The Nissan Sentra
SE-R Spec V sedan has a mile-long name, but not a mile-high price. And it's one of those cars that will deliver many miles of driving kicks. Racing school graduates will soon sense that the Spec V will do well on a track, although it's docile during regular driving. Even small items such as the front strut tower brace, which enhancing handling, show that Nissan
has a serious high-performance model here. The Spec V is a faster version of the Sentra
SE-R, which is the hot rod version of the regular, fifth-generation Sentra
. The original 1991-94 SE-R looked bland but was a high-performance two-door model. Nissan
decided to revive the high-performance SE-R for 2002--and then go one step further by also offering it in higher-performance Spec V trim.
There's considerable interest among younger drivers in small, fast cars. Nissan
thus felt the time was right for value-driven sports sedans such as the SE-R and Spec V, which are expected to account for about 20 percent of Sentra
has a rich history with low-priced sports sedans. While many younger car buffs fondly recall the original SE-R, a good number of older ones remember the sophisticated 510 sports sedan Nissan
offered from 1968 to 1973. The Spec V gets its designation from Nissan
's Skyline GT-R V Spec, a high-performance sports car not offered in America. But never mind. The Spec V is plenty fast, especially considering its reasonable price. So is the SE-R.
s are solid front-drive economy sedans. They have a 1.8-liter, 126-horsepower four-cylinder engine and base prices that go from $11,799 to $14,549. The SE-R has a new 2.5-liter, 165-horsepower four-cylinder with 16 valves, dual overhead camshafts and continuously variable valve timing. This model costs $15,999 with a five-speed manual gearbox and an extra $800 with a four-speed automatic transmission. The $16,999 Spec V version has a 175 horsepower version of the SE-R engine, with a special free-flowing exhaust system. You can tell the Spec V is for hard-core car buffs because it comes only with a six-speed manual transmission, which shifts well but works with a long-throw clutch.
The SE-R and Spec V look the part, with such items as a Skyline-style front fascia with a mesh grille and large fog lights. They also have body color side sill extensions, rear spoiler and large chrome exhaust tips. Compared to regular Sentra
s, the SE-R has a firmer sport-tuned suspension, 16-inch wheels (versus 14- and 15-inch ones), unique gauges, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob and four-wheel disc brakes with an optional anti-lock system. Besides the additional power, the Spec V adds a sportier track-tuned suspension with items such as stiffer springs. There also are larger 17-inch wheels and wider 45-series tires, along with a helical limited-slip differential for better traction with the Sentra
's front-drive setup.
And the Spec V adds a special leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob, along with colorful lava colored race-style front sports bucket seats from the Skyline 25GX-Turbo model, also not sold in America. The SE-R and Spec V have many standard items, including air conditioning, tilt wheel, cruise control, remote keyless entry and power windows and door locks. However, only the SE-R has a folding rear seat for added space.
Available for both the SE-R and Spec V is a $549 nine-speaker, 900-watt killer sound system with a $399 in-dash six-disc CD changer. Also offered are front side-impact air bags, which come with the anti-lock system in a $749 package. A $699 power sliding sunroof is accompanied by illuminated sunvisor mirrors.
The Spec V streaks to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, although the engine needs lots of revs to deliver the best performance. That means a fair amount of shifting. For instance, a downshift from sixth to fourth gear is needed for the best 65-75 mph passing times. But, thanks to the sixth gear, the engine revs at a relaxed 2,700 rpm at 70 mph.
Estimated fuel economy is 22 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway. The steering is quick and handling is very sharp. Large disc brakes result in short stopping distances, and the pedal has a nice feel. However, the Spec V's stiff suspension occasionally causes the ride to be jerky. There is decent room for four tall adults, although legroom gets tight behind a driver who moves his seat back all the way. Narrow rear door bottoms hinder entry and exit.
Gauges can be quickly read and controls have a soft feel. Climate controls are large, but radio controls are small and located beneath the climate controls. Front cupholders shouldn't lead to spills, and there are a fair number of front storage areas. The large trunk has a low opening, but its lid has intrusive hinges. Nissan
says the SE-R and Spec V "indicate the future direction of Nissan
sedans'' and adds that it's a "spirited one, to say the least.'' Drivers of the SE-R Spec V wouldn't argue with that.
NISSAN SENTRA SE-R SPEC V
Fast and furious. High-profile styling. Terrific bucket seats. A blast to drive.
Occasionally jerky ride. Engine needs lots of revs. Long-throw clutch.