Nissan's past is full of fantastic sports cars. Under the Datsun guise, this manufacturer produced all sorts of open and closed vehicles of sporting intent. From the early Fairlady roadsters to the current GT-R, Datsun and Nissan have long been models of diversity thanks to an ability to supplement their full line of competent family cars with machines for the genuine enthusiast.
In the beginning, the SX name was strapped to one of those sporty vehicles. With rear-wheel-drive and some pretty hearty engine choices available, the SX made a great backroad tool. In 1995, though, Nissan decided to apply the name to an auto a bit more mundane. Thus, the 1995-1998 Nissan 200SX was born. Based on the drab but inoffensive Sentra sedan, the 200SX offered buyers a new choice of economy coupe.
More stylish than its 4-door counterpart, the 200SX was still undeniably boring to look at. It was well-proportioned and sleek enough, but its appearance was dull and very conservative. Despite the forgettable face, though, a purple 200SX in all its plum-colored stylistic mediocrity actually made the cover of Car and Driver in February of 1995. Clearly, the 200SX had spades of charm beneath its staid skin.
Atop the 200SX pyramid of trim levels was the 200SX SE-R. This model, which was tested in the aforementioned Car and Driver issue, came equipped with a perky 2.0L inline four. Cranking out 140hp and 132lb-ft of torque, the mill could rev to a frisky 7100rpm. A 1.6L four was found in base and SE models, and was a good motor albeit with less grunt.
The 5-speed stick available in the 200SX shifted with smooth precision. It complemented the engine in the SE-R model perfectly, creating a driving experience of uncommon poise for such an affordable car. The handling was very good for a front-wheel-drive layout.
Though the older SX was the predecessor in name of the 200SX, the car's real lineage can be traced more easily to older Sentras. The Sentra SE-R, which was a darling of the motoring press, preceded the 200SX SE-R and offered the same impressive performance in a similarly sized 4-door package. There was an important difference between the two cars, though, in the new rear suspension setup offered in the 200SX.
For as good as the 200SX's handling was, it lacked some of the crispness of its predecessor. This was due to a revised rear suspension referred to by Nissan as a 'multilink beam.' Whereas the Sentra SE-R had independent suspension at the rear, the 200SX's multilink beam was a semi-independent design initially used in the contemporary revision of the Maxima. A compromise between an independent configuration and a dead axle, it gave the advantages of lighter weight and fewer moving parts at the expense of the Sentra SE-R's unbeatable precision.
The new suspension wasn't all bad, though. While it softened handling slightly, it offered better grip. The 200SX SE-R even managed an impressive 0.85g on the skidpad with its standard V-rated tires. Freeing up space at the back of the car, the new suspension setup provided a roomier back seat and trunk. All of these features added to a sense of quality, refinement, and composure that was difficult to come by in such a small, affordable package.
Even with its pleasant driving characteristics, the 200SX was a tough sell. The car's overall design, both inside and outside, was just too bland to match its lively demeanor. It was phased out after 1998, following three years of slow sales. Sources:
'1995-1998 Nissan 200SX.' Consumer Guide Automotive 11/23/08 20 Feb 2009 http://consumerguideauto.howstuffworks.com/1995-to-1998-nissan-200sx.htm
Padgett Jr., Martin. 'Nissan 200SX SE-R.' Car and Driver Feb 1995: 44-48. By Evan Acuña