2002 Nissan Sentra SE-R First Drive (2024)

From the September 2001 issue of Car and Driver.

A bounding fawn running at full speed looks almost weightless. Most of its forward motion is accomplished in the air. Its skinny legs only touch down for split seconds at a time, propelling the animal forward-darting, lithe, agile. It has no visible musculature, and certainly no sign of fat. It's all a blur of motion. We followed one such fawn for about a half-mile down delightfully twisting little Cachagua Road east of Carmel Valley in California.

We thought of passing, keeping the revs in the meat of the power curve for a squirt past. Every time we'd think of making our pass on this one-and-a-half-lane country road, the fawn would dive down to the inside of the turn. "He's clipping the apexes!" we said in absolute astonishment. The little braveheart was clearly blocking us. Finally, with no encouragement from us, the fawn hopped off the right side of the road and down a wooded embankment. What does this have to do with the 2002 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V that we were driving during the encounter? Well, nothing really.

You thought maybe we'd tell you what a lithe little fawn of a car the new SE-R is? Nope. It's nothing like that. Owing to its new, large-displacement four-cylinder-25 percent larger than the engine of any competing car-and 180 pound-feet of torque, the SE-R Spec V would more accurately be described as "strong and forceful" than "light and graceful." It's more wild boar than Bambi.After a seven-year absence, the Sentra SE-R returns as the muscle car of pocket rockets. (The unloved 200SX SE-R that arrived in 1995 wasn't much of a replacement.) The original 1991-94 Sentra SE-R won a spot on Car and Driver's 10Best list every year it was sold in the U.S. Although its 2.0-liter twin-cam four spun happily beyond 7000 rpm, the ample midrange torque of the engine was what distinguished it from the contemporary Honda Civic Si, Acura Integra, and Mazda MX-3.

2002 Nissan Sentra SE-R First Drive (1)

The 2002 SE-R Spec V differs from the old SE-R not so much in character as in magnitude. The sedan proportions, the torquey engine, the value, and the limited-slip differential-all the elements that defined the original-are present and accounted for. But there's more tire, more weight, and more torque than before. Counting on pleasant memories conjured by the SE-R moniker, the marketing types decided there would be two SE-Rs-a "standard" SE-R and the SE-R Spec V. The standard model takes the place of the SE. It is powered by a new 2.5-liter engine (making 170 horsepower), but it doesn't have the sport-tuned suspension or six-speed manual of the Spec V.

The one we're more interested in-and the version we drove at Laguna Seca Raceway and throughout the Carmel Valley-is the top-performing Spec V. Incidentally, the "Spec V" designation is Nissan's attempt to associate this highest-performance Sentra with the Japanese-market hyperperformance coupe, the Skyline GT-R V Spec. Either that, or the company just wanted to see how many letters and numbers would fit on the tail of a Sentra. The mechanical upgrades for the Spec V version are more compelling. Start with that new engine, which is virtually identical to the 2002 Altima's base engine. In this model, the 2.5-liter makes 10 more horsepower than in the standard SE-R, or 180 at 6000 rpm, and 180 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. The extra grunt in Spec V trim is the work of a variable-volume exhaust system that opens a flap in the muffler for better exhaust flow at high revs.

The Spec V has 10 to 20 more horsepower than other pocket rockets, such as the upcoming Honda Civic Si, the Ford SVT Focus, and the Mini Cooper S, and vastly more than performance poseurs such as the Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Rally. Nissan estimates the Spec V will sprint to 60 mph in the high sixes. That's about a second quicker than the old SE-R and about two seconds before the 2001 SE model.

But there's more to the thrust story than peak horsepower. The Spec V's available torque-dramatically more than in competitors-is routed through a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission (the only transmission available in the Spec V) to a standard helical limited-slip differential. The limited slip, a real rarity in this class, allows the Spec V to absolutely rocket out of tight corners. Without the limited slip, the inside front tire would spin wildly or you'd have to restrain your right foot. And showing restraint isn't easy in the Spec V.

