From the April 1991 issue of Car and Driver.
Mix equal parts style, spirit, and frugality. Stir briskly. Season to taste with serious performance capability. Serve to youngish car shoppers anxious to make a statement but unwilling to cut into their racquetball-club fees. What you’ve cooked up is a dish more and more car companies are offering: the delectable sporty coupe à la cheap.
Nissan is the latest to offer such fare. Its new NX comes in 2000 (sampled here) and 1600 forms, and it represents a noteworthy development on the sportycoupe theme.
That theme was not invented by Honda, but its CRX has defined the genre in the past decade by coupling a low-slung, sexy body to the sensible, lowcost underpinnings of a front-drive econobox. The Geo Storm/Isuzu Impulse twins, the Hyundai Scoupe, Toyota’s new Paseo, and the upcoming Mazda MX-3 all follow the CRX theme, though they aren’t true two-seaters (a back seat, no matter how pitiable, is considered a practical asset and a palliative for insurance companies).
Nissan’s 1991 NX replaces two of the company’s former offerings, the dowdy Sentra coupe and the “modular-roof” Pulsar, a car that never caught on with buyers. Under its skin, especially in the 2.0-liter form tested here, the zoomy new NX coupe is an instant replay of the Sentra SE-R sports sedan. And you know what a high opinion we have of that car, if you perused our March road test or noted its presence on our 1991 Ten Best Cars list.
Once again, the SR20DE four-cylinder engine—with its double overhead cam-shafts, sixteen valves, 140 horsepower, flexible torque delivery, and smooth spool-up—answers the sporting call in a lighter and smaller package than its original home, the Infiniti G20 sedan. The same quick-shifting five-speed gearbox (or optional four-speed automatic) and viscous limited-slip front differential that we praised in the SE-R manage the transfer of torque from the flywheel to the road wheels.
The chassis layout also carries over from the SE-R, including the strut suspension with coil springs and anti-roll bars-though the actual springs and bars are tuned a bit firmer. And the all-disc brakes and available anti-lock system make the jump to the NX2000 as well. (The base 110-hp NX1600 gets by with a disc/drum brake combination and foregoes the ABS and limited-slip differential, but shares the 2000’s power rack-and-pinion steering and airbag-equipped wheel hub.) Nissan has seen fit to upgrade the NX2000 footwear one notch from the SE-R: half-inch-wider wheels support 195/55 Bridgestone Potenza RE71 tires.
As you might expect, given the common mechanical heritage, the NX2000 feels similar to the SE-R under the pilot’s hand, though the overall driving experience is quite different. The smaller coupe is not smaller in the ways that would most radically affect handling: wheelbase is an identical 95.7 inches, and our option-laden test car weighed 74 pounds more. But the stiffer suspension and wider, shorter-sidewall tires give the NX a satisfyingly sharper, more aggressive manner on the road. Its lower seating position adds a racy sensation; but along with a 2.5-inch overall height reduction, it also lowers the center of gravity. So the NX2000 has more snappy turn-in response, cleaner transition behavior, and a generally more crisp, quick-acting feel.
The penalties for these close-coupled qualities are mild. Ride harshness has increased over the level of the SE-R, although not distressingly so on reasonably smooth roads. But if you have to spend a lot of time on ratty, potholed pavement, you might begin to wonder if some comedian filled your tires with concrete. And when the snow flies, you’ll suspect the same joker of shaving your treads bald, because these middling-wide Bridgestones—in combination with the NX’s weight and power—feel downright greasy in the slippery stuff.
Against the stopwatch, the NX2000 performs much like the SE-R. Our test car sprinted to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds and stretched to a top speed of 126 mph. When the brakes were applied at 70 mph, it came to a stop in 172 feet. It pulled 0.86 g around the skidpad. With these results, the NX2000 soundly trounces the performance of all other sporty coupes in its price class.
The alloy twin-cam deserves much of the credit. It revs to 7500 rpm with an urgent growl but no strain, and it hovers happily at 5000 as you wait for an opening to fry slower traffic on a twisty two-laner.
The NX’s instrument panel and major controls look similar to those in the SE-R. Seating differs though: the front buckets have perhaps a little more side bolstering higher up the seatbacks, and what passes for a rear seat accommodates but one adult, sideways.
The area in which the new NX2000 departs most radically from its Sentra SE-R roots is also the car’s one controversial aspect: its ovoid styling. Gerald Hirshberg, vice president of Nissan Design International in San Diego and the prime orchestrater of the NX look, said his team was after a sense of fun and high energy. “The idea was spirit. What song should we be singing, and who are we singing it for?”
Opinion around the halls of C/D varies as to how maestro Hirshberg’s choir performed this number, which underscores how personal the aesthetic judgment often is. To these eyes, the sunken-oval headlamps give the car a curious face, and there is more than a hint of clutter, especially with the 2000’s add-on side skirts and spoiler. The shape is catchy, though, and it may well grow on the skeptics among us.
The base NX2000 will sticker just under $13,000, with prices ranging up to a little more than $16,000 for one like our test car: equipped with A/C, ABS, T-tops, a compact-disc player—everything but the automatic. (For comparison, a fully optioned Honda CRX Si goes for about $13,000, but that’s without ABS, an air bag, T-tops, and the NX’s 30-hp advantage.) The base 1600 should begin around $11,000.
The NX won’t be available nationwide until the ’92 model year. As you read this, it should be on sale in California and a few selected metropolitan areas: New York, Boston, Columbus (Ohio), and Jacksonville.
The NX2000 will deliver practical yet distinctive transportation. But on top of that, it will offer enough real performance and sheer driving pleasure to make an enthusiast driver forget the reasonable price. If there’s a better recipe for success, we haven’t found it.
This car’s gruesome ovoid styling is a threat to the continued functioning of clocks. And its cabin isn’t any more spacious than a Honda CRX’s. Still, I’d choose the NX2000 over a CRX Si faster than you can say “the world’s greatest 2.0-liter engine.” If Nissan’s newest alloy four-cylinder were an athlete, they’d test it for steroids. So why do I hesitate? You can get the same mechanicals in a car that has a usable back seat, isn’t a styling nightmare, and costs $2000 less. It’s called the Sentra SE-R. —John Phillips III
Think of the new NX2000 as the 1991 Datsun 2402. True, the 300ZX is the 240’s genealogical descendant, but it is much too expensive to achieve the original’s broad appeal. The big-engined NX, however, has a base price of $12,970, virtually identical to the Z car’s sub-$3600 price adjusted for twenty years of inflation. The NX is front-drive and has only four cylinders, but it’s faster, more comfortable, and better-handling than the original. And it, too, is a car you can afford even if you don’t have a six-figure income. —Csaba Csere
After spending the $3 lunch money their wives gave them on two lite beers, car-magazine writers gush (launching spittle): “I’d axshilly buy ‘is car if I hadda money!” Well, they don’t, and won’t, but they would if they could. Because this car aces all three key tests: it’s stylish as deerskin gloves, quick and maneuverable as a mongoose, and cheap to feed—like them. Plus there’s all this room inside, no lurching through the gears, and Nissan has discovered how to make plastic interiors attractive. That’s it! Period! End discussion! —Steve Spence
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