(first posted 4/22/2016) Nissan has a rich performance pedigree, with models like the 240Z, 510 and Skyline GT-R revered by enthusiasts. The torch is carried today by the awe-inspiring GT-R and the slick 370Z. In Australia, many young enthusiasts cherish their Silvias and Skylines, while the Sentra SE-R and 300ZX enjoy an enduring reputation in North America for driving excitement. There have been so many sporty Nissans mentioned in this paragraph, but one that many forget is the little, pill-shaped NX.
This unfortunate omission from many memory banks is understandable but regrettable. The NX was offered in North America for only 3 model years and never quite received the full glare of the spotlight. The early 1990s were the salad days of the compact performance coupe but although many of those vehicles were axed by the mid/late-1990s due to declining sales, the NX bit the bullet in North America long before the mass exodus.
Blame slow sales. John Matras’ Illustrated Datsun/Nissan Sports Car Buyer’s Guide listed US sales figures of 5562 in 1991, 9389 in 1992 and 7329 in 1993. That means that, for example, the Geo Storm outsold the NX by 7-to-1 in 1992. By the NX’s final season, the percentage of buyers who opted for the NX 2000 over the cheaper NX 1600 had also plummeted from 60% to just 4%.
And why were sales so slow? First, the segment was absolutely packed with competitive entrants. There was the aforementioned Storm and related Isuzu Impulse, the Diamond Star Motors triplets, Mazda MX-3, Honda CRX (and later, Civic del Sol), and Toyota Paseo. Then there were domestic offerings like the Ford Probe, Chevrolet Beretta and Dodge Daytona, as well as sporty models of the Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cavalier and Volkswagen Golf. It’s hard to think of another time in automotive history when consumers after sporty, compact-sized cars was faced with so many choices. Even in Australia, a less fertile market for small coupes, there were myriad choices and the NX was far from the most popular.
But it wasn’t just the market that offered such a breadth of choices, it was also Nissan showrooms. The NX slotted below the 240SX in North America but there was overlap between high-end NX prices and low-end 240SX prices: in 1993, a NX2000 with a 5-speed stick retailed for $14,720, while a 240SX notchback manual cost $14,755. The bigger, RWD coupe was ageing but offered a little more power and a little more space, albeit with a not-insignificant increase in curb weight (around 300 lbs). The NX2000’s double-overhead cam SR20DE 2.0 four-cylinder pumped out a stout 140 hp at 6000 rpm and 130 ft-lbs at 4800 rpm, while the 240SX’s bigger 2.4 mill had 155 hp at 5600 rpm and 160 ft-lbs at 4400 rpm.
In a fashion-conscious segment like the compact sport coupe arena, the 240SX’s 1989-vintage styling may have come as a liability and the extra rear seat space might not have even factored as a consideration for most buyers. So, the greater threat in Nissan’s showrooms was arguably the Sentra SE-R. It shared the NX’s chassis with all-independent suspension and its rorty SR20DE engine. It also had clean lines, an almost identical curb weight, and, most importantly, cost less. In 1993, $12,455 was the retail price for an SE-R manual, almost $2k less than a NX 2000. Mechanically, differences between the NX 2000 and Sentra SE-R were largely confined to bigger brakes and wheels for the NX, as well as a wider track.
In other markets, the mechanically-related Pulsar SSS offered a similar increase in practicality and decrease in price (in Australia, the NX enjoyed some breathing room as Nissan’s only sub-300ZX coupe until 1994). There was also the turbocharged, four-wheel-drive Pulsar/Sunny GTI-R, available in Japan and Europe, that took Nissan’s compact platform to performance heights: a wild 227 hp and 210 ft-lbs of torque that put the vaunted Sentra SE-R to shame and even outperformed the naturally-aspirated V6 in the 300ZX!
For those not as fussed with performance, the NX was available in many markets – albeit not Australia – with a 1.6 four-cylinder producing 110 hp at 5000 rpm and 108 hp at 4000 rpm.
The NX’s biggest drawcard over the Sentra SE-R was its unique appearance, designed at Nissan’s La Jolla studios in California, but some consumers may have found the NX’s lozenge shape more of a drawback. It was certainly distinctive and although it is very much from the “organic” school of design so popular with Japanese automakers in the 1990s, it has aged better than its predecessor, the Pulsar EXA. Still, overall styling more resembled the flaccid Toyota Paseo than the aggressive Isuzu Impulse, while the Sentra SE-R’s styling was clean, simple and no-nonsense. The Sentra sat five (at a pinch) but the NX was strictly a 2-seater plus 2 children. Despite this reduction in practicality, sitting in the front of an NX felt the same as a Sentra. The dashboards were identical, with a straightforward layout and clean presentation but little color and flash – the 1980s were over, although digital instruments remained in the NX 1600.
