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Nissan 200SX to terrorise WRX

Speed machine: Independent testing has shown the 200SX is faster than Subaru's famous WRX.

The now 200SX combines improved looks and performance with an attractive price

29 Nov 2000

NISSAN's new 200SX sports coupe has presented Subaru's iconic Impreza WRX with its toughest challenge yet to retain the cult performance car crown.

The second generation 200SX, which went on sale November 29, now matches the WRX on a power-to-weight basis and in base model specification is $3000 cheaper.

Independent performance testing has shown the Nissan is a significantly quicker car in a straight line.

Australia is the only market outside Japan that the 200SX is homologated for, although it is on sale in New Zealand as a grey import. It is never expected to go on sale in the US or Europe.

Nissan Australia is forecasting a modest 1200 sales per year, although that's a dramatic improvement over its six-year-old predecessor's 95 sales in 1999.

New, much more svelte sheetmetal is the most obvious change to the car - it is 75mm shorter, 35mm narrower and 10mm lower than its predecessor. But the wheelbase stays the same and kerb weight remains virtually unchanged.

The interior includes new sports seats and titanium-look gauges and trim finishes, with the tachometer centrally mounted.

Under the skin, the turbo, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine only has minor alterations and retains the same 147kW and 265Nm power and torque figures.

A more powerful 180kW-plus engine was scratched for Australia because it requires 100 RON fuel, which is not available here. The standard engine still needs more expensive 95 RON premium unleaded to perform at its best.

The MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension has been revised to firmer settings and the body stiffened for better handling - in part thanks to four bolt-in body braces.

Brand new is a six-speed close ratio gearbox in the manual version, mated to a helical limited slip diff - as already seen in the latest "Godzilla" GTR V-Spec - which provides faster traction control under acceleration than the viscous coupled LSD still used in the four-speed auto version.

The braking system now includes not only ABS as standard, but also the BAS brake assist system, which maximises stopping efficiency under heavy braking.

The 200SX range has been cut back from three models to two, the Spec S and the Spec R, priced at $39,990 and $43,990 respectively. The automatic option is $2000.

Both models are equipped standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, dual chrome exhausts, air-conditioning, remote central locking, power windows and mirrors, sports seats, leather steering wheel and gear shifter, dual airbags, variable intermittent wipers and immobiliser.

The Spec R adds an electric sunroof, an in-dash six-CD audio system (the S is a single disc system) and a body kit comprising spoiler and side skirts.

Although the WRX produces more power and torque than the 200SX, the new generation car is also now about 130kg heavier, making the power-to-weight equation virtually identical.

Independent testing by Motor magazine, using sophisticated Correvit timing gear, found the 200SX was faster from 0-100km/h and over the standing 400m.

The 200SX recorded 6.9 and 14.8 seconds respectively while the WRX managed 7.36 and 15.16 seconds.

But the Subaru still retains the advantage of all-wheel drive for superior grip in slippery conditions, compared to the rear-wheel drive 200SX, and better interior flexibility and space particularly in the hatchback five-door.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONSTHOROUGHLY impressive and enjoyable to drive, the 200SX backs up the competitive pricing, improved styling and power figures convincingly.

The engine wells impressively once past 3000rpm and continues to surge with little evidence of turbo lag beyond 6000rpm, providing a broad spread of power that meshes smoothly with the light and direct six-speed gearbox - although sixth is purely for freeway cruising.

Appropriately for a car of this type, heeling and toeing the foot pedals is a breeze.

There are some noises and whirrs from the drivetrain, but they are the sorts of intrusions many sports car buyers would enjoy. They may not be so enamoured by the amount of tyre noise generated by the 205/55-16 tyres on coarser chipped roads.

But they will have little argument with the grip they are getting. The firming of the suspension - which includes more than doubling the rear shock absorber rebound rate - has produced a flat-riding, nimble and neutral car that provides a very involving drive.

The helical LSD does seem to help keep the rear-end in line and reducing the power assistance has improved steering feel levels.

However, ride quality is still excellent for a car of this type and this is one area where it is in a different class to the WRX.

One area it lags is in cabin space. This is really a car for two people and their luggage. Rear seat adult passengers are masochists and taller drivers should not tick the sunroof option box. Boot space is not too bad if you are light-ish packers.

But the seats are excellent, the steering wheel just the right size, the design of the interior purposeful and sporty, topped off neatly by the centrally-mounted tacho.

The exterior is an intriguing combination of brutal and delicate. The front is evocative of the "Godzilla" GT-R while at the rear there is a neat step from the narrow C-pillar down toward the sloping boot.

The Spec R's spoiler adds aggression to the rear and in some eyes makes a substantial improvement.

You can option the spoiler on the Spec S and it's easy to suspect a lot of people will go that way. It's simply a case of putting the exclamation mark on a pretty strong statement.

Pricing (manual unless stated)Nissan 200SX Spec S $39,990Nissan 200SX Spec S automatic $41,990Nissan 200SX Spec R $43,990Nissan 200SX Spec R automatic $45,990

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