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Skyline Style

Small, sporty sleepers have been enthusiast favorites for decades, and for years Nissan’s entry into this category has been the Sentra SE-R. That original 1991 Sentra SE-R added plenty of punch to Nissan’s economy car platform, including more power, stiffer suspension and even a factory limited-slip differential. The result was simply amazing performance for a base price south of $11,000. That’s the equivalent of about $17,000 today.
Unfortunately, the follow-up SE-Rs lost much of that first car’s panache. Weight went up, redlines went down, and enthusiasts were no longer enamored with the twist-beam rear suspension used in the late ’90s.
The SE-R badge wasn’t one to be confined to the ages, however. Nissan released their all-new, B15-chassis Sentra for 2000. Reviewers liked the new car’s increased interior room and solid construction. In response to the tuner market, Nissan PR teased us with another hotrod Sentra. Dubbed the Disco Potato thanks to its wild, iridescent brown paint job, this one-off machine featured a turbo engine, stiffer suspension and giant wheels and tires.
The Disco Potato showed that there was still a place on the market for a performance-tuned Sentra. In 2002, Nissan responded to consumer demand with the Sentra SE-R and its edgier brother, the SE-R Spec V.
These cars occupy a sweet price point today. Values are depreciated, performance is still strong by today’s standards, and good cars abound on the secondhand market.

Monster Meats and Torque

That 2002 Sentra SE-R followed a path blazed a decade earlier: more power and more stick. The Disco Potato’s turbocharged engine didn’t make it into production, but the car did get more grunt. Thanks to similarities with the maker’s larger cars, the SE-R received a 2.5-liter four-cylinder from the Altima.
This new QR25DE engine made plenty of power, even if it didn’t like to rev to the stratosphere. In SE-R tune, it was rated at 165 horsepower. The 180 lb.-ft. of torque made up for some of the loss of revvability and helped make the heavy cars feel faster than they were.
The real star of the show was the SE-R Spec V. In place of the SE-R’s five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission was a six-speed transaxle fitted with a helical limited-slip differential. Performance rubber on 17-inch alloys replaced 16-inch wheels. Horsepower went up to 175.
Suspension tuning was firmer than on the SE-R, too, with more aggressive rear roll stiffness. Larger front brakes round out the major mechanical differences. As before, Nissan offered a lot of performance for the price. For around $17,000, buyers could drive off the lot with a new Spec V.
Inside, the Spec V had unique red and black upholstery on a more aggressive seat design. Both versions received the same distinctive exterior bits: blacked-out headlight trim, a rear spoiler and an aggressive front bumper.

Half-Baked Potatoes

Reviews of the new SE-R and Spec V were mixed. Most testers loved its engine’s torque and the grip offered by the helical limited-slip differential. Big tires and stiffer suspension gave the car impressive road holding: A few testers measured peak lateral acceleration around the .85g mark.
Its seats were noted as comfortable and supportive, but that’s about where the praise stopped. The Spec V was given very short gearing to make the most of the QR engine’s torque, and the buff books frequently faulted this since the car required third gear to reach 60 mph.
The second issue was the car’s inconsistent real-world performance. While it felt fast, timed data revealed an engine that didn’t always deliver the same performance run after run.
Other nitpicking revolved around the overall fit and finish of the interior. It didn’t seem as nice as the rest of the field, but remember: The SE-R was priced below its competition.
Unfortunately, after the launch a few more issues started to surface. One was a tendency for the engine to consume excessive oil. A few engines even failed catastrophically. Numerous TSBs tried to head off the problem; Nissan developed several software updates for the ECU in an attempt to address the root issue. Many early QR25 engines were replaced under warranty.
The cause? Some believe that the engine ran too rich at high rpm. Engine temperatures eventually soared, the catalytic converter broke up, and bits of catalyst got sucked into the engine during overlap.
Another issue took a few more engines out of service: The tiny screws that secured the secondary throttle valves would occasionally vibrate loose and go into the combustion chamber.
These problems are less common today. Upgrades eliminated those issues for 2003, and many 2002 engines were replaced under warranty long ago. Transmission gearing was revised for 2003 so the Spec V could reach 60 mph in second gear.
The B15-chassis SE-R continued through the 2006 model year, and while they may not enjoy the cult status of the original, these cars now make comfortable, practical daily drivers and track toys. It’s quite possible to pick up a solid example for less than $5000 today.

Things to Know

The B15-chassis Nissan Sentra SE-R and Spec V make fun, inexpensive daily drivers, and decent cars can easily be found for less than $5000 today. Since we like to row our own gears, we’d have to go with a Spec V model or an early SE-R.

2002 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V

engine: 2.5-liter DOHC 4-cylinder
horsepower: 175 @ 6000 rpm
torque: 180 lb.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
transaxle: 6-speed manual w/helical limited slip
suspension: strut front, twist beam rear
brakes: vented disc front, solid disc rear
tires: 215/45R17
weight: 2743 lbs.
fuel economy: 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway
original MSRP: $17,199

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