Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 car review
Sunday 22 March 2009
Ten Point Test
Auto Trader Ten Point Test rating: 86%
For many years the Skyline brand has been syonymous with high-tech drivers’ cars, and the R34, introduced in 1999, did nothing to dispel this. Based heavily on the R33 that preceded it, the R34 is a technological tour de force that seemingly offers the best of all worlds.
While there are surprisingly few reasons not to buy an R34, you still need to tread very carefully, as these cars are available only on a used (and sometimes abused) basis now. That means the most likely potential problem is with a previous owner’s lack of care, rather than any inherent shortcomings in Nissan’s design.
1: Looks 8/10
There’s no mistaking that this is a performance machine, but it’s not down to the overall shape – it’s the detailing that gives the game away. With its three-box profile, the GT-R doesn’t look like it could take on – and beat – some rather fine Italian mid-engined machinery. But take a look at the package as a whole and suddenly things are thrown into sharp relief.
The 18-inch alloys and minimal ride height give the car an aggressive stance, while the rear wing make it clear that this is no family cruiser. Then there’s the massive front air dam, huge brake discs and deeply sculpted sides that mark this out as something special – and make no mistake about that, as the Skyline certainly is something special.
2: Looks inside 7/10
You’re not going to confuse the GT-R for anything to come from Germany – or indeed anywhere else in Europe. The dash design marks this out as an oriental confection, which means that it’s generally rather understated, but it works well and there’s plenty of kit to play with.
One thing that definitely isn’t understated is the multi-function screen at the top of the centre console, which resembles something from a computer game; it displays information on a range of areas such as the boost pressure, plus oil and water temperatures. Designed to look like something from an aeroplane cockpit, the screen is an acquired taste, but gadget fans will love it.
3: Practicality 8/10
With its front-mounted engine and decently sized boot, the GT-R is far more practical than most cars with similar performance. The cabin is reasonably spacious too, but while there are two seats in the rear, this isn’t a car for transporting four porkers – although fitting children into the rear shouldn’t pose any problems on even long-distance journeys.
4:Ride and Handling 10/10
Nissan has thrown pretty much every weapon in its armoury at the Skyline’s chassis, from four-wheel steering to four-wheel drive, an active limited-slip diff and traction control. As a result, you’ve got to drive the R34 with almost superhuman levels of commitment to get it out of shape.
Thanks to a reduction in dimensions and weight over the R33, the R34 is noticeably more agile than its predecessor, and thanks to some recalibration of the dampers the ride is remarkably comfortable despite the handling retaining its precision.
What makes the R34 so impressive is the balance that Nissan’s engineers have struck between ride and handling; while some key rivals have the cards stacked in favour of pin-sharp handling at the expense of comfort, for such a capable machine, the Skyline’s ride/handling balance is nothing short of remarkable.
5: Performance 10/10
At the heart of the R34 is a 2.6-litre twin-turbo straight-six, which is an evolution of the one seen in the R33 Skyline. In theory the power is also the same, thanks to a gentleman’s agreement for the Japanese market, which limits cars to 277bhp and 112mph. However, UK-bound Skylines have a diferent restrictor fitted, limiting the top speed to 155mph.
Although the official power output for this car is 277bhp, it’s reckoned the R34’s engine really pumps out closer to 320bhp. With 293lb ft of torque on offer, it’s the acceleration which astounds; the fitment of four-wheel drive ensures that power can be transmitted to the Tarmac even when the going gets slippery. The result is a 0-60mph time comfortably below five seconds; Nissan claims 5.4 seconds, but try a bit harder and you can lop around a second off that figure.
6: Running costs 7/10
You can’t expect to run a car with this level of performance, and not pay heavily for the privilege. With group 20 insurance, your cover is likely to be pretty hefty, and if you make the most of the available performance, so will your fuel costs be.
However, with an official combined fuel consumption figure of 22.8mpg, the Skyline’s thirst doesn’t have to be crippling – but then who wants to potter along in a 155mph supercar?
What could prove to be a lot more costly with hard-driven Skylines is the maintenance costs. Regular oil changes with a diet of fully synthetic, replacement brake pads plus fresh sets of tyres will all add up – and on cars that are thrashed regularly, don’t underestimate how frequently such parts will need to be replaced or how quickly the costs will mount.
7: Reliability 10/10
If the performance on offer is astonishing, it’s nothing compared with how tough the Skyline is. These cars will take regular hard use and shrug it off with disdain, but that’s not to say the cars can be abused and neglected without things getting very costly.
While the Skyline doesn’t have any weak spots from a design or engineering point of view, this is the sort of car that begs to be driven hard. More worrying, thanks to relatively low used values, the R34 can be snapped up by those who prefer to drive than maintain – and in some cases the Skyline is driven by those with more enthusiasm than skill. As a result, you need to check the service history very carefully, and make sure the car hasn’t been crashed then patched up.
8: Safety 7/10
Although the Skyline hasn’t been crash tested by EuroNCAP, so there’s no official rating available, the R34 has a fair bit of safety equipment to help reduce the likelihood of a crash. As already mentioned, the chassis has such vast levels of grip that you’re not going to run out of road unless you do something pretty daft.
Anti-lock brakes are fitted of course, along with massive discs that haul the car down from massive speeds without complaint; the R34 can be pulled up from 60mph to a halt in just 2.5 seconds. There are also twin front airbags, but apart from a very stiff bodyshell, there’s little else to stop you getting mangled in a high-speed impact.
9: Equipment 9/10
This was the most expensive car Nissan had ever sold when it was new, so it’ll come as no surprise to learn that the equipment levels are nothing short of stratospheric. Japanese car makers are renowned for their generosity, but with a price tag of over £50,000, Nissan packed everything it could into the Skyline.
Alloy wheels, climate control, electric windows and a CD autochanger are all standard, along with heated door mirrors, an alarm/immobiliser and remote central locking. Leather trim is also fitted to all cars and while you won’t find electric adjustment of the seats, you’ll be having too much fun driving the doorhandles off the Skyline to care.
10: X-Factor 10/10
With an all-new GT-R now available – a car which has pushed Nissan into a whole new league – the R34 is old-fashioned in many ways. However, in terms of bang per buck the R34 is still up there with the best of them; reliability, practicality, comfort and performance have rarely been so affordable.
Model tested: Nissan Skyline GT-R R34
On the road price: £54,000
Date tested: March 2009
Road tester: Richard Dredge