Used 2002 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V
Edmunds' Expert Review
An economy sedan that doesn't feel like an economy sedan.
Nissan says the Sentra is designed to break the compact economy-car stereotype of small cabin space, minimal options, ho-hum styling and rental car-like driving traits. The message: This car is not your everyday economy sedan. It's cool. Young people, come right this way. Interestingly enough, the Sentra actually succeeds in fulfilling the promise of the message.
For the 2002 model year, Nissan continues to refine the fifth-generation Sentra sedan, which bowed as an all-new vehicle in 2000. There are five trim levels available. These include the base XE, the midline GXE, the limited-production CA and the performance-oriented SE-R and SE-R Spec V.
Though Nissan last offered the Sentra SE-R in 1994, it's like Michael Jordan in that it never really left. A large enthusiast base has kept the SE-R spirit alive with numerous nationwide clubs, magazine project vehicles and motorsports activities.
While the first Sentra SE-R was understated, this one announces its performance intentions at first glance. It is designed to give the feeling of a mini-Nissan Skyline, Nissan's supercar available only in Japan. The Sentra SE-R features aggressive body styling, 16-inch wheels, a 2.5-liter 165-hp engine, a sport-tuned suspension and an optional 300-watt sound system. The SE-R Spec V goes even further with 170 hp, a standard six-speed manual transmission, 17-inch wheels, a race-tuned suspension and special interior trim.
If you're not smitten on performance, there's still plenty to like about the Sentra. Standard fare for the XE and GXE is a 126-horsepower 1.8-liter engine that makes most of its torque down low for spirited in-town response. The CA (Clean Air) model's engine makes 122 hp from the same displacement, but meets Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) status. Nissan says this engine produces six times less emissions than engines that meet the already squeaky-clean ULEV rating. So why, you might ask, isn't this environment-friendly engine standard in the XE and GXE? It requires low-sulfur gasoline, a blend currently available only in California.
All Sentras come with power windows, a rear defroster, tilt steering column and cloth upholstery. Stepping up to the GXE nets the buyer better seating materials, an eight-way adjustable driver seat, air conditioning, cruise control, power exterior mirrors and door locks, and a thumping sound system. The GXE can also be ordered with side airbags and antilock brakes.
Front seats are comfortable, and the dash is laid out in a clean fashion, making it easy to find and use the controls. The cabin imparts an upscale feel, like a Maxima, but smaller. Taller occupants will likely find the rear seats to be a little cramped.
There's much to like about Nissan's 2002 Sentra. With the addition of the SE-R, there's now a Sentra for every type of compact sedan buyer. The only issue that might give pause is the price of the higher trim levels. For hundreds of dollars less, cars like the Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus offer similar levels of performance and equipment. But for enthusiasts on a budget, even the base Sentra XE offers an entertaining ride with plenty of standard equipment.
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Features & Specs
More About This Model
Nissan's Sentra SE-R is back...with a vengeance.
Introduced in 1991, the SE-R was a high-performance version of the Sentra two-door. A rather dowdy car to look at, the SE-R was much more exciting when in motion. One print ad compared it to the old BMW 2002. The gist of the ad was that, like that old entry-level BMW coupe of the early 1970s, the Sentra SE-R was something of a wolf in sheep's clothing a boxy, practical, affordable four-passenger car that just happened to be able to cover ground in a hurry. And the SE-R was a much better performer than the old 2002 in terms of acceleration, braking and passenger comfort.
The 1991 SE-R had a 140-horsepower 2.0-liter dual-overhead-cam inline four, four-wheel disc brakes and 14-inch alloy wheels wearing 185/60R14 tires. Back then, that was impressive hardware for an econobox, allowing it to sprint from 0 to 60 mph in under 8 seconds and give some sports cars a run for their money on a twisty road.
Although Nissan claims the Sentra SE-R was last produced in 1994, car buffs will recognize that it lived on, in a way, as the 200SX SE-R. When the Sentra was redesigned in 1995, the two-door version was essentially rebadged as the sportier 200SX, which shared the Sentra's underpinnings and was available (as an SE-R, as well) until 1998.
When the fifth-generation Sentra arrived in 2000, only four-door models were available. The sportiest trim level, the SE, came with the 140-hp 2.0-liter, but it still lacked the hard-core personality of the SE-R.
