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque since 2021! Known for its surprisingly luxurious interior and an auto-levelling suspension that gives it a cloud-like ride quality, the Armada also tows up to 3855 kg. It prices well against its competition and can hold its own just about anywhere––not bad for a 2.7-tonne beast of an SUV!

After the 370Z lingered for nearly a decade, the latest edition of the Z series is finally arriving this year and lands in this three-way tie for second place. If a two-seat sports car fits your lifestyle, the 2023 Z will be worth the wait––with options like a manual transmission, mechanical limited-slip differential, and launch control, it’s poised to dominate the affordable sports car market. And dominate it will, because every single one will come with the turbocharged 3.0L V6 known as the “VR30DDTT”. Making nearly as much hp-per-litre as the GT-R, this thing cranks out 400 horses to match Nissan’s big V8 and has already been proven in the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400. How good is that pedigree, exactly? In the Japanese market, that Infiniti is known as the Nissan Skyline 400R.

A bronze 2023 Nissan Aryia and a yellow 2023 Nissan Z are shown from the side parked in an empty lot.

#5 – ARIYA

Sneaking into the top five at 389 hp is the 2023 ARIYA, which I am way too excited about to leave off the list (even though it isn’t expected at dealerships until Fall 2022). PLATINUM+ and PREMIERE trim models with the extended range battery and e-4ORCE dual-motor all-wheel drive will be the versions to wield this maximum power, but the ARIYA is so much more than that. A key steppingstone in the Ambition 2030 business plan for transforming Nissan into a “sustainable and equitable mobility” company, the ARIYA packs more tech than you would have thought Nissan would ever be capable of, including ProPILOT 2.0––Nissan’s latest in semi-autonomous driving––and all the driver assistance features inherent to such a system.

The 3 Most Powerful Nissan Special Editions

Time to turn this count around and rocket back up to highlight some exclusive, limited-run products that came from the factory with more power than they ever needed, making them the most powerful factory Nissans ever!

#3 – R33 Skyline NISMO 400R

I was a little young in the JDM heyday to fully appreciate what the real-life Skyline meant, but I was exposed to its legend nonetheless via Need for Speed: Underground, where the Skyline was the game-breaking pinnacle of the in-game lineup. I’d never seen or heard of one, but after playing that game, I knew the Skyline was the ultimate tuner sports car. You might have been surprised that the Skyline didn’t make the first part of this list (I certainly was!), but the truth is the 1.5-tonne sports car never needed a ton of power up-front (and peaked with the 400 hp VR30DDTT engine mentioned above, which was not available as a Nissan in North America). There was a special edition of the 1990s Skyline, though, that also made 400 hp––but was limited to only 40 models. We’re talking about the R33 NISMO 400R. How special did these turn out to be? At the time of writing, serial number 40 is on sale for a mere $2.7 million CAD.

#2 – Juke-R 2.0

I cannot believe this is a real thing that happened. I’m writing about it, but I still don’t believe it’s real. Legend has it that British Nissan engineers snuck a crate of GT-R engines into a garage where some extra Jukes were being kept (Nissan people are apparently quite good at that sort of thing), and Nissan executives only learned about the project when they found the construction video on YouTube. The result, of course, is insane––a subcompact crossover with an engine three times more powerful than it was ever meant to have, and a price tag easily 25 times what Nissan ever intended to sell a Juke for. Numbers vary based on your source––both for the number in existence, which may be fewer than four, and power, where claims range from 545 hp to 690 hp (based on the NISMO GT-R engine that it received, 600 hp sounds like the most credible number). The retail price? Most recently, one was being offered at over $900,000 CAD at a dealer in Germany. For a Juke.

#1 – GT-R50

With a history reaching back to the late 1960s, the legendary GT-R nameplate (classically associated with the Skyline before becoming a standalone model in the late-2000s) saw a major anniversary arrive in 2019: 50 years as one of Japan’s most iconic sports cars. To celebrate, Nissan entered a collaboration with Italdesign to come up with the GT-R NISMO-based GT-R50, which entered production late in 2020. The 50-unit limited run sells for $1.54 million CAD, with a truly distinctive exterior design, a full Alcantara and carbon fibre interior, and hardware from the GT3 race car version of the GT-R to jack up the power enough to make this the most heavily juiced factory Nissan ever at 710 hp.

A close up shows a race car driver in a white helmet and race suit at sunset.

But Wait! There’s More…The 10 Most Powerful Nissan Tuner Cars

I have to admit, Nissan’s history with powerful vehicles is about what I expected. I was surprised to find such low power in the Skyline’s ancestry––and I simply refuse to believe that the Juke-R is real––but with only the GT-R supercar cracking the 400 hp mark, Nissan is a long way from classic powerhouse brands like BMW or Dodge. Fortunately, for a couple decades before Y2K, there was a tuning scene in Japan obsessed with power and straight-line speed, and it’s an easy bet that any list of the most iconic examples will be dominated by Skyline GT-Rs. If the end of this rollercoaster list of the most powerful factory Nissans has you begging for more, you should get a kick out of these drag-oriented Nissans with enough horsepower to send ’em to the Moon:

#10 – Mine’s VR38DETT GT-R

Mine’s tuning shop was reportedly the first to “crack the code” of the supposedly untunable R35 GT-R, thanks to the genius of one Michizo Niikura, but improving the base engine’s performance simply wasn’t good enough. With the VR38DETT engine rebuilt in-house with larger displacement and special pistons, the Mine’s R35 GT-R skates under the radar in pearl white paint with 790 hp, 10% higher than any factory Nissan has ever had.

