Buyers guide: Nissan Skyline R34 (1998-2002)
Nissan’s R34 series is a sophisticated and fun car to drive, so long as you know what to look for...
Nissan Skyline R34 (1998-2002)
A decade ago, ancestors of the R34 Skyline would have been derisorily tagged as ‘grey’ imports; refugees from a country (Japan) with a registration fee structure that makes ownership of older models prohibitively expensive.
Such was the fear generated in sections of the local industry that Australia would follow New Zealand in re-homing hundreds of Japanese cast-offs that a campaign was mounted to demonise used vehicle imports.
Those same forces also successfully lobbied for regulations to seriously restrict the types and numbers of used imports which could be sold here, giving birth to the Registered Automotive Workshop Scheme (RAWS). While RAWS hurt some of the low volume industry’s shonkier elements, it unwittingly delivered an even greater range of desirable models that had never made it onto local showroom floors.
The R34 Skyline first saw Japanese roads in late 1997 and was greeted with acclamation from enthusiasts and the motoring media. Turbo (GT-T) and non-turbo GT versions were offered, with basic 2.0-litre versions of the straight-six developing a handy 116kW while the 2.5-litre single turbo managed 209kW. Even without turbo boost, 2.5-litre versions of the 24-valve, double overhead cam engine produce 149kW and run 0-100km/h in around nine seconds.
These are now proving popular with younger Aussie buyers who want the kudos of Skyline ownership without breaching the no-turbos-for-P-platers legislation that operates in several states.
Four-door versions look a little drab but the coupe – with or without optional boot spoiler – is slick without being ostentatious. The key difference between the R34s lies with the coupe’s ‘boxed’ rear wheel-arches that give some definition to a somewhat slabby profile. The stock, 17-inch alloys look okay but many buyers opted for the larger and smarter Nismo alloys and lots of cars in the local market have them.
Except for the difficult-to-find 4WD GT-T and the expensive twin-turbo GTR, all R34s are rear-wheel drive with coil springs front and rear and ventilated, ABS-equipped discs all round. Turbo cars come with a viscous limited-slip differential and heavy-duty gear clusters. HICAS all-wheel steering is shared with the GTR and makes these very nimble for a biggish car.
R34s came with five-speed manual or four-speed Tiptronic semi-auto transmission. The auto provides a conventional gear selector plus buttons on the steering wheel to control up and downshifts.
Obviously, Nissan spent a lot of money ensuring that the model that would take Skyline into the 21st Century looked good and handled better. Sadly, that left little for an interior makeover so the R34 remained a haven for grey plastic and drab fabrics.
That’s a shame, because the closely-related Stagea RS wagon we tried a while back was brimming with fake timber, real leather trim and some nice touches including electrically-
ON THE ROAD
The R34 GT-T is one turbo car you can happily loan to mum without her returning white-faced and demanding that you immediately "get rid of that death trap".
Putter around town without venturing beyond 3500rpm and the GT-T delivers pleasant performance without revealing its true character. Two-stage boost is the culprit – 5psi on offer at up to 4500rpm and the full 7psi from there until the 7000rpm cutout. Maximum torque arrives at 3200rpm which is handy for a turbo-car.
Post-release road tests recorded 7.2 seconds for 0-100km/h and seat-of-the-pants estimation says that our nicely-loosened example might be a tad quicker. 0-400 metres in 14.9 seconds seems a little slow for a car of this calibre and could be improved if you’re prepared to launch at 4500prm. Power peaks at 6400rpm so upshifting before hitting the limiter is recommended.
The power steering with 2.7 turns lock-to-lock is excellent and delivers information faster than the ‘spoken and authorised’ tag on a political advertisement. Through a sequence of tight and bumpy bends, the nose could be forced wide but just as easily brought under control with a nudge of extra lock and throttle feathering. Even under this kind of use there was no suggestion that the GT-T was considering locking a wheel. A wet road might turn things a little uglier, so it’s comforting to know the ABS is there if needed.
