The Right-hand drive Stuff: What It's Like To Drive A Skyline R32 in the USA
Probably the most common question I get asked when driving my Skyline is "Isn't it weird to drive on the wrong side of the car?" To which I usually reply “No. What's weird is having to dodge all the stupid people driving on the wrong side of the road”.
Seriously though, because it's so common for people to ask what it's like to drive a JDM Skyline in the US, a post on my driving impressions seemed to be an important one to do. To keep things clear, lets do this in Q and A fashion:
Is it weird to drive on the wrong side of the car?
Well, of course, yes it is at first and it takes some time to get used to the differences but I think anyone with any decent amount of driving experience would adapt quickly. Once you get a feel for the size of the car, driving in the right seat becomes as routine as driving on the left. In my case, I was pretty comfortable with being in the right-side seat after just my initial test drive.
One big concern I've heard is lane placement. I've heard of people having issues of subconsciously straying too far to the left into the middle of the road because they keep picturing themselves still being on the left side of the car. It's much simpler if you keep the right perspective - instead of thinking about "I'm on the wrong side to be driving this car" just think "I want the car to be in this spot and I need to drive the same way to do it". Really, when you break it down, driving on the right side of the car is fundamentally the same as on the left - the steering wheel functions the same way, the pedals are the same, and if you've ever driven a car the size of any modern sedan the R32 is about the same size as well. So putting it where you want it is the same process. It's how an experienced racer or trackday driver would think - there's little concern for where you're seated, just a focus on putting the car where you want it to be.
Another concern I've heard voiced is that it's tough to shift with your left hand instead of your right, but you really just have to keep one tip in mind - it's still the same shift pattern. Again, it's all a matter of the right perspective. You don't really have to bog down your mind with "it's the wrong hand" or "I need to pull towards me for higher gears instead of push away" or "Will I go blind from using my left hand so much?". It's the same H pattern. First is up and left and everything else falls in the same place. Unless you have little to no experience driving stick it's no big thang…umm, dawg.
I've heard people complain about making turns but I haven't really noticed any issues. The R32 has great visibility especially compared to a lot of modern performance cars with their high beltlines. You want visibility issues? Try driving a modern Camaro and see what it must be like to drive an MRAP through Baghdad.
Parking does take some getting used to since you now have to guesstimate the position of the left front of the car instead of the right. Backing up can also need practice because you'll instinctively turn to the right to look back – and maybe smack yourself on the side window – instead of to the left. Again, it's just something that takes practice.
With all that being said, the biggest thing that really took some adjusting for me was, amusingly, using the turn signals. In a JDM car, the positions of the wiper and light controls are switched so that the lights are on the right instead of left and vice versa for the wipers. I'm religious about using my signals so at first I was making weird hand gestures for nothing because I kept swiping with my left hand for the turn signal stalk and instead getting a handful of crisp, smog-laden air. On the bright side, the R32 only has a turn signal stalk with no counterpart for the wipers (the wiper and headlight switches are on the instrument binnacle) so I was at least saved the embarrassment of other drivers seeing my wipers flailing around every time I made a turn or changed lanes.
The one safety concern I've found that doesn't go away even with familiarity is the issue of seeing beyond the car in front of you. In a left-hand drive car you can easily sidle a little bit to the left to see past the vehicle ahead – critical if you're planning to overtake – but that's not really possible in a right-hand drive car. Unfortunately, there's no easy fix. You can try looking through the glass of the car ahead but that's no help if you're following a semi or big brodozer pickup. A passenger you trust can act as a spotter of course but having one isn't always possible. Short of making some amazing left-side video feed or periscope system it's something you just have to live with and make accommodations for. As always, err on the side of caution and when overtaking, remember the sage advice your parents gave you as a kid – don't go sticking your fool self somewhere that you can't see!
How does the R32 GT-R compare to other performance cars? Can Godzilla really destroy all monsters?
There's a reason why Godzilla keeps getting rebooted on the big screen and that's because the world inexorably moves on and if he stayed the same as his original 1950s oxygen-destroyed self - or worse yet, the happy-dancing, breath-weapon-backwards-flying, friend-to-all-bullied-children, campy 70's version - we sure wouldn't be impressed anymore in the 21st century. And the same is true with his namesake from Nissan. If you compare the R32 to the latest and greatest - like its younger sister the R35 for example - it’s going to feel slow, but that wouldn't be fair would it? The R32 is a 25 year old car now after all - but it's still amazing for its age.
A Lancer Evo X or a Subaru WRX is no slowcoach by any stretch of the imagination (I've driven both in anger) - and yet an R32, more than two decades their senior, has similar performance. Yep, look at the 0-60 numbers on an R32 - 5ish seconds in the right hands – close to the AWD import darlings of today. That's stock for stock – with mods an R32 can hang with all but the most extreme performance cars.
And another thing that makes the R32 feel even more special is that if you're used to cars of today the R32 will surprise you with its rawness. Modern performance cars - from high-end cars like a Ferrari 458 or R35 to the more regular examples like the Scion FR-S and Focus ST - have more sound isolation and refinement baked in to appease the majority of current buyers. If you've only ever driven or sat in cars designed in the last decade or so the R32 may shock you. It has quirks that are best excused by saying "because racecar". The seating position is tight but very well-suited to brisk driving. The ride is stiff (though not back-breaking). There's little sound insulation compared to current cars so you get natural, unfiltered engine noise instead of the fakey piped-through-the-speakers stuff that's becoming more common these days. If you like hearing that whoosh as the blow-off valve goes off then an R32 will have you smiling like a teenager who just got lucky with his prom date. And did you ever hear Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear say the R35 corners "faster than electricity"? Well, the R32's DNA is where that came from.
In short, the R32 won't eat modern-day Tokyo, but it can still take a big chunk out of it.
Will a Skyline improve my ability to mate?
I hate to break it to you but probably no more than any other decent car. Maybe if you're female though 'cause the car does tend to be quite the sausage magnet. And speaking of sausage magnets…
Do you get a lot of attention in your R32?
Yes and no. You do get attention from the car crowd - mostly import people -and I've had people holler at me or shoot a quick wave or thumbs up plus numerous random photos taken but it's pretty anonymous to non-car people. Face it, to them it probably just looks like an old Prelude or something. Until they notice that you're driving it from the other side - then it gets some stares. The guys tend to be appreciative but the ladies just point and laugh I think.
I hope that all gives you an idea of what it's like to drive a JDM Skyline here in the US. If you have any questions or have any of your own experiences to relate please feel free to post in the comments section. Drive safe!