#9 – Speedwagon R33 GT-R

Mystery abounds surrounding the one-off Speedwagon––whether that’s one or two words, whether it’s associated with a tuning house named Trial, whether it actually sold when posted at a mere $108,000 CAD in 2020––but some things are clear. The shooting brake body style makes this the ultimate hot hatch / wagon-thing. Daijiro Inada emphasized name-brand aftermarket parts for the interior and reportedly leaned on HKS products to trick out the engine into a true supercar motor to make it a show car that can absolutely walk the walk. The top speed of 304 km/h was enabled by 850 hp according to one source, though others are unsure of the exact figure. Even so – that’s another 10% jump from the Mine’s.

#8 – Blitz R34 GT-R

Otherwise known as the “Autobahn Project,” this was how Blitz decided to party in 1999––by taking on the legendary RUF Yellowbird’s 343 km/h Autobahn speed record. The crew literally pushed their GT-R to its limit, disintegrating the power steering belt in the process of tying RUF’s unofficial record, with a mere 2.75 L engine making around 850 hp! A wind tunnel-crafted aero kit and a single enormous turbocharger were advanced features for the time that helped complete the transformation, which surprisingly did not involve stripping the interior of all trim pieces––only the driver’s seat was replaced with a lightweight racing bucket, keeping with a theme in this segment of preserving much of the regular drivability of the Skyline GT-R despite the jet engine beneath the hood.

A race car is shown from the rear with tire smoke on a racetrack.

#7 – JUN Super Lemon R33 GT-R

There’s no under-the-radar anything with this build, as it’s dressed entirely in vivid yellow paint (right down to the wheels), but like the Blitz GT-R, JUN kept the interior relatively plush (even as they stuffed it to the gills with gauges and meters like a mid-century aircraft). It’s a funny contrast with a powertrain that Jeremy Clarkson described as “Semtex with a steering wheel”––the result of modifications that turned this mid-1990s sports car into a bona fide 1,000 hp supercar (yet another 10% jump)!

#6 – Veilside R1 R32 GT-R

This is one example that I was unable to find much, if any, real information about. The body kit appears to be marketed on Veilside’s web page (for roughly $6,400 CAD), but little else about the build is clarified. Legend has it that at least one of these early-1990s GT-Rs was tuned to well over 1,000 hp, making this real-life mod a proper sibling to Veilside’s featured products in the Fast & Furious saga.

#5 – HKS 180SX Drag

The HKS Zero R R32 is one of the most iconic Skylines ever, with understated style and 600 hp that blows away any stock Nissan version. The god-tier tuning shop’s entry on this list, however, is a drag car variant of the Nissan 180SX that also evaded my attempts to learn more about it. One source claims it had a 15% increase in power from our previous tier at 1,200 hp, good for a quarter-mile time in the 7-second range––and we’re only at number 5 on this list!

#4 – 1991 JUN Bonneville 300ZX

The Z-series finally gets back on this list, and it does it in a big way––the 1991 JUN Bonneville 300ZX was made to win at its namesake racing site, and win it did, with a 421 km/h top-speed that was still a record as of 2017 and, as far as I can tell, still stands for the E/BMS class today! A dramatic power bulge is about the only hint at what lies beneath the classic exterior––until it throws all 1,200 hp into the pavement and vanishes in a cloud of dust. One was up for auction for $1 million or so––at that point, who’s really counting?

#3 – GReddy 35RX GT-R

It took a long, long time for any JDM car to challenge JUN’s raw power figure, but by 2012 the powerhouse performance brand GReddy had done it with their own 4.3 L twin-turbo engine howling as 1,250 horses rushed through their pipes. A body kit and rear wing as crazy as the powertrain rounded out the package, which was good for 333 km/h on the Fuji Speedway and finally took the crown of “Most Powerful Nissan, EVER” from the 300ZX after a 30-year reign. This raised the bar by a mere 4%, but after 30 years, just getting it done was a huge achievement!

#2 – GT-R NISMO Fastest Drift

But GReddy couldn’t keep the crown forever. Well, okay, the aptly-named 2016 GT-R NISMO Fastest Drift car that set the world record for fastest drift––304.96 km/h at a 30-degree angle––was prepped by GReddy and tested at Fuji Speedway before shipping to the Middle East to set what may be motorsports’ most terrifying record. While this seems to be more officially sponsored by Nissan than other entries on this part of the list, it’s still a tuner fantasy come to life. And just when you thought GReddy needed redemption, they got one––this record-breaker represents yet another 10% leap from the previous entry with a staggering 1380 hp!

#1 – AMS Performance Alpha Omega GT-R

The record I refer to, however, is the fastest drift record––not the most powerful Nissan. That’s because it was 2015 when AMS Performance, out of the American Midwest, released its monster drag car and clawed its way below the 7.5-second threshold with the completely out-of-this-world-sounding 2,000 hp engine they managed to build. In the world of drag cars, 4-digit power numbers are the rule, not the exception, and the Alpha Omega wasn’t even the fastest GT-R in the world for long.

#0 – T1 Race Nightfury GT-R

Are the engineers at T1 Race as into How to Train Your Dragon as I am? Maybe, maybe not – either way, the name is an excellent choice for their hilariously overpowered GT-R. How much does it take to move the stopwatch from 7.5 to 6.5 seconds? To move the needle all the way to 370 km/h in a quarter of a mile?

Three. Thousand. Horses.

Gone in 6 Seconds

Whew, okay, I think that’s enough. The Nightfury probably isn’t the most powerful GT-R anymore, but a deep-dive into the world of drag racing is going to have to wait for another day, and at that point, we’re talking more about sheer straight-line speed records than heritage models that actually mean something to the Nissan community at large. But it was fun to learn about for me, and I hope it was for you! Now be safe out there, and maybe think twice before you accept a drag race challenge from a nondescript Z-car.

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