What’s your definition of “daily driver”? I don’t mean just the obvious such as “the car I drive every day”, but rather what characteristics do you require (or “demand” assuming you have a Cordoba and a luxurious Castilian Spanish accent) in the car that you get into and drive nine days out of ten? What can you not live without in a car, versus what things about a car just excite you, whether or not you actually need for them to be present? In many ways, it seems that exploring these questions forms a bit of the subtext for many of the COAL articles on CC.
For me, much of my thinking around this started to fully gel in the early 1990s.
In recent COAL chapters, I’ve discussed the various automotive compromises and realizations I had with the cars that I actually bought versus the cars that I experienced largely due to their being what my family had. The LeSabre, the Rabbit, the Bavaria all had features that pleased me, but they also all came with significant down-sides that over time worked to subdue the pleasure they offered. Mostly, these down-sides were things that were not so much faults of the cars but rather just aspects of those cars that I learned were not suited to my needs. The Rabbit was slower than it needed to be and over time the fact that it could get (at least) 40-some miles per gallon just didn’t outweigh its relatively sedate driving experience. The BMW was smooth and powerful, but frankly not the most reliable car and somewhat ponderous around town.
So when it came time to move on from the Bavaria as my daily driver, I finally had some data to work with from my focus-group of one. I wanted something actually sporty, not faux-sporty like the Rabbit or powerful yet sedate like the Bavaria. I wanted something reliable, which meant new and with decent reviews for quality. And finally, I needed a car that was relatively easy on the wallet. My job in KY was paying state university, grant-funded, wages and while this seemed perfectly ok to me, it definitely fit solidly into a career path which was already well defined as “I’m not doing do this to get rich.”.
Honestly, price was going to have to be a significant driver for this whole process. This managed to remove all European cars from the running early on.
Notice how “radio” and “AC” are noted as features. That’d be like noting “Bluetooth” and “tires” nowadays.
It seems from my notes that I narrowed the available field down to three cars. Of course I still have my notes. If you’re surprised by that, you clearly haven’t been reading closely. I based my calculations on those “new car price guides” popular at the time. The idea was to discover dealer cost and then add an amount of dealer profit plus non-negotiable extras such as freight, and then to let that be your immutable offer on the car. At least that’s how it was supposed to work.
I’ve always had a thing for Mazdas. I once had a friend’s first generation RX-7 for several months, while he was somewhere – I don’t recall – and needed me to hold on to his car. It was fun. But more to the point (since the 626 and the RX-7 in fact had pretty much nothing in common aside from manufacturer) the styling of the 626 always reminded me of something European. The first generation 626 actually looked from the B-pillar back vaguely like a 5 series BMW to me. Hence, my interest in the Mazda. But it was several thousand more than either of the Nissans, so that pretty much nixed it for me.
There’s really no reason I can recall for considering the Altima other than the fact that it was mid-sized (4 doors) and fell between the Maxima and the Sentra. I had a friend – actually the same guy who had the RX-7 as well as the 2002 that I referenced last week – whose wife at the time had a previous generation Maxima. The boxy one. Hers had the voice warning feature, which was a hoot (particularly after a couple of beers) when we went for rides, but beyond that it was uninspiring. And too expensive. Still, at $14,800, according to my notes, the Altima fell out of the running too.
Which brings us to the SE-R. This car checked all of the boxes. It was the least expensive of the cars on my list, evocative of the 2002 (so-said the press at the time), and plenty roomy enough – despite being a 2-door – for me and my maximum number of passengers at the time.
The boxy-ness didn’t bother me in the least. Plus, coming from the much larger Bavaria, I was ready for something smaller and much tighter. The big car, little car pendulum continued its swing.
Press for the SE-R was very favorable. Aside from comparing it to the 2002 – something Automobile magazine was certainly inclined to do, given that Automobile was founded and edited by David E. Davis Jr., of “Turn your hymnals to 2002” fame – the SE-R reaped praise for its high-revving engine, its limited-slip diff that did a great job of putting all available power to the ground (on the front wheels no less), and low price. There you have it. This seemed to be my perfect daily driver.
