I didn’t think I would like it very much. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m willing to admit it now: when I first asked you for car suggestions, and you told me to import a Nissan Skyline GT-R, I wasn’t very excited about it. I figured it would be just another used Japanese car: an overhyped, overrated dinosaur, and after a few months I would get bored and sell it to a kid who uses the phrase “should of” in text messages.
Boy, was I wrong.
You’d already know about my change in opinion if you followed me on Twitter, because I keep sneaking out in the Skyline for the occasional drive when I probably should be working. A dual skyline meetup here; a chance encounter with a Citroen 2CV there. The Skyline does that to you. You open the garage to pick up some milk in your daily driver, and then you catch a glimpse of those unmistakable hips, and those beady eyes, and that unmistakable profile, and you think: How the hell did a squirrel get in here?!
No, what you really think is: I have to drive the Skyline. So I’ve done that a lot over the last few weeks, and now I’ve decided it’s finally time to explain exactly why I’ve come to like this car so much.
I’m doing this in two forms: number one is a video review, which is located here and attached below for your watching pleasure. But since I’m aware that some of you work in oppressive offices, offices where video watchers are treated like dogs who just peed on the floor, I’ve also decided to provide a written account of what it’s like to drive a Skyline GT-R. And I’ve broken it up into two easy-to-digest parts: first, acceleration and braking. And second, steering and handling. These are the major things a car does, unless of course your automobile is amphibious, which I have been assured by several people that my Skyline is not.
So anyway, here goes:
We all know the Skyline is quick. But isn’t it just 1980s Japanese car quick? Which means today it would get trounced by a Grand Caravan? With the parking brake on? And a bunch of kids inside? Being driven by the kind of cautious Midwestern mom who still buys a Grand Caravan?
Well, ladies and gentlemen, let me put it to you this way: this weekend I went to record my 0-to-60 time. So I pressed “START” on my phone stopwatch, and I hammered the gas pedal, and the total time came to two minutes and 19 seconds, because that’s how long it took me to find my phone after it flew into the backseat under hard acceleration.
Here’s the thing: the GT-R is fast. And it’s not fast like the new one, where you put your foot down and it just goes. It’s fast like you mash the throttle, and OH MY GOD THE TURBOS, and OH MY GOD THE NOISE, and then OH CRAP I HAVE TO SHIFT, and then OH MY GOD THE TURBOS, and then OH MY GOD THE NOISE, and then suddenly you’re above the legal speed limit in every single jurisdiction in North America.
Now, I will openly admit that this car is not as fast as many of today’s most popular high-performance vehicles. For instance: I once had a Cadillac CTS-V Wagon, which had a 556-horsepower V8. When you mashed the throttle in that car, you could pretty much count on the fact that it had enough momentum to destroy anything in its path after roughly four seconds, including a condominium complex.
But I kind of like the fact that the Skyline’s power is a little less accessible. It’s still there, of course, but you have to work to get it. It’s sort of like a Scion FR-S, except when you get to the top of the power curve, you don’t sit there thinking: Is this all there is?
As for braking, I’m glad you asked. I say this because you now get to hear my expert automotive opinion; an opinion derived from years of test driving sports cars, and owning high-performance vehicles, and working for a “performance-oriented” automaker, and sampling cars as a highly respected automotive journalist. And that opinion is this: the brakes work. When you push on the pedal, they stop the car. Sometimes they squeak. I don’t know anything about brakes.
So the Skyline is fast, and it has brakes that… uh… work. But what about the steering and handling? Now we can just assume it’s a boring old car, right? A car with insanely overboosted steering, on account of the fact that it comes from the same country that produced the Toyota Sienna. A car with tons of body roll, on account of the fact that it comes from the same era that produced the Michael Dukakis presidential candidacy. Right?
That’s certainly what I expected. And once again, I was proven very, very wrong.
Here’s the deal: when you go around a corner, the car stays entirely flat. I have no idea how this is possible, because I expected the 25-year-old suspension to be more worn out than the Doug DeMuro file at the CarMax warranty claims department. The Skyline also manages to feel secure, and confident, and poised in just about every turning situation. Every corner you take in this car seems like an invitation to take even more. I sometimes find myself going around traffic circles a second time, just for fun.
But it’s not like the new GT-R, where it makes you feel like a hero. On the contrary: although you feel very confident in the Skyline, you never feel overconfident. You get the sense, when you’re attacking a corner as quickly as possible, that the car could kick your ass – it just won’t. So you push harder, and you grin wider, and after a while you wonder whether you really need to pick up milk, or whether you and the Skyline could just leave all your troubles behind and move to a state where they’ve legalized marriage between a man and a right-hand drive car.
Somehow, the steering is even better. Allow me to explain: there is nothing in today’s automotive world that I hate more than overassisted power steering. For those of you who don’t know what I mean by this, please place your hand in the air and wave it around a little. This is approximately the same amount of feedback as you get from the steering wheel in a modern BMW.
Likewise, however, I hate unnecessarily difficult steering. I once had a Lotus Elise with manual steering, and every time you wanted to turn the wheels, it was such a workout that it felt like you’d have an easier time just getting out and physically moving the front wheels in the direction you wanted to go.
Well, the Skyline is the happy medium between the two. It’s the E36 M3, or the B5 Audi A4, or the 993 Porsche 911: the car that provides just enough steering feedback so you know exactly where the wheels are pointed, but not so much that you struggle to turn the wheel. It’s automotive heaven; the true embodiment of the phrase: They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.
Here’s what I like best about the Skyline: my cameraman and I spent the entire day throwing it around in a local park with empty roads and lots of corners, doing hard acceleration runs and panic stops for the video. It was fun, and exciting, and we had a great time. And at the end of the day, do you know what we did? We drove home in the Skyline, air conditioning blasting, stereo on, cruising over bumps with no problem.
This may not seem like a big deal, but it’s huge for me. Back when I had my Ferrari, a day of filming was an ordeal. With every hard acceleration run, you wondered if you had broken anything. With every quick stop, you wondered how much you had just spent in worn brake pads. And then, on the drive home, you drew so many stares, and so many questions, and so many camera phones, and you were so focused on avoiding every pothole, and bump, and rock in the road, that all you wanted to do was put the car in the garage and spend the rest of your life riding around in a normal vehicle.
And that’s exactly what the Skyline is: it’s a normal vehicle. A normal vehicle that just happens to have amazing driving dynamics. It’s a car you can use every day, and still enjoy at the track on the weekends. It is, dare I say, the Porsche 911 of the Japanese car world. And as it sits in my garage, directly below me as I’m typing this, I find myself thinking only one thing: I have to go pick up some milk.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.