Minggu, 01 Juni 2008

Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V Review

By Brendan McAleer

Anyone who’s ever watched a canard-laden, sooty-arsed Spec V Skyline blast through a corner like a turbocharged gecko knows that the NISMO (Nissan Motorsports) boys are the fairy godfathers of serious speed . Yes, well, making a street fighter out of Nissan’s weight-challenged Sentra compact is gonna require some extra strength bippity-boppity-boo. Speedy silk purse, lethargic sow’s ear, that kind of thing. In short, I approached the Sentra SE-R Spec V with a healthy dose of scepticism, cynicism and I’ll-believe-it-when-I-thrash-it-ism.

Styling. My eyes! The goggles do nothing! Okay, the SE-R isn’t quite that bad. But despite the porcine lipstick application, this is a car only Kermit could love. The new seventeen-inch rims barely fill out the wheel wells and the aero-kit fails to drop the lines low enough to disguise the micro-van roofline. And that’s on top of a car with oversized headlights, Caddy-esque edges and Chryslerberusian hood strakes. Ew.

Yes, well, the original shoebox-special early-nineties SE-R was ugly as sin, but hellish fun to drive. If the new Sentra drives as good as it looks bad, all is forgiven.

Gripping the Sentra’s fat, red-stitched steering wheel, enveloped by side-bolstered sport seats, strapped in with a bright red seatbelt, confidence is high. A 350Z-style angled gauge pod completes the NISMO wikkidness, housing a fancy acceleration/braking G-meter and an oil pressure gauge;that owners of the consumption-prone previous-gen SE-R have been trained to scan on a minute-by-minute basis.

Other than that, it’s a Sentra. The dash is too high, Sauron’s peeking out between the dials again, the shifter’s in the wrong place, the plastics aren’t as nice as baby brother Versa, the C-pillars create huge blind spots, and the side mirrors are too small and don’t fold.

On the other hand, it’s a Sentra. There’s loads of goodies (Rockford stereo, et al), the cabin is airy and spacious, the rear seats are large and comfortable, tall doors provide easy ingress/egress and it’s got a huge trunk. Practicality, thy name is Sentra. Unfortunately, the Spec-V’s chassis-stiffening rear V-brace eliminates the folding rear seats, a functionality-reducing manoeuvre best left to baggy-trousered “tunerz”.

NISMO’s breath upon the Altima-sourced 2.5-liter engine hath bumped compression with special pistons and some tasty trick pieces (e.g. a cast-resin manifold). The resulting lump boasts a higher redline (6800 rpm) and more horses (200hp). The Sentra’s modified mill stumps up 180 lb/ft of torque. Though the twist now arrives higher up in the rev range, that’s the same grunt as the previous gen SE-R.

So, finally, I fired up the little devil and watched the tach and speedometer needles perform a full sweep of their ranges, STI-style. Whoa, Dude! The new Spec V leaps off the line with only the briefest of tugs, indicating that Nissan’s love affair with torque-tainted tillers could finally be on the wane. Of course, “leaps” is a fairly subjective verb here, as those 200 ponies have a whole lot of chuckwagon to motivate.

Despite 3100lbs. of not so curvaceous curb weight and reduced low-end torque, the Sentra pulls a respectable 0 to 60mph time of around six-and-a-half seconds. That’s good enough to best a Honda Civic Si Sedan, but expect forced induction rides like the GTI and Mazdaspeed3 to huff and puff and blow your house down.

With straight-line domination off the table, perhaps the Sentra’s helical limited-slip diff, close-ratio six-speed gearbox, monster anti-roll bars and stiffened springs will let you can catch ‘em in the corners. Lest we forget, Nissan’s advertising makes much of rabid engineers honing the Sentra SE-R’s suspension through repeated hot laps of the Nordschleife Nurburgring.

Green Hell no. Push the Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V past seven-tenths in the twisties and its top-heavy roots start showing. Over the howling of not-that-sticky performance radials, you can almost hear Sabine Schmitz scoffing, “I ken doo thet time in a Ven!”

Take the SE-R off the track and it’s surprisingly settled over rough roads; it’s a bit roly-poly, but nimble enough to do some damage. Unfortunately, the engine note is about as musical as a jack hammer. Luckily, the Sentra's tach is happy enough to kiss the redline and the brakes are phenomenal. Carving a line, I felt my facial muscles spasm. Trichinosis? Nope, just a hoonish grin.

I was expecting the Sentra SE-R Spec V to be a sort of Heffalump GT-R: extra power thrown at a chassis totally unsuited to sporting aspirations. Surprise! The Sentra SE-R Spec V turns out to be a viable alternative to Honda’s hot sedan that provides a stronger (if rougher) engine, a capable (if less balanced) drive and liveable mileage (24/31).

More importantly, at around $20K, the Spec V’s a bargain for entry-level enthusiasts looking for a box-fresh, fully warranteed, practical and fun daily driver. But unlike Ye Olde B13-chassis Sentra SE-R, serious racers need not– indeed should not– apply