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New Car/Review

1997 NISSAN 200SX SE

by Matt/Bob Hagin


SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 16,149
Price As Tested                                    $ 17,097
Engine Type                            1.6 Liter I4 w/SMFI*
Engine Size                                  97 cid/1597 cc
Horsepower                                   115 @ 6000 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               108 @ 4000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                   99.8"/66.6"/170.1"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     2445 Pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  13.2 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P175/65R14
Brakes (F/R)                                     Disc /drum
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                        Four-passenger/two-door
Domestic Content                                 45 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.33


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            27/36/32
0-60 MPH                                        9.1 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       17 seconds @ 83.5 mph
Top-speed                                           104 mph
     * Sequential multi-point fuel injection

(Nissan has given up sports cars for '97 and Bob Hagin doesn't like it. His son Matt, the more practical of the pair, says that the Nissan 200SX SE is a good compromise for growing families that want a little sport in their lives as well as economy and practicality.)

MATT - The SE version of the Nissan 200SX coupe is like the middle child in a three-sibling family, Dad. The Base model 200SX is the least expensive of the trio and a pretty-but-practical commuter. The jazzy SE-R is a high-powered road-handler that's as close as Nissan comes to making a sports car now. That leaves the "plain" SE as the upscale/downscale coupe that most purchasers buy. The price is low enough to keep from straining the small-family budget but it has enough standard amenities to make it user-friendly.

BOB - I would still like to try the souped-up SE-R version of the 200SX, but unfortunately its not available in California, New York or Massachusetts. It couldn't pass the restrictive smog laws in those states but it would almost be worth spending a little time in Nevada or Oregon just to wring one out. The twin-cam, 16-valve, four-banger engine in the Base and the SE models displaces 1.6 liters and puts out 115 horsepower. It pulls the cars along pretty well but the engine in the SE-R is considerably different. It's almost a half-liter larger, and there's 25 more horses available, which would make a lot of difference in a 2500-pound car. Add to that the five-speed manual transmission, the viscous limited-slip differential and the four-wheel disc brakes that all come on the "R" as standard equipment, and it's close to being a Nissan sports car. Close, but no cigar.

MATT - But small families don't engage in stop-light drag races, Dad, and the SE that we had stayed up with traffic just fine with its smaller engine and automatic transmission. And there's a noticeable difference in the fuel mileage between the smaller engined versions and the SE-R. It amounts to an additional eight miles per gallon, if the EPA averages on the window sticker are to be believed. For our SE, the averages are 32 around town and 36 on the highway.

BOB - I like the instrument panel layout on the 200SX, Matt. Both the tach and the speedometer are directly in front of the driver and the other instruments are easy for a guy my age to read. I think that the sound-system controls were built with younger people in mind, however. I found them hard to read down there by the shift lever and I'd have to get grounded on what buttons to push to select what I wanted without having to look down. But the steering wheel-mounted cruise control was easy enough to deal with. It's operated by poking the appropriate buttons with your right thumb, so you don't even have to take your hands off the wheel.

MATT - The front seats in our SE are comfortable enough, but I think that they could use more side support. The SE-R uses 15-inch wheels while the Base model is shod with 13 inchers - but I think the 14-inch alloy wheels that came on our SE are a good compromise. The doors are wide enough to make for easy entrance but the back seat is strictly for small people or kids. Skiers will appreciate the rear seatback fold-down for stowing skis inside, but since the car is only rated to tow 1000 pounds, I don't think that boat enthusiasts like Tom are going to get enthralled over the ownership of a 200SX. Guys like my brother aren't pleased with anything short of a stump-pulling high-torque sport/ utility vehicle for dragging trailers. .

BOB - Nissan has made a big deal out of the fact that a small spoiler on the trunk is standard equipment on all three of the 200SX coupes this year, but since they don't have any effect on the performance or efficiency at any speed under about 90 MPH, it's kind of unnecessarily showing off.

MATT - Uncle Don told me that when you were a kid, you put a dummy tail pipe under your Hudson so people would think that it had a split exhaust manifold, Dad. Isn't that "unnecessarily showing off?"

BOB - Matt, I'm going to have to keep you away from my brother.