I bought mine across the river in Indiana. It wasn’t a common car at the dealerships. In fact, at the time I was partly living in MA and partly in KY, so at first I tried to find one in MA. No could do and I had to settle for what I could find near KY. The fact that it was easier to locate a particular model and buy a Nissan in IN was likely due to the fact that furrin’ cars were still harder to sell at that time in the south/Midwest than in MA. I bought one of two that the dealer in Indiana had ordered that year. This one came with the optional – at the time – airbag, sunroof, and ABS. In other words, it was loaded.
Still, after haggling, I got the delivered price down to within $150 of I’d originally calculated. Yay new car price guide!
The SE-R proved to be exactly what its reviews promised. It was an extraordinarily solid performer. Not too long after I bought it in 1993, we retreated back to Massachusetts…this time to the Boston area (literally and figuratively “graduating” from a Western Mass college town into what seemed a more grown-up life). Once there, my work involved a considerable amount of driving around the northeast and so the SE-R and I racked up the miles. Aside from burning through many sets of tires, the car required little maintenance. I cannot recall ever having any significant powertrain work ever done on the car.
Well, I also went through quite a few sets of brakes given the fact that I also tracked the car and was in the lead-foot portion of my life. The track stuff was via BMW CCA track days (I remained a member from my Bavaria days). The lead-foot part earned me years of MA insurance surcharges and driver’s school at least once, mandatory at the time after two speeding tickets to avoid a license suspension.
I didn’t get the pass that Bob was afforded.
Ultimately, I put about 180K miles on this car, many of them memorable and nearly all of them a tremendous amount of fun.
As the above picture indicates, it was rust that started to get me out of the Nissan. The rust was mostly surface stuff, but my experience with previous cars told me that this was the beginning of something that I would have to deal with sooner than later…likely sooner. In the files is an estimate from a “budget” body shop for repairing the surface rust and repainting parts of the car. That was over $1100, and I questioned the practicality of doing that on an eight year old car with that many miles. Plus, I was having intermittent ABS issues and the common “5th gear pop out” common to these cars. All in all, it added up to selling the SE-R and moving on. Plus, in 2001 I had my eye on a new, even more fun, car that existed in a similar vein to the SE-R. I advertised it on an SE-R forum, and quickly sold it for $1200. The new owner came down from VT with a stack of 20s and a flatbed…and I moved on.
But back to the daily driver thing. What the Nissan offered in the SE-R was eminent practicality equally matched by an entirely impractical amount of fun. A car that can schlep you to northern Maine for business one week, and then run laps at New England Motor Speedway the next is hard to beat so far as something you want to be behind the wheel of every day. It even did a passable job carrying a dog.
And yet at the same time, a true daily driver has to be just that, dependable enough to hit the road every single day, 365 days a year; here in New England, that encompasses a lot of different conditions (the SE-R was terrific in the snow with dedicated snow tires). Once that stops being the case, I have a hard time maintaining the enthusiasm for continuing to encourage the car about its daily duties. The SE-R was a low-cost car that could offer entertainment and function and yet once it got sufficiently long in the tooth – for me and most cars, that comes around the 200K mark — it was almost too inexpensive to warrant preservation. When was the last time you saw one of these on the road? I’ve seen more 70’s Bavarias than 1991-1993 SE-Rs. Both are prone to rusting away, both were equally fun in their own ways to drive. But no one saved the Sentras.
I think that may indicate one final quality of a true daily driver. They’re intended to be consumed. I pretty much used up the SE-R doing with it what it was designed to do. That’s a different fate than some cars earn, but quite a good one nonetheless.
Automobile Magazine scans are from my 10+ year collection of those, which thanks to this article, I may have finally found a use for. Marie Kondo be damned.
