Nissan has a rich history in the value-driven sports sedan segment, first created by the Datsun 510 in the late 1960s and rekindled with the legendary 1991 Sentra SE-R. In 2002, the Sentra SE-R returned to the Nissan lineup and ensures that Nissan’s leadership in this segment will continue. For 2003, the Sentra SE-R receives a new close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission (SE-R Spec V) and is offered in a new bright yellow called Sunburst. The Sentra SE-R is available in two models – SE-R and ultimate-performance SE-R Spec V.
The original SE-R, produced from 1991 to 1994, was based on the third generation Sentra 2-door sedan. Even though it looked similar to a standard Sentra, a 140-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine gave it lots of punch. The SE-R was a Car and Driver “10Best” winner four times and an Automobile “All-Star” twice, not to mention a favorite of autocrossers and grassroots racers. Even though the Sentra SE-R left after the 1994 model year, it has kept a large enthusiast base with numerous nationwide clubs, magazine project vehicles and motorsports activities.
“The Sentra SE-R is a legendary vehicle, and the 2003 model upholds that legacy,” said Bill Kirrane, vice president and general manager, Nissan Division. “This car surpasses the original in every aspect and is worthy of the SE-R moniker.”
“The first Sentra SE-R was quite understated,” said Kirrane. “This one announces its performance intentions at first glance.”
The SE-R was designed to give a feeling of a mini-Nissan Skyline sports sedan. Building upon the style set forward on the fifth generation Sentra 4-door sedan, an aggressive front fascia with a mesh-pattern grille and large fog lights has been added. The side view is filled with body-color side sill extensions and large wheels and tires – 16-inch on SE-R and 17-inch on SE-R Spec V models. The final touch is provided by a rear spoiler and large chrome exhaust tips.
Contributing to the design of the SE-R was Nissan Design America, Inc. (NDA) in La Jolla, California and Nissan Technical Center-North America in Farmington Hills, Michigan (NTCNA-FH).
Powering the Sentra SE-R is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, named QR25. This engine produces 175 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm and 180 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm in the SE-R Spec V model and 165 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm and 175 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm in the SE-R, up 35/25 horsepower and 48/43 lb-ft of torque from the previous generation SE-R. SE-R Spec V gains 10 horsepower and five lb-ft torque over the standard SE-R with the use of a specially tuned exhaust system.
Technology for this new engine comes from the award-winning VQ 6-cylinder engines found in the Maxima and Altima sedans and Pathfinder sport utility vehicle. This includes a modular engine design, micro-finished crank journals and cam lobes, molybdenum coated lightweight pistons, electronically controlled throttle and continuously variable valve timing.
To combat vibrations inherent in large 4-cylinder engines, the QR25 features a silent chain drive and compact balancer system that effectively negates vibrations without taking up too much space – a problem with previous balancer designs.
Backing the QR25 is a new close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission (SE-R Spec V), 5-speed manual transmission (SE-R), or a 4-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with overdrive (optional on SE-R).
A helical limited-slip differential is standard on the 6-speed equipped SE-R Spec V. This mechanical differential is torque sensitive and provides instantaneous locking for increased traction and performance.
SE-R Handling and Braking
Sentra SE-R’s suspension has been tuned to provide a maximum amount of performance and ride comfort. There are two suspensions available corresponding with model choices – the standard SE-R and the ultimate, track-tuned SE-R Spec V. All SE-Rs feature front independent MacPherson struts and Nissan’s patented rear Multi-Link Beam™, with 2mm larger front and rear stabilizer bars.
SE-R features performance-tuned front and rear shock absorbers and a front strut tower brace for additional stiffness and suspension feel. Completing the suspension upgrades are 16-inch alloy wheels with 195/55HR16 tires.
SE-R Spec V builds upon the SE-R’s handling capabilities. Front spring rates have been increased 15 percent and rear spring rate has been increased 16 percent and there is improved shock absorber tuning. High-performance 215/45ZR17 tires on special 17-inch wheels complete the suspension package and give Sentra a tough, sport-compact look.
Braking is provided by large 4-wheel disc brakes – the fronts measure a full 11 inches, larger than many so-called sporting machines. A 4-wheel, 4-channel, 4-sensor Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) is also available.
SE-R Comfort and Rockford Fosgate®--Powered Sound
Sentra SE-R’s interior is differentiated from the standard well-equipped Sentra with numerous performance and convenience enhancements designed by Nissan Design Europe (NDE), NDA and NTCNA-FH. An overhead storage console with map lights, special seat cloth, unique gauges and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob give SE-R’s interior a sporty, functional look.
Once again, the SE-R Spec V model takes the Sentra to new extremes. A special instrument meter finish with red illumination and a special leather-wrapped steering wheel add to the performance look of the special Lava interior with black and new silver accents. Skyline-style sport bucket seats ensure that the SE-R Spec V driver’s backside stays planted on twisty mountain roads.
Available on SE-R Spec V and SE-R is a 300-watt 9-speaker Rockford Fosgate-powered audio system with an optional in-dash 6-disc CD changer. This system, custom designed for the SE-R by the acclaimed aftermarket audio company, includes an 8-inch subwoofer that fires to the rear of the vehicle, rear coaxial speakers and two-ohm front door speakers. This is the first system of its kind designed by Rockford Fosgate for an OEM application.
SE-R Safety and Security
The 2002 Sentra SE-R’s standard safety equipment includes second generation air bags, an energy-absorbing steering column, child safety rear door locks, 3-point seat belts in all seating positions, front seat belts with adjustable upper anchors, pretensioners and load limiters, front and rear crumple zones and pipe-style steel side-door guard beams.
SE-R also features an emergency inside trunk-release and the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) system. Optional are front seat side-impact supplemental air bags and Vehicle Security System with Immobilizer.
Sentra SE-R arrives remarkably well equipped. Available on SE-R is an automatic transmission, front seat side-impact supplemental air bags and ABS package, The Sunroof Package which comes with dual illuminated visor vanity mirrors (A/T only), Audio Fanatic Package with Rockford Fosgate-powered audio system, partial fold-down rear seat and Vehicle Security System with Immobilizer (A/T only) and in-dash 6-disc CD changer (A/T only).
Sentra SE-R Spec V models are equipped to an even higher level, with the 6-speed manual transmission and helical limited-slip differential standard. Optional are front seat side-impact supplemental air bags, ABS, Audio Fanatic Package, Sunroof Package and in-dash 6-disc CD changer. No automatic transmission is available on Spec V.
“The Sentra SE-R Spec V is the extreme model – almost track-ready right from the dealership floor,” says Kirrane. “Both SE-Rs indicate the future direction of Nissan’s sedans. It’s a spirited one, to say the least.”