The front strut suspension and beam rear haven't been stiffened very aggressively. Yet the Spec V corners with minimal body roll, is stable in transitional maneuvers, and turns in with real conviction. According to Aaron Bickel, the car's senior suspension and steering engineer, the Spec V's front and rear spring rates have increased by 15 and 16 percent, respectively, compared with those of the 2001 SE model (or the new standard SE-R). The Spec V's front and rear anti-roll bars are also stiffer than the standard Sentra's-particularly the rear, in the search for neutral handling. As Bickel puts it, "Our job was to take the suspension as far as we could and still sell it to the company." The ride height remains the same as on standard Sentras.

2002 Nissan Sentra SE-R First Drive (3)

There's plenty of room for aftermarket tuning in this setup. Straight from the factory, though, the Spec V is a hell of a canyon carver. There's plenty of grip from the 215/45ZR-17 Continental performance tires (standard SE-Rs come with 195/55R-16s). When pushed hard, the Spec V understeers, but its rear end can be coaxed out of line with a little lift of the throttle. With good, progressive steering you can pour-instead of dump-the Spec V into and out of corners. Equally progressive-feeling four-wheel disc brakes make the drive smooth. We have a few gripes. As with the manuals in the 2002 Maxima and Altima, the shifter requires a firm thrust of the lever to engage each gear.

The shift quality has a certain plasticky feel. Also, the relatively short gearing and the conservative 6100-rpm redline (only 100 rpm above the power peak) meant we often bumped the rev limiter while passing other cars. Unlike the original Sentra SE-R, which was about as subtle as performance cars get, both 2002-model SE-Rs have reworked front fascias with mesh grilles. Nissan says it makes the SE-R look like the expensive, high-performance Skyline GT-R. Maybe, maybe not-but the modifications do make the SE-R at least look more aggressive than the base Sentra. (Sentra XE and GXE models don't change for 2002 and were not available for test drives.)

The SE-R rear end gets the de rigueur wing that fails to reduce rear-end lift or visually lift the Sentra's droopy butt. Inside the Spec V, heavily bolstered front seats keep your legs and torso in place. Regardless of the exterior color, the front and rear seats come with only red-and-black mesh upholstery. The interior is also distinguished by a leather-wrapped steering wheel, titanium-colored plastic trim, and titanium-colored gauge faces with orange numbers. The SE-R and Spec V will go on sale in November, starting at about $17,000. Options include side airbags, a sunroof, ABS, and the Audio Fanatic package with a powerful Rockford Fosgate stereo. That sticker should put the sinewy SE-R in the meaty center of the burgeoning sports-compact-market price range.

2002 Nissan Sentra SE-R First Drive (4)



2022 Nissan Sentra SE-R
Vehicle Type: front engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

$17,000–$18,000 (est.)

DOHC 16-vlave 2.5-liter inline-4, 170 hp, 175 lb-ft; DOHC 16-valve 2.5-liter inline-4, 180 hp, 180 lb-ft
Transmission: 5- or 6-speed manual, 4-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 99.8 in
Length: 177.5 in
Width: 67.3 in
Height: 55.5 in
Curb Weight: 2650–2800 lb

60 mph: 6.9–8.8 sec
1/4-Mile: 15.5-16.5 sec @ 80–90 mph
Top Speed (governer limited): 110 mph

City/Highway: 22–24/27–29 mpg

2002 Nissan Sentra SE-R First Drive (5)

Daniel Pund


Daniel Pund was named Road & Track's editor-in-chief in 2024 after helping to re-invent the venerable magazine brand as executive editor. For around 30 years, Pund has toiled away as a feature writer, car reviewer, editor, and columnist for every car magazine that matters (including Car and Driver and Autoweek) and a few that didn’t. He’s also contributed to Esquire and GQ and other general-interest publications.