Sentras seem pretty much bullet proof if rust doesnt set in Ive had two high mileage exmples that I flicked on both ran and drove well, but as a daily Ive gotten used to supreme comfort on any road surface and excellent road manners on any surface and anvil like reliability, Ive never had that from a Japanese or Australian car and Ive owned a lot of them but two French diesels have provided that for 11 years the only thing I might change next time round is getting an automatic transmission, just because they finally have a reliable one,
In my classic I can cope with some unreliability but the current one has no such issues it starts every time and drives well for a 55 year old car, the doors shut with a thunk first time every time simply because it was built properly and hasnt been crashed since then, it could be daily driven should I want to.
You have described a very satisfying long-term DD. I have had some really satisfying DDs in the short term, but something like a 30 year old 68 Chrysler Newport is not a long-term prospect in my climate (or maybe any climate). My Honda Fit has filled that slot for nearly 15 years now, but I find that I am reaching that same point you reached with your Sentra. But with only 145k miles on it, I think it still has some life to be squeezed out of it – if I can overlook some age-related issues that are starting to pop up.
The variations in buyer tastes in different parts of the country are interesting to me. Midwesterners (especially those on the border between the midwest and the south, as Ownensboro/Evansville are) are more traditional in their tastes, and are not as concerned with a car’s size, so it does not surprise me that a smaller, more expensive car like this would not be as popular here.
It is interesting about how car tastes vary regionally. At the time, living in that midwest/south border area, it really did seem that non-domestic cars were only favored for the most part by those who wanted/needed a new car (likely for reliability issues) at the lowest possible price. Ideally, lower than anything new and domestic. Hence, the most commonly seen Japanese car was the most basic Corolla. Those seemed to exist in quantity and were often driven by young drivers. Next to that were base level Sentras. But the vast majority of drivers favored domestic sedans (or pickups or the gathering storm of minivans).
“Foreign cars” were still looked down upon at that time by many many drivers in that part of the country.
Lets be fair.
It is tiresome to hear someone mocked because they have a Southern accent, or wants to consider other options than a car from Asia or Europe. It is not a sign of bigotry, racism or ignorance to choose a domestic vehicle.
Lets be fair.
And “foreign” should not be in quotes.
Domestic vehicles are fine, I currently have three in the driveway (and nothing else) which is not a state I ever thought I would see, all designed and built here.
I use the “foreign” in quotes myself to delineate a label that isn’t and hasn’t been particularly accurate in some, a great example then and now is for a foreign brand car that was engineered, built, and sold predominantly in the US such as the Camry.
I consider it far more “domestic” than something like a Ford Ecosport as a random example of many which wasn’t designed or built here but would be considered a domestic by many. Perhaps an even better example might be a 1980s Dodge Colt.
“Foreign” was likely in quotes because these weren’t foreign cars at all, having been built quite nearby in Smyrna, Tennessee. Ironically it was probably the closest built car for that part of the country.
Although having lived and worked in that part of the country at the time, pre-NAFTA, there was indeed considerable feeling on the ground that the Big 3 were American cars, and Nissan, Toyota, Honda, etc. were not.
And as 210delray points out below, “foreign” was a common term meaning “import”. It could be said with prejudice or not.
I didn’t mean to stir up a debate that has long since faded in relevance, but it was something that was part of the culture of the time.
Yes, in that same vein, I also own 2 “foreign” cars, one also built in Smryna and the other in Georgetown, Kentucky.
Tangentially, “foreign car” was the near-universal term for imports during my formative years (1960s), gradually being replaced over the decades by “imported car” or just “imports.” But is it not true that a majority of “imported” cars sold in the US are actually built here in North America?
I don’t know about the majority of “imported” cars, but there are two “Japanese” cars in my fleet.
The wife’s 2009 Lancer, if I am not mistaken, is actually a Japanese car that was built in Japan.
