Buying a Nissan GT-R: Classic Skyline vs. Used Modern R35

With the R33 Nissan Skyline GT-R now old enough to import, Godzilla fans may face a difficult decision. As with the Civic Type R, there’s a US-spec Nissan GT-R available, the R35. More to the point, the earliest R35s are cheap enough to approach Skyline GT-R pricing. But which is the one to get?

Nissan R32 and R33 Skyline GT-R vs. R35 Nissan GT-R: specs and features

The R35 Nissan GT-R shares a few things with the R32 and R33 Skyline GT-R. They all have all-wheel drive, twin-turbocharged engines, and seating for 4. However, where the R32 and R33 are mostly analog, the R35 is more digital.

1994 Nissan Skyline GTR R32 Vspec II
1994 Nissan Skyline GTR R32 Vspec II | Montu Motors

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Both the R32 and R33 Nissan Skyline GT-R have a 2.6-liter twin-turbocharged six-cylinder, officially rated at 276 hp. However, likely, it made more; Road & Track reports the R33’s output is closer to 330 hp. The R32 develops 266 lb-ft, Hagerty reports, while the R33 has 277 lb-ft, Evo reports.

A purple 1995 R33 Nissan Skyline GTR V-Spec parked on a dock
1995 R33 Nissan Skyline GTR V-Spec | Bring a Trailer

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Both cars come with 5-speed manuals and rear-wheel steering. The latter is hydraulic in the R32 and electric in the R33. The R33 Skyline GT-R is stiffer and wider than the R32, R&T reports, with better weight distribution, though it’s about 100 pounds heavier.

A white 2011 Nissan GT-R in green rolling rocky hills
2011 Nissan GT-R | Nissan

In contrast, the R35 Nissan GT-R has a 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V6, with a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission. When it debuted in 2009, the R35 produced 480 hp and 434 lb-ft, Motor Trend reports. But Nissan steadily added power over the years. In 2010, it made 485 hp; in 2012, it had 530 hp and 448 lb-ft. The next year, the Nissan GT-R made 545 hp and 463 lb-ft. The DCT also received hardware and software updates over the years.

Unlike the Skyline GT-Rs, the R35 doesn’t have rear-wheel steering. But it does have electronically-adjustable suspension, launch control, traction control, stability control, Bluetooth, and navigation. Though, like the R33, it has a limited-slip differential. And like the R32 and R33, the R35 has Brembo brakes.

Driving the different Nissan GT-Rs

In terms of pure acceleration, the R35 Nissan GT-R leaves the Skylines in the dust, Autoblog reports. A stock R32 hits 0-60 in 5.6 seconds, RB Motoring reports. Meanwhile, MT’s 2010 R35 only needed 3.5 seconds to do the same. And while the R33 Skyline GT-R was 20 seconds faster than the R32 around the Nürburgring, the 2009 GT-R was over 30 seconds faster than that.

But if you value driver involvement over raw speed, the R32 and R33 are arguably ahead of the R35. And not just because of the manual transmissions.

Despite its age, R&T reports, the R32 isn’t fragile, though its lighter weight and thinner A-pillars make it feel more delicate than the R35. Instead, it feels “raw and mechanical,” and its AWD system still offers excellent grip and handling. And the R33 Skyline GT-R’s stiffer chassis, better weight distribution, and upgraded AWD and rear-wheel steering make it even better.

However, that doesn’t mean the R35 Nissan GT-R lacks drama or competence. It’s arguably too competent at putting the power down, Autotrader muses, which can lead to driver over-confidence. True, MT reports the ride can be stiff, and the differentials and transmission noisy, that’s part of Godzilla’s appeal. But not only is it daily-drivable, with more amenities, but none of those complaints are necessarily deal-breakers. And according to owners on Reddit, the R35’s transmission is one of the most manual-feeling automatics on the market.

Reliability and notable issues

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Both the R32 and R33 Skyline GT-R are significantly older than the R35, which means the odds of something failing are a bit higher. Especially if they’ve been extensively modified. But stock or gently-tweaked versions are fairly robust, R&T and Hagerty report.

That being said, the R33 did resolve a few of the R32’s flaws. Early-year R32s have oiling issues, and their hydraulic rear-wheel steering systems can leak. But, like the R32, the R33 Skyline GT-R’s turbo blades are ceramic, and some of the transmission synchros can wear over time. And the six-cylinder engine is an interference type, meaning timely timing belt changes are a necessity.

However, the R35 Nissan GT-R isn’t without its flaws. Early examples’ launch control could severely damage the transmission, Exotic Car Hacks reports, which required replacing it completely. It got so bad, Nissan refused to honor warranty claims, PistonHeads reports and even disabled the launch control for a time. The DCT was refined for 2011, MT reports, which is why r/Cars sub-Reddit users recommend sticking to “2010+” models. The 2012 GT-R, though, introduced longer service intervals, Autocar reports.

Nevertheless, a common fault with many R35s is a rattling bell housing, due to a worn flywheel bearing. There are stronger aftermarket replacement parts available, though.

Also, as a high-performance car, the R35 Nissan GT-R’s maintenance costs aren’t cheap, even if nothing goes wrong. The transmission and differential fluid need to be changed regularly, though the fluids themselves are cheaper now, r/Cars sub-Reddit users report. Brakes and tires, though, remain pricey. Plus, although the R35 uses a timing chain, not a belt, which lasts longer, it can stretch over time. It can be replaced without taking the engine out, forum users report, but it’s still a $2000-$3000 service.

Pricing and which to buy

While used R35 Nissan GT-Rs are still more expensive than Skyline GT-Rs, the price difference isn’t large.

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As of this writing, Duncan Imports has several R32s listed for $40,000-$45,000. Japanese Classics has a V-Spec available for just under $42,000. And one 1990 Nismo R32 went for $56,500 on Bring a Trailer in May 2020.

R33 Skyline GT-Rs tend to be slightly pricier than R32s, especially the V-Spec models. As of this writing, Toprank Importers has a 1995 V-Spec listed for $47,995. And a light-weight V-Spec N1 went for $55,000 on BaT in May 2020.

In comparison, the average BaT price for an R35 Nissan GT-R is about $60,000. But it’s possible to find 2010 and later examples on Autotrader for $50,000-$55,000.

Ultimately, choosing between these GT-Rs is a matter of personal preference. If you want better performance, modern tech, and less rust risk, the R35 is the better choice. But if you prefer the analog experience, the R32 and R33 deliver it in spades.

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