For 2002, the SE has been shelved and two SE-Rs will be available: the standard SE-R and the full-bore SE-R Spec V. Both SE-Rs announce their arrival with an aggressive front fascia featuring a mesh grille and the obligatory foglights. Big wheels come on both cars: SE-Rs wear 16-inch alloys with 195/55R16 tires, while the Spec V has 17s shod with chunky 215/45R17 rubber. Out back, both cars have a rear spoiler and chrome exhaust tips.
Beating under the hood is a new 2.5-liter DOHC inline four (shared with the '02 Altima) that boasts leading-edge technology such as electronic throttle control (also called "drive by wire") and continuously variable valve timing. The big four pumps out 165 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque in the base SE-R. The Spec V cranks out a bit more: 175 ponies and 180 lb-ft of twist, thanks to a tuned exhaust system. A chief advantage of the relatively large displacement engine (most cars in this class have 1.7- to 2.0-liter engines) is its healthy torque output, which means you don't have to rev the whee out of the engine to get the power.
To reinforce its serious sporting demeanor, the Spec V comes with a six-speed manual gearbox, as well as a limited-slip differential to optimize acceleration and handling performance. The base SE-R comes with a five-speed manual; a four-speed automatic is optional.
Both SE-Rs have four-wheel disc brakes standard, with ABS as an option. A sport suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars is fitted to both cars, as is a front strut tower brace. The Spec V has firmer springs and shocks, as well as the larger wheel/tire combo mentioned earlier.
Several interior elements separate the SE-Rs from run-of-the-mill Sentra sedans, such as titanium-colored gauges, different seat trim and leather wrapping for the steering wheel and gear shift knob. The Spec V goes even further, with sport seats tailored in a two-tone black and red mesh cloth and red accent stitching for the steering wheel rim. Optional is a 300-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system that gets the message through, loud and clear. Side airbags are also optional on both models.
Our sentiments toward the cabin were mixed; we appreciated the seat's comfort and support as well as the simple and familiar control layouts. But we didn't care for the orange over titanium gauge markings, as there isn't enough contrast for them to be read easily. And the cupholder location is not ideal for those with big hands, as our editor found out when he crunched his knuckles into his water bottle during a couple of aggressive gearchanges.
Seat time was limited to the Spec V (yeah, we know your heart bleeds), so we can only comment on that model. The car's peppy nature is noticeable straightaway. And from around 2,000 rpm on up, there is plenty of grin-inducing pull. Nissan claims the Spec V will rocket from rest to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds, which would put it fender-to-fender with a number of pricey sport sedans.
In general, gearshift action was crisp, except it was too easy to miss the upshift to the fifth cog. There should have been more resistance laterally on the fourth to fifth gearchange. As this was a pre-production car, we're hopeful that this will be ironed out before the car goes on sale. Beyond that, changing gears was a snap, and the clutch takeup was smooth and linear.
Of course, the Spec V is more than a straight-line car, and when the road starts to dance, this pocket rocket doesn't miss a step. Dynamically, the Spec V was a standout, with responsive and well-weighted steering, flat and neutral cornering and strong, even braking. The ride is definitely on the firm side, but nothing that will rattle your fillings. Keeping in mind that this was the stiffer of the two SE-Rs, that is by no means faint praise.
All too soon, our ride and drive was over. But in spite of the brief amount of quality time we had with Nissan's junior sport sedan, we came away duly impressed. As of press time, we don't see anything that would compete directly with the SE-R Spec V in terms of all-around performance and practicality. Upcoming Ford Focus SVT? That's going to be a two-door hatchback. And the same goes for the Civic Si. Mazda Protege MP3? Not nearly the same power. Subaru Impreza WRX? Yep, it's a sedan, and it has all-wheel-drive and 227 horses. But it's out of reach for enthusiasts who want to spend under $20,000 for a fun four-door.
Although firm pricing was not available at press time, a range of $17,000 to $19,000 would be a reasonable educated guess for the SE-R siblings. Nissan states that the car will be ready to go on sale around mid-October. With such a well-rounded little gem, we feel that a lot of budget-minded enthusiasts will be more than ready for the new SE-R.
Used 2002 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V Overview
The Used 2002 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V is offered in the following styles: SE-R Spec V 4dr Sedan (2.5L 4cyl 6M).
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Should I lease or buy a 2002 Nissan Sentra?
Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.