My DD? A 2016 Civic Coupe. Assembled in Canada (close enough) with an engine built here in the USA.
If my Civic were a Type-R? – Yeah, that’s a BRITISH car.
In a global economy, all of this really has become a moot point.
I think my 2007 Mustang was built here, but who the heck knows anymore? – Kidding… the VIN begins with a 1. But its parts? They could be from ANYWHERE.
This has been going on for a while. My Dad’s ’85 Grand Prix was built in Canada.
It just doesn’t matter.
My buddy had a 93 base Sentra a few years ago and that seemed the epitome of a good daily driver to me. Small, efficient, excellent visibility, fun – if not fast with the base engine and the 5 speed. He thought the world of that car and even attempted to fix its severely rusted sub frame which it ultimately succumbed to.
Great cars, perhaps that’s why Nissan still sold the B13 Sentra in Mexico up until 2016 or so!
I wish they still made something as honest and simple and fun as this B13 SE-R. Impossible of course within the constraints of modern safety/mpg requirements and consumer preferences. Fiesta ST probably comes closest? or perhaps something like a very basic manual Accent, the direct injected 1.6L scoots them 0-60 in about the same time as this 2.0L Sentra (but with dead electric steering and other shortfalls).
Well…yeah. Here’s how the B13 does in a crash:
Yeah, it basically…doesn’t. And it’s hitting the smallest car sold currently by the same manufacturer. Even a current mid-size pickup would probably drive right through it, never mind something larger.
Sort of related, I think a lot of people see a “Five Star Safety Rating” or whatever in a small car today and think great, but don’t always realize that’s purely relative to an impact with a similar vehicle, change the opponent to something larger and the scores change significantly, but aren’t tested that way.
With the F150 being the top selling vehicle it’d be eye-opening to see one tested against every other vehicle for sale to give a better indication of what’s perhaps most likely to be the opponent.
Getting rear-ended by an F150 in our Outback a few years back really made me consider how that all would have worked out in the 911 or the other cars, not something I’d given a ton of thought to previously.
Just imagine the screaming and howling and calls to de-fund the IIHS if they were to publish realistic (truck/SUV-on-car) crash ratings!
Jim, as a sheer matter of Daniel’s F=ma (below), there’s no doubt an F-150 head-on into a Fiesta is a worse thing than a Fiesta into a Fiesta, but I don’t get why you say the crash rating is relative to impact with a similar vehicle. They’re all run into deformable crash barriers.
If you mean that an F-150 crash test is relative only to other big bastard pick-ups, is that accurate? The rating is given for injury, and not averaged against other same-size vehicles or somesuch. It’s just 5 stars for a Mini into the barrier at 40mph, based on injury (and other) criteria, and 5 stars for the F-150 in the exact same way.
Ofcourse, if you mean that 5 stars does not mean the same thing for a Fiesta running into a truck as 5 stars does for the truck running into it, that’s entirely right (as well you can attest!) And if you mean that folk think that 5 stars means they’re protected from big bastard impacts, then no, they should not.
All that said, it still matters to choose a car while pondering a good rating, as even in the unequal accident, better is still better. I feel that folks inherently get that.
I mean that if you run a 5star Mini head-on into a 5star F150 the F150 driver will likely have a greater chance of walking away than the Mini driver.
The same goes for a 5star Avalon into a 5star F150. While on some level I think people realize that a Mini or a Yaris or whatever small car you want to choose will likely be less “safe” when involved with a much larger vehicle I wouldn’t presume the same when somewhat larger vehicles are involved, especially when they are unequal heights (or bumper heights, and not even talking about aftermarket lifts or lowering etc).
