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Car reviews - Nissan - 200SX - Spec S coupe

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, handling, style, value for money
Room for improvement
Token rear seats, smallish boot

30 May 2001

MEMO to Nissan: could you please build a car with searing acceleration, limpet-like grip and drop-dead good looks? Oh, and try and keep the price down.

Someone at Nissan was obviously listening because the new 200SX is everything a sports coupe should be. The turbo titan offers bags of style and performance in an affordable and easy-to-live-with package.

Although the 200SX badge made its Australian debut in late 1994, the model has been around in a number of different guises since the 1960s.

Known as Silvia in Japan, the coupe has built up an enviable reputation as a serious driver's car.

Enthusiasts have always relished its rear-wheel drive layout and turbocharged, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine.

But in terms of outright sales, the 200SX has struggled in the shadow of its previously more glamorous front-wheel drive rivals. The Toyota Celica and Honda Prelude, for instance, have in the past outsold the Nissan with ease.

This may have been in no small part due to the previous 200SX's pedestrian looks, despite Nissan's efforts to sharpen up the front end in late 1996.

Thankfully, the latest iteration ditches the bland, sedan-in-drag lines of the former model in favour of a sexier, more curvaceous shape.

Its face is adorned by slanted, angry-looking headlights and an aggressive spoiler, endowing the car with a menacing presence. Viewed from the side, the 200SX has distinct overtones of the Ferrari 456M.

In our opinion, the entry-level Spec S - which does without the rear spoiler, side skirts, sunroof and CD stacker of the pricier Spec R - is the more aesthetically pleasing package.

The only thing it lacks is a set of chunky 17-inch alloy wheels. The existing 16-inch rims look okay, but the car would assume a far more purposeful stance on 17-inchers.

Nevertheless, the 200SX is still an eye-catching proposition and, happily, its looks are easily matched by its performance.

The coupe's rear-drive layout has real allure to drivers who like the idea of being able to "steer a car on the throttle" - in other words, induce oversteer with a healthy dose of right welly.

Straight-line performance buffs will also be pleased. Nissan claims the 200SX can accelerate from zero to 100km/h in 7.5 seconds, but Motor magazine covered the sprint in 6.34 seconds when it tested the car in April 2001.

For the record, the standing 400-metre was dispatched in 14.59 seconds by Motor - putting the Nissan coupe on par with the Subaru Impreza WRX.

So how does the 200SX do it? Although its engine is derived from the 2.0-litre unit previously seen in the Pulsar SSS, the addition of forced induction transforms it into a potent weapon.

The powerplant has perfectly square bore-stroke dimensions and uses a twin-camshaft, 16-valve head and an intercooler to extract maximum efficiency during the combustion process.

To compensate for the extra boost provided by the turbo the compression ratio is lowered to 8.5:1, with boost control and variable valve timing controlled by the engine electronics, to avoid pre-ignition or "detonation" problems lying in wait for ill-designed forced induction engines.

Nissan's variable valve timing technology is similar to BMW's VANOS system and works by controlling the camshaft position according to a number of variables including temperature, intake airflow, accelerator position and engine speed.

The net result: a none too shabby 147kW at 6400rpm and 265Nm of torque at 4800rpm.

Holding all this together is a chassis that borrows some components from the Nissan 300ZX, such as the multi-link rear suspension, although it has its own MacPherson strut front end.

Nissan says the variable rate suspension bushes are filled with fluid (silicone) to reduce noise. Meanwhile, wheelspin is kept in check by a helical limited-slip differential - albeit only in manual models.

Theory is all well and good, but the 200SX delivers the goods where it counts - on the road.

Its ample power and relatively light weight could have resulted in an unwieldy - even intimidating - package, but the car's well sorted chassis and docile nature means this is not the case.

Driven gently, the 200SX is no more demanding to drive than its Pulsar sibling.

Push it hard and you enter another realm. The turbo starts to generate serious boost from about 2000rpm and any subsequent prods on the throttle are accompanied by a healthy shove in the back.

The surge of acceleration remains unabated to 6000rpm and beyond, which means snatching higher gears as quickly as possible becomes a priority under full throttle.

Fortunately, the slick shift quality and short, snappy throws mean rowing through the six-speed gearbox is a pleasure rather than a chore.

The perfectly spaced gear ratios are also well matched to the torque curve and there is enough power to handle a relatively high sixth gear while still providing reasonable acceleration.

Noise levels are never intrusive - thanks partly to the muffling effect of the turbo - but, no doubt, several hard-core performance nuts will feel the urge to turf the standard exhaust in favour of a more free-flowing (and noisier) drainpipe.

The 200SX is clearly a straight-line rocket, but it is not averse to being hurled at corners - in fact, it relishes it.

The car's inherent balance means it remains poised and generally forgiving under most circumstances.

Feed the power progressively through a corner and the car assumes a neutral attitude and holds its line nicely. But a more extravagant cornering style - tail-out oversteer - can be achieved by skilful drivers who enjoy opposite-lock antics.

The whole exercise is facilitated by the Nissan's well-weighted and communicative rack-and-pinion steering.

Ride quality, although on the firm side, is acceptable for a sporting coupe.

Purists will appreciate the fact the 200SX is not loaded with driver aids - anti-lock brakes and brake-assist being the only exceptions. Dual airbags are also part of the standard safety feature list.

Accommodation definitely favours front-seat rather than rear-seat passengers, who need to be either very small or legless. The front seats are sporty, sculpted items that provide good lumbar and lateral support, but shorter drivers may complain the seats are set too low.

The simple, uncluttered dash and centre console layout is aesthetically pleasing and in keeping with the sporting character of the car.

Overall, there is plenty to like about the Nissan 200SX.

Its beautifully sculpted lines make it a far more visually enticing package than its predecessor, while the subtle refinements to the chassis add to its appeal as a driver's car.

The Subaru Impreza WRX still wins hands down if practicality comes into the equation, but if rear-seat comfort and boot space are not priorities then the Nissan has to be at the top of your $40K performance car short list.

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