Sport Compact Car - Oct '96
Stillen Project GTR
BLUES TRAVELER by Dan Barnes
Nissan vehicles wearing the SE-R badge are a favorite of Sport Compact Car, mostly because of their Clark Kent/Superman dual nature. The 200Sx and previously the Sentra, are regarded by most as unassuming econoboxes, one of thousands of cars that have a hard time getting out of their own way. In SE-R trim, however, those unfamiliar with Nissan's smallest sporty car are the ones that had better get out of the way. The SE-R's pack a recalibrated suspension package and a screaming, 2.0-liter twin cam powerplant good for 140 horsepower, making them some of the most fun toys we get to play with. However, no matter how good the initial package from Nissan is, we're like most of you-always wanting more power and better handling. Recently, the performance wizards at Stillen gave us the keys to their newest creation for a few days. And it was everything we could have asked for-and more-in a 200SX.
Tim Allen would love this Nissan. We liked all the other upgrades, but from the first tickle of the throttle, "more power" is the most noticeable improvement. The newfound muscle is courtesy of a prototype turbo kit. Based around the Garret turbocharger, the kit features a Stillen innercooler and Stillen Hi-Flow intake system as well as a dual exhaust system featuring twin four-inch stainless tips. The underhood enviorment is visually enhanced with a Stillen aluminum racing valve cover and billet oil filler cap. Needless to say, the installation was perfectly clean and neat, almost factory, surprising for a prototype vehicle. Although the engine cranked out plenty of power, the engine management system's calibration was not yet complete, so we can't offer any power figures or performance testing results beyond the seat-of-the -pants accelerometer. The verdict: lots. Even the driver of a Porsche Turbo was surprised. Of course we couldn't quite keep up (few things can), but we didn't fade away as quickly as he expected us to.
With years of top-level racing experience, Stillen realizes that upgrading only one part of a car is pointless, because it would unbalance the performance envelope. This could actually make the car less fun to drive, or it could be dangerous. To round out the performance package, suspension and braking were improved to complement the power. Front and rear Stillen Sport Rotors with Metal Matrix pads and braided stainless steel lines should improve braking ability and reduce fade under extended heavy use. The suspension, like the engine, was still in the prototype stage when we drove the car and was not yet fully sorted out. It features Stillen adjustable shocks and variable rate springs that lower the ride height by 1.25 inches. Adjustable front camber plates allow changes in the geometry, and upper strut tower braces keep the geometry from changing when it isn't supposed to. The foundation for the new suspension is the wheel and tire package, 16 X 7.5 Stillen aluminum mesh wheels wrapped with sticky, responsive Yokohama AVS tires.
Exterior appearance is enhanced with Stillen's ten-piece "GTR" body kit, front grille, and rear wing, all sprayed with a custom '97 Nissan Baltic Blue. The interior is dominated by a Stillen six-point roll cage. That's not to say it makes entry and exit difficult, just that it provides a powerful "this is a serious car" visual impact, as well as stiffening the chassis for better handling. The stock seats were given a yank and replaced with MOMO racing buckets and harness. In addition to mounting a GReddy boost gauge, Stillen replaced the factory gauge faces with white ones. While a simple treatment overall, the interior felt much more focused and driving-oriented. It's definitely aimed at people who prefer the Superman-side of the car's split personality, which makes it perfect for us.
When Stillen finishes the final sorting out of their "200SX GTR" we will get another chance to drive it and perform some instrumented tests. Then we'll let you know exactly how much the basic car has been improved. Stay tuned until then, and remember...you saw it here first.