Totally anecdotal since I don’t know where to find the data but I see more two vehicle accidents, i.e. running into each other than I see single vehicle accidents,i.e. running into a wall or pole or whatever. Kind of the whole point of the small overlap crash test, at least on the driver’s side. With far fewer small vehicles (Mini, Yaris, Fit, etc) being sold than large vehicles (F150, Silverado etc) I good rating in a small car I think makes people falsely confident as they are far less likely to be in an accident with a like vehicle than a far larger one, at least in the US, I’d surmise Europe to be far different in that regard for example. I could though see the same perhaps false confidence with smaller but still roomy CUVs, such as Equinox, Cherokee, CRV, RAV4, Tiguan etc.
Running into a non-deformable solid vertical barrier that hits the engineered hard points of a vehicle seems vastly different than taking a Camry or Outback or whatever and running into the oncoming front corner of a factory-lifted Ford Raptor that crosses the centerline.
I was beginning to wonder if there actually IS some across-type rating built in, as you’ve made a similar comment before, but now I realize I’ve just been a bit thick!
They do the set tests on the basis that they represents a lot of accidents, but I wonder how things would look if the car concerned had also to go through a test at an angle to the barriers as well, or perhaps more importantly, to hit an offset barrier much higher up just as the little car would hit the lifted truck.
I wonder whether at any point in the future some kind of specialized powersports version of an old 90s car could be created, kind of like the Indian Roxor compared to modern side-by-sides, I’ve seen hardtop “classic car” styled versions of those three wheeler things made by Can Am, Polaris, etc. Could a non-safety-compliant four wheeled vehicle find a place to be legal on the street somewhere in that realm? Or does four wheels automatically doom you?
The Roxor isn’t street-legal either. Generally the regulators know the difference between chicken salad and chicken shit, and attempts to miscategorise vehicles are quashed—unless you’re a big automaker miscategorising your passenger cars as “trucks” so they can meet less stringent safety and fuel economy regulations (PT Cruiser, etc). Then, miscategorisation’s just fine!
The interesting observation about that Tsuru is that it did worse structurally in that test than the ’59 Chevy Bel Air (that was crashed into a 2009 Malibu), except for the Bel Air’s steering column that was driven back into the dummy.
Well, F stubbornly insists on equalling m·a…!
“I cannae change the laws of physics” — Montgomery Scott
Dang, that Sentra driver is dead or wishes he was!
And they’re both recently made, unlike that ’59 Bel Air that exploded in a cloud of rust when tested against the Malibu.
Are we going to consider todays cars deathtraps when compared against future ones? Probably.
Actually, that cloud of rust was actually fine Indiana dust that collected in the nooks and crannies of the ’59 Chevy’s chassis over the decades. It’s surprising how much dust flies out of even late-model used cars in crash tests.
This is the car that lured me, 2 years too late, into my local Nissan dealer in December 1996 when my ’89 Jetta finally crapped out one time too many. I ended up with a ’96 GXE 5-speed, which was probably the best car I ever owned, carrying me and my young family 220,000+ (odometer broke at 186K) miles over 5.5 years. By ’96 the SE-R was a be-spoilered, ground effect laden 4 door, and the hype had made them hard to come by and priced accordingly. I can’t complain about the car I ended up with, it performed flawlessly through a period in my life when I had quite enough drama and peril that I certainly didn’t need it from my car. In the end rust also made mine impractical to hold onto after 5 Northeastern Winters. If I’m being completely honest, boredom was a factor too, as was the hard cold fact that while I maintained the car quite diligently it required so little that it got about what it asked for. Oil changes, brakes, tires and filters, new spark plugs at 150k and not much more. Its suspension was a bit sloppy and it was just plain tired when I shuffled it off via Ebay in early ’02.
A college friend had the non-SE-R version of this Sentra (I want to say it was a ’92) and it was awesome. Since he was The Guy With The Car® we’d all pack in and even as a small coupe it wasn’t too terrible in the back seat. Was a perfect college car as its owner put some heavy miles on it as a delivery driver and it never complained.
Sure, maybe by today’s standards it’s a deathtrap (see Mexican market Tsuru crash results) but for the time it was really a sweet car in the right place in the market at the right time. I didn’t even own it and I kinda miss it.
