What's New for 1998
Exterior enhancements include new headlights, taillights, front and rear bumpers and revised grille. Three new colors are available for 1998.
Enthusiasts have long lamented the loss of the econo-sport sedan that paved the way for cars like the Volkswagen GTI, the Dodge Omni GLH and the Ford Contour SE. That sedan was called the BMW 2002, and it blended performance with function, offering within its sedate three-box shape the ability to speed, undetected, past police who were looking for brightly colored, finned and spoilered muscle cars to yank over to the side of the road.
The BMW was affordable fun, and most of the souped-up hatchbacks that followed it never adhered to the basic formula that the Bimmer embraced: simplicity in style, with an emphasis on performance and the driving experience. Most of the pocket-rockets that followed the 2002 were painted in bright hues, with spoilers, ground effects and hood vents to give them the boy-racer look, which only attracted attention from speed enforcers.
Then along came Nissan, in the midst of a corporate change in philosophy that dictated that cars should be good looking and fun-to-drive. In 1991, Nissan gave us the 140-horsepower Nissan Sentra SE-R, a version of the Sentra coupe stuffed with a big four-cylinder engine, fat tires and a tweaked suspension. Discreet fog lights, a small rear spoiler and attractive alloy wheels were the only external clues that indicated this was more than a regular Sentra coupe. The press affectionately labeled it the modern-day BMW 2002.
Nissan replaced the Sentra coupe with the 200SX in 1995. Three versions are available, and all of them are more roomy and refined than the old Sentra coupe. Base and SE models are affordable, sporty runabouts, but our favorite continues to be the SE-R. This is a smoother car than the brash and scrappy model it replaced in 95, but we still find ourselves wishing for the earlier model's clean looks. Still, performance is its virtue, and it continues to possess the stealthy anonymity that made the Sentra SE-R so desirable.
Despite the rather dull styling and measly 115 horsepower engine, base and SE versions of the 200SX are more appealing than the coupe they replaced. Interiors are ergonomically correct, offering a fine driving position and room for four. SE models are well-trimmed, and can be equipped with antilock brakes, power sunroof and a rear spoiler. All models get exterior styling tweaks that help clean up the 200SX's somewhat dumpy image - our only real complaint about the car since its introduction.
We conducted an extensive road test of a 200SX SE-R this fall and walked away from the car very impressed. Its responsive handling, free-revving engine and tight build quality left several of our staff members wondering if it might make a perfect second car for their families. Some were smitten enough to contact Nissan directly about purchasing this press vehicle after its tour of duty. If that isn't the highest compliment we can pay, we don't know what is. The Nissan 200SX is a great car with a lot more personality than one would expect from its frumpy looks. Do yourself a favor and check it out.