Asked to deliver on a less than ideal surface, the 45 section tyres struggle to match the abilities of a fine chassis. Buyers who want to exploit or enhance the GT-T’s performance will likely go looking for an uprated wheel/tyre combination.
As we’d already experienced this engine in automatic form, a five-speed was this time slipped into the frame. The manual car’s ratios are well spread, with third gear allowing easy suburban cruising or a full-bore overtaking blast that will push it very quickly into ‘pull over, driver’ territory. The only downside of the five-speed is the gear lever itself, which looks and feels like something nicked from the Tiida parts bin.
In Tiptronic form, the four-speed GT-T can be driven like a conventional automatic or shifted using thumb-activated buttons. While they look to be a little cumbersome, the buttons are reportedly easy to use and provide faster response than the occasionally bewildered shifter in the manual car.
Front seat accommodation is good and the heavily-bolstered buckets provide decent support without crushing your ribcage. In the back, things get a mite squeezy; minimal rear-seat legroom and a tall but truncated boot providing less than adequate space from a car of these dimensions.
Fuel consumption is, of course, heavily dependent on how the car will be driven. Japanese-tested 2.5-litre ‘atmo’ cars were said to return near-on 10L/100km, with careful punting in a Tiptronic GT-T adding only 20 per cent to the fuel bill.
Body & Chassis
Any R34 that’s showing signs of rust or paint deterioration needs to be given a major swerve. There are far too many good ones available to consider a car that will need immediate and expensive bodywork. Crashes are an ever-present risk with this category of car, so make sure that all panels are properly aligned, doors close easily and the bumpers aren’t loose or cracked. Check the tail-lights as well; clear-lens replacements cost more than $500.
Engine & Transmission
Excessive boost kills these engines faster than anything else, so cars that have been modified need to be assessed with extreme caution. "You hear of RB25s being blown up but usually it’s because someone is trying to run stupid amounts of boost," Paul Dean warns. Smoke of any kind from the exhaust is a major danger signal. Misfiring under load could signify a coil pack on the brink of failure. The cooling system must be maintained as well and budgeting for a complete flush and possible radiator replacement will be money wisely invested. Clutch shudder indicates prior abuse and replacements are expensive; heavy-duty single-plate units cost around $2000.
Suspension & Brakes
Brakes that don’t deliver rapid stops without juddering or crabbing are likely due for replacement. Gently-used rotors can last 60-80,000 kilometres but check for scoring and discolouration. Basic brake rotors cost less than $170 each – better quality units around $350 – with pad sets from $100. Soft, bouncy front suspension suggests tired shock absorbers, bushes and maybe the springs themselves. A full suspension overhaul using standard parts costs close to $3500. Check the alloy wheels for kerb damage and tyres for uneven wear. Have someone watch when reverse parking to see if the all-wheel steering is working.
Interior & Electrics
R34 interiors are hard-wearing and cars showing less than 120,000km should not be displaying major trim damage. Check that the driver’s power window switch doesn’t operate with the ignition off – it should have been modified when the car was complied. Also in deference to local laws, the low-glare Xenon headlamp bulbs had to be replaced with H1 globes but reversion to original is possible.
Nissan Skyline R34 (1998-2002)
Body: steel/alloy integrated body/chassis; two-door coupe, four-door sedan
Engine: 2.0 or 2.5-litre double overhead camshaft six-cylinder with fuel injection. Optional turbocharger on 2.5-litre
Power & Torque: 209kW @ 6400rpm, 343Nm @ 3200rpm (2.5 Turbo)
Performance: 0-100km/h – 7.2sec. 0-400m – 14.9sec (2.5T manual)
Transmission: five-speed manual or four-speed semi-automatic
Suspension: Front: independent with wishbones, coil springs, struts and ant-roll bar. Rear: independent with multi-link location, coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers and ant-roll bar
Brakes: four-wheel ventilated discs, power assisted (ABS on Turbo models)
Tyres: 225/45ZR17 radial (2.5 Turbo)
Contact: Nissan Owners Clubs in most states.
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