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For automakers, the entry-level sport coupe market has always been tough going. Technology and performance enhancements change rapidly and enthusiast drivers can hardly be counted on to be loyal to a brand. The 1990s were a particularly dynamic time, as many Japanese automakers began to enter the market. It helped to have an edge, though, and the Nissan 240SX came to market with perhaps the most substantial edge of all: rear-wheel drive.
At the time, most of the Japanese entry-level sport coupes were front-wheel drive. While this layout offers many practical benefits, it is inferior to rear-drive in terms of maximum performance potential. While it's hard to say exactly how directly Nissan's choice of drivetrain helped sales, it sure helped the car deliver on its promise of entertainment. Early reviews praised the 240SX's sharp and balanced handling and made more than a few comparisons to the Porsche 944.
The Nissan 240SX was also composed and comfortable on the road thanks to Nissan's then-new multilink rear suspension -- an obvious advantage over Detroit's rear-drive pony cars and their non-independent rear suspensions. For motivation, Nissan equipped the 240SX with a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine. Performance was decent, too -- at first. This big four provided a fair amount of torque, but its lack of horsepower and rough, noisy operation became less acceptable as the years went on.
Nissan regrettably reused the engine for the 240SX's second iteration, which also coincided with the company's decision to reposition the 240SX as an "affordable luxury coupe" with less emphasis on sport. Whether due to these decisions, the general decline of the sports coupe market or both, Nissan stopped importing the 240SX to our shores by the end of the '90s.
Looking back on it now, the Nissan 240SX's appeal largely depends on the year and how desirable you happen to find rear-wheel drive. Oddly, many car enthusiasts looking to modify their import car for better performance have found the car's rear-drive layout quite appealing. As such, the 240 has enjoyed a rather notable revival, especially as more people have learned that non-U.S. 240SXs (called Silvias, 180SXs or 200SXs) came equipped with a potent turbocharged engine that can be obtained and swapped into a U.S.-spec 240SX.
Most recent Nissan 240SX
The second-generation Nissan 240SX was sold from 1995-'98 as a coupe only. Its engine was the same as it was on the first generation, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder producing 155 hp and 160 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission was standard and a four-speed automatic was optional.
Initial trim lines were base and SE, with the latter adding 16-inch alloy wheels, front and rear spoilers, a stiffer suspension with a rear stabilizer bar, foglights, sport seats, white-faced instruments and keyless entry with alarm. The SE also had air-conditioning, power locks, cruise control and a better stereo that were options on the base model. Both models shared two options: a sunroof and antilock brakes packaged with a limited-slip differential. SE models with the latter could be had with a leather interior.
All 240SXs returned for 1996 wearing a subtly restyled grille; eagle eyes will notice one of the slats missing. Also, the SE lost its keyless entry and alarm (now reserved for leather models) and power antenna.
The last change came in 1997, when Nissan restyled the front of the car with new, angular headlights and added curvier side sills. A new LE model was also born -- it was essentially an SE with the sunroof, leather seating, keyless entry and alarm. The uplevel stereo was revised, and now reserved for the LE. Meanwhile, the base model lost access to the antilock brakes and limited-slip differential package.
Given the 240SX's mission as a sporty car, it makes the most sense to get the upgraded mechanicals (and amenities) of SE and LE models. Try to find a sample with antilock brakes and limited-slip differential as well. The earliest models also had a few more convenience features.
That said, we're not too enthused about this generation of Nissan 240SX in general. Compared to its predecessor, sure, its interior was more upscale, its structure stiffer and its dual airbags an important development. It also had nice-shifting manual and automatic transmissions, enjoyable grip and reasonable low-speed punch. But much of the fun that defined the first-generation 240SX had vanished.
The culprit was the changes to the chassis. Like all mid-90s Nissans, the redesigned 240SX emerged with slower, somewhat numb steering that gave it an indifferent attitude on the road. Driving enthusiasts also reported more resistance to turning (understeer), and of course, there was that plain-sounding engine that just wasn't cutting it anymore. From a practical standpoint, the car was hampered by a borderline-useless backseat and trunk and a need for premium fuel.
Given all that, it's probably little surprise that the 240SX wasn't a huge seller. Used sport-coupe shoppers might want to check out the Acura Integra and Honda Prelude for their nimbleness and refinement or the Mitsubishi Eclipse for its all-wheel drive and turbocharged power. Alternately, those who simply want a competent coupe can get nearly all of the 240SX's performance in Nissan's front-wheel-drive 200SX SE-R, which is cheaper to buy, easier on gas and far more accommodating to passengers and cargo.
Past Nissan 240SX models
The original 240SX was produced for the 1989-'94 model years. Initially, this one came both as a coupe and a more practical hatchback, and all used the same suspension parts (including dual stabilizer bars) and 15-inch wheels. Coupes were dubbed XE and hatchbacks, SE.
While both were rather stripped, each had a big option package containing power windows and locks, cruise control, a better stereo, and on the coupe, a digital speedometer with a secondary "head-up display" on the windshield that would carry through the years. Additionally, the hatchback could be ordered with a sport package containing a stiffer suspension, alloy wheels, front and rear spoilers, and leather steering wheel and shift knob. Stand-alone options on both included air-conditioning and a glass sunroof (a typical power-sliding type on the coupe; a removable flip-up type on the hatchback).
The Nissan 240SX lineup was reshuffled for 1991. Both coupes and hatchbacks were stratified into base and SE models, the latter containing the content of the former option packages. Additionally, a new leather-lined LE hatchback bowed and all models received a smoother-looking front bumper. But the big news involved the engine, which was upgraded from 12 valves and a single camshaft to 16 valves and twin cams to boost hp from 140 to 155.
Supplementing the new motivation was the SE hatchback's exclusive new Handling Package. Its stiffer suspension, wider tires, limited-slip differential and four-wheel steering resulted in history's sportiest 240SX ever. Models so equipped were the only ones that could be ordered with antilock brakes, unfortunately.
The 240SX entered 1992 with a new SE convertible, featuring a power soft top and available only with an automatic transmission. The LE hatchback died after 1992 and all coupes and hatchbacks were discontinued after 1993, leaving only the drop top for 1994.
Since this generation had no hardware stratification between the models, picking a 240SX depends only on your preference for body style and your partiality to the digital speedometer found on the better-equipped coupes. The extra horsepower and better looks of 1991 models onwards can't hurt, but any way you go, count on ending up with one of the most fun-to-drive, entry-level Japanese sport coupes or hatchbacks from the early-to-mid-'90s.