Nissan Sentra SE-R: Cheaper and more powerful than a Civic Si?

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Sep 16, 2023 | Nissan, Sentra, SE-R, Sentra SE-R, Nissan Sentra, Nissan Sentra SE-R | Posted in Features | From the May 2023 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

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We lived through the ’80s and ’90s and spent a lot of time with the era’s greatest hits–drove them, raced them, even knew them when they still had that new car smell. We fondly remember shopping for Kamei air dams, Hella lamps and 14-inch tires.

But were the cars of those times really that rad? 

We wondered that ourselves, so we ditched the rose-colored glasses for a few to take a look back. Were they all winners, or did a few duds get released? Let’s slip on some Vans, break out the vinyl and take a trip back in time.

This week, we're looking back at the Nissan Sentra SE-R.

The year was 1992 and, as a recent college grad, I needed a reliable way to get to work. I had also just discovered autocrossing. 

The Civic Si looked tempting, but the Nissan Sentra SE-R featured more power, alloy wheels and a limited-slip diff. It cost less, too, and was the reigning SCCA D Stock champ.

I found a new, nearly stripped SE-R. The only option was a/c. Instead of a radio, I got a blanking plate. MSRP was $13,315. Factor for inflation, and today that’s $28,392–only about a hundred bucks shy of list price for a new Civic Si. To be honest, that surprises me on a few levels. 

I fit some take-off Yokohamas plus the ubiquitous SuperTrapp and ran that car for three seasons–and never had a mechanical issue. The SE-R was also roomy, light on its feet and just enough of a sleeper. In fact, I think I only got pulled over once. (Took it to court and got out of it.)

Verdict: If only these cars were built to last.

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View comments on the GRM forums
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
6/15/23 8:26 a.m.

I'd like to have one for rallicross 

camopaint0707 New Reader
6/15/23 8:34 a.m.

2.5 with an LSD, sign me up

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
6/15/23 9:13 a.m.

Of all the ones that got away, the SE-R is very much near the top of the list.

I still have a key for it. 

Puddy46 Reader
6/15/23 9:22 a.m.

Had one as an autoX car for a few years, in the time when stock classes were allowed to run Hoosiers.  It was such a fun car, I would love to have it back again in good working order. 

And I've got a key for mine still, too. 

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
6/15/23 11:09 a.m.

I'll see that generation of Sentra on the road every once in a blue moon. Probably not an SE-R, but still kind of neat to see nonetheless.

Captdownshift (Forum Supporter)
Captdownshift (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
6/15/23 12:31 p.m.

In reply to Colin Wood :

They were sold as new south of the border until about a decade and a half ago. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
6/15/23 1:06 p.m.

When new, you saw B13s everywhere here. 

Also, notice the number in the SE-R’s window? Back in the day, Atlanta Region SCCA handed out paper numbers to the noobs so you could stick them in your windows. 

Manxman GRM+ Memberand New Reader
6/15/23 3:57 p.m.

There is a 1993 SE-R in my garage right now!  I need to repair/upgrade a whole raft of things, but this car has been my son's daily driver, my daughter's and recently my DD too.  Anyone have any recommendations for a decent set of coil-overs, the ancient GAB stuff on our car are decidedly worn out and squishy!

buzzboy SuperDork
6/15/23 4:10 p.m.

I can't remember the last time I saw a B13 that wasn't on a racetrack.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
6/15/23 4:23 p.m.

In reply to Manxman :

Nice to see one out there. 

Feedyurhed UltraDork
6/15/23 5:41 p.m.

Not mine but I had a black 91 SE-R just like it. Nissan got it so right with this version.

Opti SuperDork
6/15/23 10:11 p.m.

Back when it was less common place to turbo literally everything on the stock motor, I worked with a guy who had a monster turbo on an otherwise stock SE-R.

It didn't survive very long before the oil pans only job became a bucket for rotating assembly shrapnel, but dang did it boogie while it lasted.

Tom1200 UberDork
6/15/23 11:08 p.m.

I drove a friend's SE-R a few times and it was glorious fun.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
6/15/23 11:16 p.m.

So, a little about that photo of my SE-R. I took that shot at my first autocross, so back in 1992. This is the Lakewood Amphitheater in Atlanta. It was an SCCA event. 

Pretty sure this was shot with a Canon EOS 630 as I think I had retired my A-1 at this point. (Still have both cameras, with the A-1 currently sitting here in my office.)

It was raining (obviously) and I went with a friend from work. He ran his Rabbit: red, no bumpers, some headwork. Now that I think about it, those might be his Koni magnetics on my car as I didn’t have Konis.

At this point, the SE-R was all original, down to the tires. We worked at Automod, hence the logo on the nose. 

I never imagined that photo would would day lead off the GRM webpage. (That’s because the internet didn’t really exist back then, although I might have already been contributing to GRM at this point.)

It’s been a long ride since then. 

ProDarwin MegaDork
6/15/23 11:20 p.m.

For some reason this is one of the few coupes that shares a chassis with a 4 door where the doors aren't comically large.  Or is that just my eyes playing tricks on me?


That said, I would absolutely rock the 4 door variant.

9/16/23 11:01 p.m.

Of all the cars I've passed along to other owners, that's the one I want back the most. I bought a 1992 used with about 30k miles on it for a song. Drove it for about three years and let it go around 150k miles. 

That motor ran as smooth as a Seiko watch, the handling was predictable on any type of road surface and the trunk hauled everything I needed it to. It's as close to a perfect car as I've owned. 

M2Pilot Dork
9/16/23 11:08 p.m.

Weren't these cars marketed as a more modern replacement for the BMW 2002?

bmw88rider GRM+ Memberand UberDork
9/17/23 10:43 a.m.

In reply to M2Pilot :

Not so much marketed as such but really compared to in the press. The idea is the same only FWD vs RWD. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
9/17/23 11:00 a.m.

You could also have called it a modern take on the 510.

Streetwiseguy MegaDork
9/17/23 1:02 p.m.

I posted this elsewhere on Thursday.  Pulled up at the grocery store.  Funny thing, I owned the light blue one for a while 10 years ago.  Both of these were bought from salvage.  Mine, I swapped in all the guts from an nx2000, so it's an XER...

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
9/18/23 9:32 a.m.

Good seeing them still out there. 

My SE-R was the first/only new car I got for me. I was just out of college and needed a reliable way to get to work. Plus it was the hot D Stock car at the time. 

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