Motoring: Thrash the latest Porsche? You can with a Nissan

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The Independent Online
If you thought all Nissans were boring, Roger Bell has news for you. The Skyline GT-R is a technical tour de force, and entertaining too.

There is something amiss here. Think Nissan and your mind should focus on sound, sensible, unimaginative family saloons, not beguiling soul-mates for speedy connoisseurs. So what's this? A maverick model that is getting rave reviews from enthusiasts of the specialist press, and can take on - and beat - Porsche's new 911? Surely not.

It's true. The Skyline GT-R is a formidable machine. Skylines in various shades and abilities have been around since the late Sixties, spearheading Nissan's competitive endeavours with more than 200 significant race victories. Hitherto, they have found their way to Britain only through the back door, as personal imports by well-heeled aficionados. However, the ninth iteration of the only Nissan to acquire legendary status is now a listed model - at pounds 50,000. Import restrictions will limit the total sold in this country to 100. Fifty grand is a lot to pay for a Nissan, let alone a car with an ugly visage and lines that hardly define grace or elegance. It's the bruising muscle beneath the skin of this two-door tearaway that explains the price, if not justifies it.

Power comes from a race-bred straight-six twin-cam engine, aided by two American turbochargers that boost output to 280 horsepower - more with electronic fettling that might invalidate the normal three-year/60,000- mile warranty. A rear-biased four-wheel-drive transm- ission system, centred on a five-speed manual gearbox, allows the wheels with the most grip to get the lion's share of the energy. Another novelty is that all four wheels are steered, and not always in the same direction.

Fears that the driving experience may be diluted by technical overkill are unfounded. What sets the Skyline apart from most other high-tech supercars is that it is as entertaining as it is able. Performance is terrific, though the car's competition ancestry is betrayed by the engine's low- rev languor. It needs to be spinning freely, if not actually raced, before the twin turbos come on strong, generating eruptive torque (as well as a discreet snarl) that makes short work of overtaking. Even on wet roads, the Skyline's power can be safely deployed without destabilising wheelspin. You can do things in a GT-R that would send into a spin, say, an Aston Martin Vantage costing four times as much.

There is a meaty tactility about the Skyline's controls, particularly its sharp steering. It is the mark of a great car, as opposed to a good fast one, that the feedback through the wheel should draw you into the action, not distance you from it. There's more, however, to the Skyline than dynamic prowess engendered by a strong engine, tenacious traction, mighty anti-lock brakes and amazing cornering powers.

Apart from being enormously rewarding to drive, and very safe with it, the Skyline is an eminently practical and civilised mode of transport. Although the ride on stiff, handling-biased suspension is firm to the point of being harsh, embracing seats and air conditioning ensure long- distance comfort. Other equipment includes two airbags and a CD player. There is room in the back for two adults without cramping and the boot - its lid weighted by an adjustable "wing" that exerts downforce at speed - is generous. There is nothing special about the cabin or the conservative, mainstream dash, which could have come from any up-range executive hatchback.

Snags? Other than the price, and high running costs, the Skyline is officially available through only one distributor - St Helens-based Middlehurst Motorsport. Even with a collection and delivery service, routine maintenance could pose problems.