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New Car/Review

1998 NISSAN 200SX SE-R

by Tom Hagin


SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 16,749
Price As Tested                                    $ 18,816
Engine Type      VVTCS* DOHC 16-valve 2.0 Liter I4 w/SMFI**
Engine Size                                 122 cid/1998 cc
Horsepower                                   140 @ 6400 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               132 @ 4800 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                   99.8"/66.6"/171.8"
Transmission                              Five-speed manual
Curb Weight                                     2598 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  13.2 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P195/55R15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                        Five-passenger/two-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.33


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            23/31/28
0-60 MPH                                          8 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       16.5 seconds @ 85 mph
Top speed                                           110 mph
     * Variable valve timing control system
     ** Sequential multi-point fuel injection

The Nissan 200SX was introduced in 1995 as a compact sportster to compliment the company's awesome and expensive 300ZX. In reality, it's a coupe version of the entry-level Sentra sedan. In order to cover a broad spectrum of buyers, the 200SX is available in Base, SE and SE-R trim. This week we evaluate the SE-R, the hottest version available.

OUTSIDE - While the Sentra's appearance strives to be sensible and conservative, its 200SX counterpart displays an aura of sportiness - without being a traffic-stopper. And though it's a relatively new vehicle, the latest version has been changed a bit and features minor revisions to the bumpers and grille as well as new "multi-parabolic" headlights. The car has body-color bumpers, outside mirrors, door handles and rub strips down its sides. Dimensionally, the car is the same as originally conceived and its trunk displays the traditional "high-tail" look that denotes many a modern sports coupe. The trunk lid carries a body-colored spoiler, then drops down in a cut-out to the rear bumper which provides a low lift-over for access to 10.4 cubic-feet of cargo area. This is helpful when it's time to load weekend luggage or the family's weekly groceries. Our SE-R rode on racy alloy wheels shod with 195/55R15 performance tires.

INSIDE - While space was not a primary goal when Nissan designed the 200SX, it's surprisingly roomy inside with almost 85 cubic feet of interior space. The car's main function is to hold the driver and one passenger, but two more can fit in the rear seat - with a bit of crowding. The front bucket seats offer good support, and most drivers should be able to find a comfortable position. The simple dashboard carries on the sports car theme with a large-faced speedometer and matching tachometer, plus smaller but similar faces on the four ancillary gauges. The stereo controls are small but fall easily to hand. All 200SX's have tilt steering, full carpeting and reclining front bucket seats. Our tester came with air conditioning, an AM/FM cassette stereo, cruise control, and power windows, mirrors and door locks.

ON THE ROAD - Other versions of the 200SX carry the less-powerful 1.6 liter engine, but our test SE-R model is powered by a 2.0 liter in-line four cylinder which features dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder to produce 140 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. Technological engine revisions such as more efficient breathing through variable intake valve timing and a 9.5-to-one cylinder compression are featured on this engine. With this performance comes surprisingly good fuel economy, as we could squeak out nearly 32 mpg on the highway, but with a slightly taller gear ratio, economy could be stretched even further. Entering freeway traffic and passing on two-lane roads is a snap and a most enjoyable experience. The five-speed manual transmission is a joy to use with short throws and specific ratios chosen to take advantage of the car's power band. Last year, we tested the base version with the 1.6 liter engine and a four-speed automatic and we found the difference between that car and our present mount quite dramatic.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The 200SX underpinnings utilize MacPherson struts in front, with an uncomplicated and very traditional twist-beam axle in back. Like its Sentra sibling, and somewhat like its big brother, the Maxima, its rear axle uses a sliding lateral link that delivers good wheel control, without the space requirements of an independent system. Stabilizer bars are fitted front and rear on the SE and the SE-R, and the ride is firm without being harsh as befits a sports car these days. Braking duties on our SE-R are handled by front and rear discs while a four-channel, four-sensor anti-lock braking system (ABS) is an option. We'd like to see rear disc brakes offered as standard equipment on all 200SX models rather than just on the SE-R.

SAFETY - All 200SX models use dual airbags, side-impact beams and three-point safety belts for all outboard passengers.

OPTIONS - Our car's options included ABS ($499), floor mats ($79) and a Premium Package ($999) that featured a power sunroof, uplevel audio plus a vehicle security system with remote keyless entry.