An unlicensed driver who killed his friend after crashing an unwarranted car during a high-speed police chase has been jailed for five years.

Robert Pora, 27, pleaded guilty to five charges in the High Court at Auckland in March, the most serious of which was manslaughter.

Steven Henare Te Pania, 28, died in Pora's Mitsubishi after a head-on collision flipped the car on to its side - but when interviewed by police, the driver said he had accelerated only at the victim's request.

Today though, his lawyer Louise Freyer read a letter written by the defendant apologising to the man he had known for four years.

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"I know I can't change the wrong I've done but every morning and night of every day I pray and wish I could," Pora wrote.

"To my bro Steven, if your spirit is here with us today I want to tell you I'm truly sorry for what I've done to you, my bro, and the pain I've put your family through."

Family members of the victim read emotional victim-impact statements in court but their contents were suppressed by Justice Ailsa Duffy.

The defendant was driving through Manukau on August 15 with Mr Te Pania in the passenger seat of his unwarranted car.

Pora had been drinking before getting behind the wheel and after trying to overtake another motorist at speed, police put on their sirens and lights and began a pursuit.

The defendant immediately accelerated, reaching speeds of up to 100km/h in the 50km/h zone on Puhinui Rd.

When he reached a red light at the busy intersection with Great South Rd, he veered around stationary vehicles and continued regardless.

Police followed as he turned on to Boundary Rd and saw Pora try to pass another car.

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He hit a raised centre island used to mark a pedestrian crossing, which saw him skid out of control onto the wrong side of the road.

Pateine Laki Sekene, travelling in the other direction, could not avoid the oncoming car and there was a head-on smash.

Pora was taken to Middlemore Hospital with life-threatening injuries, while Mr Sekene had a less-severe shoulder issue.

Mr Te Pania died on the road.

While Pora was in hospital, police took a blood sample which gave a reading of 127 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

The new limit is 50mg.

Justice Duffy accepted the man's remorse was genuine but a probation report highlighted "a continuing and escalating pattern of offending behaviour".

"You're responsible for the death of your friend," the judge said. "And you'll have to bear that responsibility for the rest of your life."

Pora was banned from driving for three months, to begin on his release from jail.