The NX’s equipment list wasn’t bad. The NX 1600 came standard with power steering, driver’s airbag, folding rear seat, power mirrors, with 13-inch wheels as standard. Upgrading to the NX 2000 netted you the bigger engine but also more conventional gauges, removable roof panels, 4-wheel disc brakes, limited slip differential, rear spoiler, leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob and 14-inch alloy wheels. Clearly, the two different NXs had two very different audiences in mind although a four-speed automatic was optional in either. In Australia, the range consisted of NX and NX-R models. Despite the latter’s moniker implying an extra dose of performance, the NX-R instead was mechanically identical but offered features like power windows and cruise control as standard. What did the “R” stand for, exactly? “Really nicely equipped”?
The lesser NX may have been a more leisurely drive, but the NX 2000 – like the Sentra SE-R – had a goodly dose of adrenaline. The 2.0 engine revved strongly but had decent low-end torque while the 5-speed manual transmission was a slick shifter. Performance figures varied: Road & Track pegged the NX’s 0-60 at 8 seconds, Wheels recorded an 8.7, while Car & Driver recorded an impressive 6.9. The American magazines were impressed by the NX’s handling, saying it could be thrown into a corner and remain composed, lean little and be ready for another turn. Australia’s Wheels magazine, however, found the NX’s handling to be “soggy” and “unhinged” while remarking the ride was merely “ordinary”, despite their praise of the related Pulsar SSS. No matter where an automotive journalist resided, though, the NX was universally praised for its engine and chided for being noisy.
Car & Driver tested the NX 2000 against the Geo Storm GSi and Mazda MX-3 GS, ranking the NX 2nd overall. The praise was heady, with their verdict concluding – despite the MX-3’s victory – that if Porsche could build an inexpensive coupe, the NX would be it. Wheels was less impressed, ranking the NX dead-last in 1993 against the Honda CRX (del Sol) and Prelude, Toyota Celica and Eunos 30X (Mazda MX-3) despite having a lower price than all of them. Again, Mazda’s coupe was the victor, praised for its quality feel and smooth V6 while the NX was criticized for feeling “built to a price”. British automotive journalists were also underwhelmed by the NX’s handling; it appears British and Australian testers prefer much firmer and buttoned-down handling than Americans, which explains why suspension tuning is often different between those markets. Interestingly, despite slow sales in Australia and the UK, the NX survived until 1995 in both countries. Around 5,000 NXs were sold in the UK where it was badged as the 100NX.
Ultimately, despite some criticism, the NX was a thoroughly competitive compact coupe. It wasn’t the best or the wildest but it offered considerable power and distinctive looks. But unless you were enamoured with its rounded lines and available t-bar roof, Nissan had another model with the same performance, same chassis, more space and a lower price. In North America, it was even a coupe. And that’s why so many people today talk about the Sentra SE-R, Silvia and Skyline, while the NX is scarcely mentioned.
This NX was shot in trendy Paddington on Brisbane’s northside. The wheel covers indicate it is a base model.
Curbside Classic: 1990 Honda CRX HF
Curbside Classico: Nissan Tsuru – Want A New 1991 B13 Sentra? They’re Still Making Them In Mexico
A handsome machine – until you
get to those headlamps. Who
OK’d those things??
Looks the same as OK’d the F10 front lamps
Glad you chimed in. I was trying to remember the name of the early, and ugly, Nissan FWD car. i was pretty sure it had an “F” in it but couldn’t remember. This car’s front end reminded me of that one, too. I think they may have renamed it “310” later on.
William, you are right about what a wealth of sporty little coupes were offered in the early nineties. The automakers believed that a young person in their first full time job could go out and buy a new car. Student debt and the changing economy would see to that soon enough, and I don’t think any of the models sold to projections.
With 16 valves and fuel injection in even base models. It is remarkable how fast these little coupes improved. Our first Pulsar NX,(1983), had just 69 hp out of it’s 1.6 carbed engine. The far more common base model of these had 110hp still out of 1.6 liters. The weight was still low and with a five speed could be fun little cars.
As you mentioned the Sentra SE-R is better remembered today. Over time these all might be better remembered with the small engine versions eventually earning respect alongside. C/D never to my memory tested an NX1600, but they once tested a base Sentra 4sp with the same engine at 8.4 seconds to 60. It happened with the 1300 GT Junior Alfa alongside the 2000GTV. Respect could happen here as well, it was deserved.
A Pulsar NX or a Geo Storm?