2002 Nissan Sentra SE-R First Drive (2024)


How fast is the Nissan Sentra SE R? ›

FWD. Xtronic CVT® Nissan Sentra top speed of 124 mph.

What engine is in a 2002 Nissan Sentra SE R? ›

Both SE-Rs are powered by an all-new 2.5-liter dual-overhead-cam 4-cylinder engine with lightweight pistons, an electronically controlled throttle, and variable valve timing.

Is the Nissan Sentra SE R rear wheel drive? ›

Every Sentra is front-wheel drive and comes with a 149-hp four-cylinder engine bolted to a continuously variable automatic transmission.

Why is my Nissan Sentra struggling to start? ›

The most common reasons a Nissan Sentra won't start are a dead battery, an alternator problem, or failed starter.

What is Nissan's fastest street car? ›

Introduction. When it comes to speed and performance in the world of road-legal cars, the Nissan GT-R stands out as a true titan. With its impressive power, advanced technology, and a rich racing heritage, this Japanese supercar has earned a reputation as one of the fastest road-legal cars in the world.

What is the Japanese version of the Nissan Sentra? ›

Until 2006, Sentra was a rebadged export version of the Japanese Nissan Sunny, but since the 2013 model year, Sentra is a rebadged export version of the Sylphy.

What is the Nissan GTR engine called? ›

Specification. Nissan GT-R is powered by the Nissan VR (engine) VR38DETT 3799 cc (3.8 L) DOHC V6. Two parallel turbochargers, Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI), provide fast supercharging. The engine has a power of 404 kW (550 hp) at 6500 rpm and 632 Nm at 3200-5800 rpm.

Are Nissan Sentra engines reliable? ›

In terms of reliability, the 2020 Nissan Sentra knocks it out of the park. J.D. Power has named the 2020 Sentra the #1 Compact Car with a Quality & Reliability rating of 84 out of 100, which equals Great.

What are the cons of a Nissan Sentra? ›

2022 Nissan Sentra
  • Highs Handsome inside and outside, front seats are endlessly comfy, notable standard tech features.
  • Lows Finding speed is a chore, sporty SR model has a choppy ride, optional sunroof reduces headroom.
  • Verdict The Sentra is a comfortable and good-looking compact car, but it's not an above-average one.

What does Sentra mean? ›

From Dutch centra, the plural form of centrum (“center, centre”), from Latin centrum.

Is A Nissan Sentra AWD or FWD? ›

Front-Wheel-Drive (FWD) Nissan Sentra | Nissan USA.

How to start Nissan Sentra without key fob? ›

After trying to place the Nissan Sentra key near the start switch and this attempt fails, try the following;
  1. Flip over the key fob and depress the small release button. ...
  2. Insert the emergency key into the ignition.
  3. Turn it to start the engine, and you're good to go.
Oct 13, 2023

Why wont my car start in the morning? ›

The battery is usually the main reason that your car won't start, and is one of the most common callouts to the AA. There are a few ways your battery might go flat or even die: Something electrical was left on in the car, like the lights, which ran the battery down. You haven't driven your car for a long time.

How fast is the Nissan Sentra 0 60? ›

2024 Nissan Sentra SR Specifications
2024 Nissan Sentra SR Specifications
0-60 MPH8.4 sec
Quarter Mile16.6 sec @ 85.3 mph
Braking, 60-0 MPH123 ft
Lateral Acceleration0.87 g (avg)
14 more rows
Mar 7, 2024

How fast is a Nissan Altima SE-R? ›

5 - 60 mph6.4 s
0 - 100 mph15.8 s
0 - 120 mph25.1 s
1/4 mile14.8 s @ 97.0 mph
Top speed227 kph (141 mph)
3 more rows

What is the top speed of the 1991 Nissan Sentra SE-R? ›

More Sentra History

The SE-R covers the quarter-mile in 15.8 seconds at 87 mph, compared with the BMW's 16.4 seconds at 82 mph. The Nissan even surpasses the autobahn-bred 318 in top speed: 125 mph to 123.


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