Photos courtesy of Chris Muller
Considering the Sentra has been a sedan-only line for over 20 years, it’s easy to forget there were once myriad body styles available. For the B12 generation, launched in 1987, Nissan offered two- and four-door sedans, a shapely three-door hatchback coupe, a five-door wagon (with optional 4WD) and this, the rarest of them all, a three-door hatchback.
1987-89 Pulsar hatch
Offered for just two years, the Sentra hatch was a slow-seller despite the nameplate’s popularity. Nissan had learned from the 1982 Stanza that notchbacks were more popular than hatchbacks in the US and so the sedan bodies took precedence with the 1987 Sentra. In other markets, like Australia and Europe, the similarly-sized Sunny/Pulsar offered more resolved hatchback styling and an available five-door body. In those parts of the globe, small sedans were often preferred by older consumers and thus carried a stodgy, conservative reputation. In the US, hatchbacks were beginning to disappear en masse, perhaps because they carried a cheapskate reputation.
The price-leader of the 1987 Sentra range – restyled and featuring a new rear suspension – was the two-door notchback known simply as Sentra. The next step up in the range was the Sentra E, available as a two- or four-door sedan, a wagon or as a hatchback. The hatch cost $200 more than the two-door and $200 less than the four-door.
The base Sentra was keenly priced at $5,999 (the E was $1k more) but was truly poverty-spec: standard equipment was pretty much limited to a rear defogger and reclining front bucket seats (trimmed in vinyl). A four-speed manual was the only transmission. Stepping up to the E netted you power steering (with the optional automatic only), a standard five-speed manual, tinted glass, dual outside mirrors, intermittent wipers and a trip odometer. The hatch was also available in higher XE trim. All Sentras – even the ‘Sport Coupe’ – came with a 1.6 four-cylinder engine.
The Sentra lacked the charm of a Civic or 323 or the reputation of the Corolla but it was an entirely inoffensive little commuter car. But somebody who wanted a cheap, inoffensive, little commuter car probably would have stuck with the cheaper two-door sedan. The hatchback was overlooked by most buyers for two years and then quietly axed.