Used 1996 Nissan 200SX Review
Enthusiasts have always lamented the loss of the econo-sport sedan that paved the way for cars like the Volkswagen GTI, the Dodge Omni GLH and the current Ford Escort GT. 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 by 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 'pocket-rockets' were painted in bright hues, with spoilers and 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 last year. 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 zipster doofus SE-R. This is a smoother car than the brash and scrappy Sentra SE-R, but it has lost much of the charm of the original. The new SE-R is still lots of fun to drive, but it feels heavier and less responsive. 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.
Nissan keeps changes for 1996 to a minimum, putting body-colored door handles and outside mirrors on the SE and SE-R versions of the 200SX. Basically, we like this car. In a market saturated with good compacts, the 200SX can do battle with the best of them, particularly in SE-R attire.
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