I had a ’91 SE-R while in school/military in the late 90s. Fantastic daily driver, and as
mentioned, great in snow. Thinnest sheet metal I ever encountered in an automobile, I
think you could dent it with a finger. Rather than let it rot in the sun in Texas while I
was being deployed, I sold it to a friend from back home on the east coast.
Shortly after he wrecked it, it was nearly bisected by a small tree, as I saw in the photos.
No one was really hurt in the crash, shockingly.
These were nice cars, I had a friend with one when they were new. A few years later I ended up with a 93.5 Infiniti G20 with a manual, which had the same engine as the SE-R and was a complete hoot to drive. Comfortable, quick, great handling, it could only be better in a slightly smaller size such as the Sentra.
I loved these SE-Rs when they were new, because they offered virtually all of the characteristics that I sought for a daily driver back then: Reasonable price, not flashy or showy styling, lots of fun, and well-built.
If I had actually been in the market for a new car at that time, I almost certainly would have bought one. And it sounds as if you certainly got your money’s worth from 180,000 miles of driving.
And I’m glad you’ve found a use for your magazine collection. I stubbornly held on to my own magazine & brochure collection, and came awfully close to throwing it out on several occasions, but now I use it frequently for research and images. It’s satisfying when hoarding actually pays off occasionally.
I like these cars. We rented thousands of them. They made a dependable ride.
Your analysis yielded excellent results. These were an exceptional little car at the time, and you took full advantage of it. In an alternate reality, I would have undoubtedly loved one myself.
I few new hire, just-out-of-school ME’s and EE’s bought these as their first new cars where I was working in the 90s. Journeyman engineers had the hots for AWD Celicas but they were expensive (in Boulder, anyway) and surprisingly unreliable. The SE-Rs had performance and reliability w/o the price tag and conquered heavy snow fine with a set of Blizzaks. Rust isn’t a short-medium term issue in the high desert.
I have heard about the Sentra and their reliability long afterwards. I’m not complaining as I had the 626. Both were great daily driver cars. The first 626 had over 350,000 with one major repair performed by me so I’ll call that good. The 17 year old Focus is also a great daily car joined by another old 626 as a twice a week car. For me daily driver is a reliable car, with good mpg, manual, cost efficient and fairly well built. These aren’t the best cars for long drives say 500 miles and you want to arrive relaxed. They work as I have done those trips dozens upon dozens of times but much prefer to arrive without any ringing in my ears. Today, the Sentra, is another car very rarely seen around the Bay Area where rust isn’t a major issue.
For me, a good daily driver has:
-Good power for cut and thrust city driving.
-Good visibility for city driving.
-Good fuel consumption.
-The ability to road trip.
-Fast heat in the winter.
Had I been in North America in 1993, the SE-R would have been very high on my list of new cars to buy. As it is, my Golf hits all those DD qualities I listed.
My requirements for a daily driver as opposed to a “hobby car.” First of all is basic reliability. You have to have the confidence that the car is up to trips of several hundred miles at any time. No need for lots of inspection and prep, and no need to perform deferred maintenance before the trip. The important comfort equipment has to be working, a/c, cruise control, power windows, and stereo system. Comfort, suitability to the task, and appropriate fuel economy are important. So the type of vehicle has to match your needs. Adequate accommodations for your passengers and cargo. More people and stuff is going to call for a vehicle that uses more fuel. But that’s okay, I don’t want myself and passengers cramped or with bags and cases on their laps.
The need for reliability means that a new, or nearly new, low mileage vehicle best fills the need. As the vehicle gains mileage it can still remain pretty reliable, but it requires much more attention to preventive maintenance and monitoring of the vehicle’s condition. You can press an older car into this role, especially if the distances traveled are not too great, and you really keep on top of it. Even beaters can serve this purpose, though they are best used close to home and are usually one major mechanical malady away from retirement. Triple A membership is imperative.