Back in the early 90s, GM poured quite a bit of money into Geo advertising, with a fair share going to the Storm. Nissan spending on ads for the Pulsar? I would imagine not all that much.
Number of Geo dealers, and their locations versus Nissan dealers? I don’t know but would guess 2 or 3 times as many Geo dealers as Nissan dealers.
But I think you probably nailed it with the idea that the Pulsar’s biggest competition sat in the same showroom. ALL the U.S. car magazines were lavish with praise for the Sentra SE-R, the Pulsar? Not all that much ink. As a result, the SE-R is somewhat of a legend, like the VW GTI.
BTW, I can’t find any specifications on the internet (which in itself is telling), but I would think that the Pulsar is 100-200 pounds heavier than the Sentra if for no other reason than hatchbacks need a bit of added bracing in order to withstand rear impacts…..and these cars had removable roof panels, too.
I missed that Car&Driver 3 way test, I guess, but do seem to remember a short test of the NX1600 where the car was derided for it’s digital instrument panel.
Update: I did find the specs for the NX and the SE-R….base NX and base Sentra are very close in weight, but the heaviest NX is a few hundred pounds heavier than a same year Sentra.
You were going to get a Pavlovian negative response from C/D on any digital cluster. I suppose as a consequence most modern dashes have the affectation of needle and number tach and speedometer in the otherwise digital display.
William F Buckley once said, “It is the duty of a conservative to stand athwart the train of human progress yelling STOP!”
Most modern dashes are going to digital “simulations” of analog gauges. The newest Audis have displays in front of the driver that allow the gauges to be minimized so that navigation information or even phone/text info can take “center stage”….so to speak.
I hated digital instruments from the beginning after experiencing GM/Chevy’s feeble attempt to mimic digital with the updated S10/S15 set-up in the mid 80s.
The digital dash on my ’89 Camry wagon was my first. It was trendy. I hated it: 67…68…67…68…
Tits on a bull.
The styling and marketing (or relative lack thereof) probably did these more harm than any inherent fault. Having owned a Sentra GXE with the 1.6 from new until WAY over 200k miles, I’d be one of the first to vouch for its nearly indestructible nature. The 2.0 is of course legendary for both its performance and trouble free longevity. But the styling is bland, and by the early 90’s the T-topped hatchback sport coupe was becoming a bit passe, as the yuppy favorite e30 BMWs of the mid-to-late-80’s made three box coupes all the rage. I’ve only ever driven a 2.0 powered Sentra once, and it was indeed a fun car to toss around. The 1.6 was uninspiring to say the least, and roared like a sewing machine hooked up to a megaphone, but of course it did so day after day for years on end without ever complaining. But how does one successfully market that attribute in a car designed with fashion and the youth market in mind? It just didn’t compute, apparently.
The soon to be x-wife had an NX-2000 with a manual transmission and t-tops when we were introduced in 1995. While i had not driven any of it’s direct competitors, I thought is accelerated well and handled beautifully. Two years later it was totaled when she broadsided a cab that ran a read light. I researched her replacement and discovered that the same fun engine was in the new 1998 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V. That only lasted three years because the lack of ABS spooked her too many times in the rain. Gosh I miss both of those cars.
I know from about 1995-99, the 2-door versions of the Sentra were renamed 200SX, it didn’t matter if it had the 1.6 or 2.0 liter engine.
I’ve seen those down here. With a 2000 or 1600 stickers in their back bumper.
But for an elcheapo coupe like this, I’d go the Isuzu Impulse/Geo Storm ‘twins’. The car and interior look the part, the engine -in 16V DOHC form- goes to nearly 8K RPM and they handle like they’re on rails.
That Nissan looks conservative outside, and that Sentra/Pulsar/Sunny/whatevs belongs to the sedan that it came from. A similar case happens with the current Scirocco interior.
I like these in concept, but I detest the styling. That alone would have kept me from even seriously considering one.
Why didn’t these sell? They were UGLY!!
The concept was fantastic, but the final product was hideous.
Agreed. Whilst it it great to have a coupe offered in a market like Australia when we inexplicably and frequently miss out of coupes offered everywhere else, I don’t know why they bothered when the dibbir sedan/hatch on which it was bases, but the Pulsar SSS was a far better looking car.
If you are going to the trouble of making a coupe of version of a mass production sedan or hatch with a unique “sporty” body, why come up with an inferior looking design?
Generally, this was not a good era for coupe design. The Mx3 was a similar eyesore. The CRX was better
If my memory is correct correct, the Pulsar SSS on Australia handled better as it had improved suspension tuning over this little monstrosity. So you had better looks, and better handing and more practicality in a (roughly $8,000 back then!) cheaper car.
