Car News:  Oversteer

A Look Back at the Greatest Nissan Sentra Ever: The Original SE-R

RELATED READING
See all Nissan Sentra articles
RESEARCH BY MAKE
Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs Ford cars, trucks and SUVs Honda cars, trucks and SUVs Chevrolet cars, trucks and SUVs Jeep cars, trucks and SUVs BMW cars, trucks and SUVs Volkswagen cars, trucks and SUVs Mercedes-Benz cars, trucks and SUVs Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs
Acura cars, trucks and SUVs Alfa Romeo cars, trucks and SUVs AMC cars, trucks and SUVs Aston Martin cars, trucks and SUVs Audi cars, trucks and SUVs Bentley cars, trucks and SUVs BMW cars, trucks and SUVs Bugatti cars, trucks and SUVs Buick cars, trucks and SUVs Cadillac cars, trucks and SUVs Chevrolet cars, trucks and SUVs Chrysler cars, trucks and SUVs Daewoo cars, trucks and SUVs Datsun cars, trucks and SUVs DeLorean cars, trucks and SUVs Dodge cars, trucks and SUVs Eagle cars, trucks and SUVs Ferrari cars, trucks and SUVs FIAT cars, trucks and SUVs Fisker cars, trucks and SUVs Ford cars, trucks and SUVs Freightliner cars, trucks and SUVs Genesis cars, trucks and SUVs Geo cars, trucks and SUVs GMC cars, trucks and SUVs Honda cars, trucks and SUVs HUMMER cars, trucks and SUVs Hyundai cars, trucks and SUVs INFINITI cars, trucks and SUVs Isuzu cars, trucks and SUVs Jaguar cars, trucks and SUVs Jeep cars, trucks and SUVs Kia cars, trucks and SUVs Lamborghini cars, trucks and SUVs Land Rover cars, trucks and SUVs Lexus cars, trucks and SUVs Lincoln cars, trucks and SUVs Lotus cars, trucks and SUVs Maserati cars, trucks and SUVs Maybach cars, trucks and SUVs Mazda cars, trucks and SUVs McLaren cars, trucks and SUVs Mercedes-Benz cars, trucks and SUVs Mercury cars, trucks and SUVs MINI cars, trucks and SUVs Mitsubishi cars, trucks and SUVs Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs Oldsmobile cars, trucks and SUVs Plymouth cars, trucks and SUVs Pontiac cars, trucks and SUVs Porsche cars, trucks and SUVs RAM cars, trucks and SUVs Rolls-Royce cars, trucks and SUVs Saab cars, trucks and SUVs Saturn cars, trucks and SUVs Scion cars, trucks and SUVs smart cars, trucks and SUVs SRT cars, trucks and SUVs Subaru cars, trucks and SUVs Suzuki cars, trucks and SUVs Tesla cars, trucks and SUVs Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs Volkswagen cars, trucks and SUVs Volvo cars, trucks and SUVs Yugo cars, trucks and SUVs
RESEARCH BY STYLE
AWD/4WD
Commercial
Convertible
Coupe
Hatchback
Hybrid/Electric
Luxury
Sedan
SUV/Crossover
Truck
Van/Minivan
Wagon
ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Aaron Gold December 2016

Let me begin by explaining something to our younger readers: There was a time when compact cars were universally awful. Back in the days when Oldsmobiles were still considered pretty nice cars, most compacts were underpowered, stripped-down, ultra-cheap penalty boxes. Their most endearing trait may well have been their lack of crashworthiness: They were very good at putting owners out of their misery.

And then the 1991 Nissan Sentra SE-R came along, and everything changed.

Now, I'm not saying the Sentra SE-R was the first compact car that wasn't completely miserable. There was a handful of other small cars that were good to drive, but most were expensive specialty models. For those of us on a budget, our motoring lives were pretty bleak.

And then the SE-R came along, and it was... I was going to say "awesome," but that word doesn't do the car justice. Understand that we were still reeling over the basic B13 Sentra, new for 1991, with its 16-valve engine that broke the 100-horsepower barrier (by 10 hp, no less!) -- a feat all but unheard of in a small, cheap car. (Just before it came out, a friend bought a brand-new '90 Sentra with 90 hp and a 4-speed manual. Suckah! We're still friends, and I'm hoping he doesn't read Oversteer.)

The SE-R was magic: 140 hp, a 7,500-rpm redline and 0 to 60 in less than 8 seconds. And it was built like the proverbial brick outhouse. Such things were unheard of in a compact car. Sure, you could beat the SE-R in, say, a turbocharged Dodge Shelby Charger, but that required walking back along the path of the race to pick up the half-shafts and bits of the turbine wheel.

Car and Driver put the Sentra SE-R on their 10Best list for 1991. To give you an idea of how dire things were that year, the Mercury Tracer and the Mazda MPV were also on the list.

The SE-R's reign was short: Automakers soon figured out that compact cars need not be penalty boxes. In early 1994, Chrysler introduced the Neon, with 140 hp in the base model and a cavernous back seat, and everything changed. Suddenly, compact cars were nice cars. When Nissan redesigned the Sentra for '95, there was no SE-R on the menu.

Things were never quite the same for the Sentra SE-R. The next iteration came in 2002, with 165 hp (175 hp in the Spec V), but it wasn't enough. By then, we had cars like the Subaru WRX and the Honda Civic Si (though admittedly 2002 was not a great year for the latter), and the SE-R's magic was gone. Nissan tried again in 2007 -- and this time, the "base" SE-R had a continuously variable transmission (CVT). I'm not a CVT hater like most, but still... the less said about that, the better.

I recently took my first drive in the Sentra NISMO, and it brings me back to those heady days of the first SE-R. The new Sentra NISMO has that same mischievous attitude. Unlike the B13 SE-R, it may not be the best, but it sure as hell is a lot of fun.

And if you want to relive the glory days, why, you can do that, too -- search the Autotrader classifieds for B13 Sentra SE-Rs.

If you find one, can I drive it?

MORE FROM OVERSTEER:
BMW Z8 Values Are Officially Insane
The Sad Fate Of the World's Longest Limo
Autotrader Find: 2006 Ford E-450 Popcorn Food Truck

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
A Look Back at the Greatest Nissan Sentra Ever: The Original SE-R - Autotrader