We can discuss the use of hobby cars at another time.
My daily driver wants can vary widely, though I keep coming back to a full size SWB 4×4 pickup. That just suits my needs for cargo/passenger hauling, getting places I want to be, and what I prefer to be seen arriving in. It doesn’t tick the boxes requiring a boulevard ride and decent fuel economy, but makes up for it with V8 power and aural sensations, as well as low cost and ease of repair.
I require air conditioning where I live, as well as decent lighting; and prefer full instrumentation, a radio, and a set of physical keys, to infotainment screens and proximity keys.
I remember these Sentras well. Mostly for basic goodness in basic transportation, but I’ve never experienced a SE-R… that oughtta add some fun to the quotient! I also remember seeing a lot of these in Mexican market guise badged as a Nissan Tsuru, and wondered why they had bought so many early 1990’s Sentras south of the border… took me a bit to discover that the B13 remained in production until 2017 in Mexico. I always spotted them quickly because they didn’t have US spec lighting.
The SE-R was a fun, sporty car….for a couple of years.
Then Nissan’s poor paint & (lack of) rustproofing and their thin, cheap interiors took over the fun.
I never had a problem with the interior and feel that it held up as well as any other car I’ve had.
The rust-proofing seemed par for the course at the time. I.e., not great.
My needs for a daily driver assume a commute so:
automatic transmission if there’s a lot of traffic
a working stereo
Both our 97 Saturn SL2 and the 93 Ford Ranger actually met that standard. The Saturn was actually sporty for a grandma car with auto and the Ranger was a V6 with a handling package so it was actually fun on back roads. A Sentra SE-R would have been more fun but in 93 we wanted a truck and in 2002 the Saturn was free. If I wanted a rorty 2 seater I always had my motorcycle, not the most comfortable, hot in the summer and no stereo but glorious on River Road with no traffic.
Interesting. I actually had a 1996 Saturn SW2, with a 5 speed. It overlapped the SE-R for its entire life with us. I might write that up as a COAL someday, but it was technically my wife’s car, and I’m saving those for their own articles.
Although fwiw, the Saturn was likely the vehicle that we owned for less time – less than 2 years — than any other car we’ve had over the course of over 35 years. Despite the fact that it was a green wagon (gotta love green…and wagon 🙂 ) and un-dentable it was so totally uninspiring that it was rapidly traded (for something arguably worse) a.s.a.p. I’ll have to figure that out in a future article.
So clearly, the DD thing absolutely falls into the different-strokes-for-different-folks category.
It helps to have a low bar.The Saturn’s companion was a 1995 Ford Escort with a 1.9 CVH, in comparison the Saturn was eager and handled the Santiam Pass con brio. The Saturn had its flaws but was originally cheap transport when money was tight and latterly an exercise in how long can we keep it running, which was answered by the differential punching a hole in the transaxle case in 1997 after 15 years of ownership.
Good story! I have a close affinity to these, as I’ve spent a lot of my working life with the Nissan brand. Here in NZ we got the sibling N14 here in SSS form, which was effectively the same car with a 5-door hatch back body. Strangely we sold them as the Sentra, but Australia sold them as Pulsar!
I find a couple of the points in the old magazine interesting :
“Wouldn’t this make a great rally car” – of course, the N14 sibling did exactly that, as the Sunny GTi in F2.
And “We hope Nissan never forgets how to build cars like this one” – oh the sad irony.
Thanks for the fine COAL. I owned two Sentra SE-R’s in the past. A ’91 and a ’93. Both purchased new. My time with the ’91 was only about 2 years as it went away in a divorce. So I bought the ’93 and daily drove it 8 years and 145k miles. For much of that time period it was my only transportation.
The ’91 had ABS and was my first experience with that. That car seemed to kick into ABS at any mild suggestion of lower traction surfaces. I believe that feature was very new to Nissan. Much more so than any other vehicle I have driven. The ’93 did not have ABS but also had about the last gasp of absolutely ice cold R12 A/C.