How frustrating, when they did bother to offer a coupe on Australia for a change, but it turns out to be a dud, engine excepted.
This is Nissan’s version of the Toyota Paseo. To think of all the tasty hardtops and coupes over the years Toyota never bother to sell here, they elected to flog that rubbish instead. Oh what a cynical feeling.
I must be one of the few who likes the styling. Granted, the 14″ wheels and sill extensions of the NX2000 are kind of required–they sharpen up the jellybean looks and give it a little more wheel/tire. But all in all I think it’s a much better-looking car than the MX-3 and on par with or perhaps better than the Storm/Impulse. I haven’t driven one, though they seem like they could be fun.
How did these sell versus the MX-3? I never seemed to see that many of those either. I think the Storm cleaned up amongst the other subcompact coupe competition.
These are ver under-rated and have good performance compared to the 205Gti and Golf Gti, except the reviews of handling are spot on, roll is excessive and means the car lacks composure. However, updating suspension is very simple. Parts are cheap, body work seems robust and not prone to rust, and trim lasts well. The bonus of the T Top over its competitors is worth an investigation alone. They are very cheap to buy at the moment, very undervalued in fact, hopefully that will change. They look unique on the road now so hopefully their time will come
I owned one of these a few months ago, and while opinions on its styling vary there’s certainly nothing like it on the road anymore. I got lots of people asking me about it. I ended up selling the car as a back injury made it too difficult to get in and out of. Relative to other more modern cars it wasn’t particularly fast but handling was pretty good. For its era and class I would think it was pretty competitive though.
I absolutely love these cars! It’s the styling, damnit…it just works for me! Plus it’s a two-door liftback (my favourite body style) from the heady days of Japanese cars before the asset bubble burst. This is the only 1990s Nissan product I could see myself truly wanting to own.
They have all but disappeared now here, I remeber them in OZ and thought they were ugly but the Nissan powertrains from that era were good Sentra/Pulsar/Sunnys seem indestructable Ive owned a couple of high mileage Sentras that ran perfectly, one had dodgy electrics and the usual dashboard faults but the engine was good.
I couldn’t get past the hideous front end which looked like a botoxed ‘trout pout’ back in the day but looking at the fourth picture down without the number plate holder it’s transformed to my eyes.
The NX didn’t even begin to define what I call Nissan’s ‘Weird’ era: late 2000s to present!
The 2 litre motors in these were top-grade firecrackers in the day, but otherwise, why would you?
I was at first a bit intrigued by the looks, but then some smarty-pants here said they looked like a dog with a bucket on its head, an idiotic but bizarrely apt description that has never left and nailed their coffin for me forever thereafter.
I always thought these were nice little cars, hampered here in the UK (where they were known as the 100NX) by the only engine options of 1.6 carb or 1.6 injection. I think they would have been more popular if offered with the 2 litre.
If there are 2 cars I’d like to have back, It’s the Sentra SE-R I bought new in 1993 and the 1 year old ’92 NX2000 my girlfriend (now wife) bought a few months later. Great cars!
There may have been lots of competition for these in the market 30 years ago when these came out, but pretty much crickets now…where did everybody go? On to SUVs, I’d suspect. These tiny cars couldn’t have been very safe, you sat so low, but they were fun to drive and easy to park. My sister still has her ’97 240SX she bought new, and I think some models lasted into the single digit years of 2000’s, but it seemed they were done pretty quickly such that there wasn’t any competition for this market at all…kind of like “gone with the wind”…a civilization that no longer exists.
I saw precisely one of these parked when I was walking more or less in my neighborhood, but that was probably more than 25 years ago…these also disappeared quickly. Lots of people see my sister’s 240SX, and want to buy it, perhaps she should entertain that notion, since she’s not much younger than I am, and the 240 is a bit worse for wear, and really she’s a bit old for the target audience, and even being short, it is a bit low for her to get into. But, tradition, we’re kind of a Nissan family, my 2 youngest sisters had a total of 4 of these (well technically one was a 200SX instead of a 240SX) with 2 each between them, and my first car was a Datsun 710.
One other thought I had when the article mentioned power steering being standard…are there any cars that don’t have power steering nowdays? When did it pretty much become standard? I wondered if the departed Smart car had power steering, being light you wouldn’t think it would need it but maybe it had it too? Power locks/windows were another one of those things….before option “packages” became pretty universal. My ’86 GTi still had neither, despite being light it came with then wide 60 series tires and was a handful to park without power steering (especially after I had a bicycle accident breaking my collarbone, scapula, and 2 ribs). Guess cars have gotten heavier overall, but still, I would think some of the smaller ones might not need power steering but maybe in the early 90’s they just standardized and didn’t need to have it as an option.