Curbside Classic: 1993 Nissan NX1600 – Yokohoma Goes Organic

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Ack–another white car!  Don’t have my head; I capture what comes my way and it’s truly perplexing how I encounter so many cars of the same color; unfair, even.  For what it’s worth, these were actually popular in this color, so maybe it’s not a stroke of bad luck.  Actually, finding one of these might be considered good luck, as they’re a rare gem from Nissan’s short-lived early ’90s renaissance.

Like the concurrent Maxima and Q45, this Sentra-based coupe was a reflection of the company’s drive toward sophisticated shapes and spirited powertrains.  Keep in mind that’s mostly true of the SR20DE-equipped NX2000, but with variable intake cam timing and 115 rev-happy horses, I wouldn’t call this a 1.6 a dud for daily duty–you just have to flog it to fly around dimwits with ease.

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When was the last time any of you saw one of these?  As cars released at an inauspicious time, they were far from popular, but sales could’ve been worse, and I saw them regularly as a pre-teen.  Still, it’s been a good fifteen years since these were plentiful on the ground, and I’d wager poor reliability isn’t why they’ve become so scarce.  Nissan’s quality relative to other makes was at or near its peak in the early ’90s, after all, so people either thrashed them to death or failed to love them enough.

Cars based on this chassis, though, are always likeable.  I’d lump this write-up in with the contemporary Sentra, but you don’t wanna read all that and anyway, those had a mini-BMW vibe, where this seemed more like a belated CRX rival.

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The Sentra connection is obvious inside, though, as the NX used the same dashboard.  I didn’t want to use a flash, and the only shot of the interior which was unblurred featured my partner in the background in what he’d consider to be an unflattering pose.  If he read CC, he’d apply for a gun license and do away with me for posting such an image.

Material quality was high; more so than in an equivalent EG/EJ (1992-1995) Civic, and a bit richer than the equivalent Corolla (unless we’re talking the slow-selling ’93-’95 LE).  Properly sporting NX2000s used an analog gauge set-up; this digital display was for the 1600 only.  Gotta add some flair to the poseur model, I suppose.

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Flair is exactly what you don’t see with these thirteen-inchers–today’s CRZ wears 195/55 R16 tires, with 205/45 R17s optional (W speed rated for some reason).  I’ll take this Nissan over that car, tiny tires and all.  At the time, the final NX was derided for being porky relative to the outgoing second-gen CRX, but by today’s standard, it must feel like a roller skate.

With a relatively long 95.7 inch wheel base shared with the Sentra, it could’ve been twitchier, but even the sedans could get tail-happy (fun, if expected).  Some fourteen-inchers would curb that tendency and would be easy enough to find, but in any case, this generation of Nissan’s B-chassis brought the car from an also-ran to a class leader where driver fun was concerned. The following generation, with its beam axle and unique scissor-link, was a determined understeerer, but that was more related to Nissan’s decision to fit the rear suspension with extra-soft springs; modifications can fix that, adding balance with stability.

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These were introduced in the US for 1991 model year and withdrawn after 1993.  I’ll be the first to admit that focusing on the Sentra SE-R was the wiser strategy, not that that car got the sales success it deserved, but the close-coupled cabin and fastback shape of the NX has its own obscure appeal.  It’s quite dated and was easy to dismiss as corny even when new; like Chrysler’s embrace of Fuselage styling, Mazda’s, Mitsubishi’s and Nissan’s switch from the ultra-dated box to the softly-defined organic look was sudden, zealous and faddish.  It’s a look I like, but criticism of the passing craze is easy to understand.

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And as was the case for domestic manufacturers in the ’70s, the Japanese carmakers who adopted a more restrained interpretation of the soap-bar look were more successful (think 1994 Accord or 1993 Corolla), though that could be related to issues of brand equity as well.  Toyota and Honda had it, others had to work for it and often couldn’t attain it for long.  Such was the case for Nissan and if today’s Sentra is any indication, any attempt at changing this situation in the compact class has long been dispensed with.  If that means more GT-Rs, Q50s and 370Zs, I’ll take it, but a fizzy runabout is more my scene.  These days, that’s Ford’s territory more than anyone else’s.

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As it is, these cars were very well received critically, and went on to success in SCCA racing in two-liter trim.  Equipped as it was with a limited slip differential and a big two-liter with a 7500 rpm redline, this blew the lively but mild mannered CR-X out of the water (in stock form, anyway) and made the smooth and refined Mazda MX-3 (above) look somewhat limp–good thing there was the MX-5.

Rejecting this NX1600 as a secretary’s car is fair enough, but if a car like the NX2000 can’t put a smile on your face, I recommend an examination of your neurological faculties.  On the other hand, if you overlook the NX as just another in a sea of econoboxes, you’re not alone.  As Paul explained to me in a comment thread on Thursday, people usually don’t buy cars based on objective measures and this car makes a strong statement in favor of such an argument.  Image and timing are everything, and in too many cases, neither worked in Nissan’s favor.

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Related reading:

Curbside Classic: 1992 Mazda MX-3 GS – Smallest Production V6 Engine Ever?