The ’93 was stone reliable and the best handling FWD car I have ever owned or driven. The only repair of mention was a new clutch at about 100K. That was likely the result of teaching a then girlfriend both how to drive and drive a manual trans. The SR20DE engine was excellent and averaged about 28-32 mpg locally. I actually did 40 mpg on a few tanks while touring secondary roads on long trips at modest speeds. In some very remote areas I did 100 mph for extended time periods.
As others have mentioned, the viscous coupled limited slip in the front was very impressive, both for handling and serious snow travel. I used mostly A/S versions of a Dunlop sporty tire. Tire life wasn’t great but all traction, including snow was.
I paid slightly over $10k, for the ’91 at a large Nissan dealer, after closing time. That was the 12th Nissan the female sales rep had sold that day. The sticker on the ’93 was something like $14.5k. I had a trade and there was a rebate I think. Both SE-R’s were the only ones that I had ever seen on Nissan lots, at least the ’91 to ’94 generation.
Thanks! Your observations about SE-R driving/ownership really underscore so much of my own experience. It’s interesting that the majority of the comments here are pretty uniform around the details of owning one of these.
I had forgotten about the twitchy ABS (which I had in my 93). It was my first experience with ABS, so I definitely got schooled on how the system behaved, given how often it was activated. Likewise, I can echo the incredibly frosty AC.
As for the lack of crashworthiness others have noted earlier…yeah, I suppose so. Mine had the rare – and somewhat expensive – option of an airbag, something I doubt the Mexican market ones had; although that would still offer only limited protection. I was fortunate enough in the SE-R never to find out how well it held up in a crash.
Yes, that crash-tested Tsuru did not have an airbag, a/c, or even power steering. It had only one drive belt, for the alternator, something I haven’t seen in a long time.
My daily driver definition was solidified some years ago, being a box that’s small but tall-ish (for that old hip-point and visibility stuff), with roomy, foldable/removeable back seats (because there’s never a time crap doesn’t have to moved about in life), with excellent seats and a good ride but also capable of being whipped along the right road, good-enough levels of go (under 10 secs to 60 at least, 9 would be plenty), 40 mpg (petrol’s $6 a gallon here), and looks that don’t annoy me each day (it can be a bit ugly).
In short, I want my old 2003 Renault Scenic back. But this time, not manufactured out of chewing gum and indifference, and capable of going two years without repair instead of two days.
As for this Sentra, it was stark how Nissans became potential problem cars only after the Renault takeover (hmm, see Scenic comments above). Till then, they might have made quite few dullards, but nothing that ever broke.
Another thing to note, this generation SE-R is starting to get their well deserved love in the collector’s market. Some nice, low mileage examples hammered bigly on BaT within the last year or two.
I coveted one of these after reading all of the accolades in the car mags of the time. I bought a new one in 1993 – cheap as I could get it: no airbag, no sunroof, just the option packaged a/c, stereo/cass. and cruise. I sold it after 10 months to go to college. I loved that car and still miss it dearly. Being as my career path has not involved my field of study or even required a college degree, I kind of wish I would have just kept the car.
My ex had one of these in the same color. Hers was a ’94 LE, actually labeled “Limited Edition”. Unfortunately, she only had the 1.6 L and an automatic, but it was a good reliable car. It got messed up pretty bad in an accident in the mid-aughts, but the insurance company fixed it. I was actually kinda shocked, so it must’ve been worth something at the time to avoid being totaled.
After the repairs, it continued to soldier on. Her Mom bought it a couple of years later, and after using it as a DD for a while, she gave it to my ex-wife’s cousin. It continued to soldier on.
I am not sure when it may’ve finally given up the ghost, but it was a reliable car that was fun to drive, in the same vain as that old saying about it being more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.
Loving the COAL series so far, Jeff!