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Reprint from Motor Trend Magazine, July, 1996

200SX SE-R


Back in 1968, if you really wanted a BMW 2002 but didn’t have the funds, you went to the Datsun dealer and bought a 510. Today, if you really want a BMW M3, Stillen Sports Cars suggests you acquire a Nissan 200SX SE-R and then call them. Stillen isn’t selling this SE-R as a complete car (as it has variants of the 300ZX and Maxima), but instead assembled the vehicle as a showcase for Stillen parts. The most obvious addition is the Stillen body kit ($607), which visually rounds the edges of the square-cut 200SX’s styling and shrink-wraps around the 205/50ZR16 Yokohama AVS Intermediate tires. Complementing the body is a set of 16-inch Fittipaldi Laguna wheels whose open face permits easy viewing of the brakes’ drilled Sport Rotors ($370 for four). The result is a car that looks serious without appearing grim, though the extra-cost front grille is something we could live without.

200SX InteriorAesthetic trickery continues inside, where mesh pedal pads ($78) and a short-throw shifter ($199) replace the stock counterparts. Not only does the shifter look good, it works nicely with better-weighted shifts and a precise action rare in front-drive cars.

Under the hoodEngine modifications to the 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve four are limited to a Stillen Hi-Flow intake, reground camshafts, exhaust header ($399), and a cat-back exhaust ($249). The result is likely an expansion of engine output up from the stock 140 to about 155. However, the engine’s exhaust note is spot-on, a sound that transforms every blast to the 7-Eleven into a mini-replication of Laguna Seca Raceway. The 0-60-mph time of 7.3 seconds is 0.7 second better than the last stock 200SX SE-R we tested.

Nothing astounding, but still satisfying.

More impressive is the chassis. Beyond the wheels, tires, and springs, Stillen added strut tower braces front and rear ($179 and $229, respectively) and a large-diameter front anti-roll bar ($189). The tires get credit for the car’s 0.85g cycle around the skidpad, while the lowered ride height, adjustable front camber plates ($389), sport shocks ($460), and big front bar likely are responsible for the excellent transitional handling behavior during the car’s 68.6-mph blast through the slalom.

This handling prowess comes at the expense of some ride comfort, but it’s a very mild, acceptable deterioration considering the improved adhesion. It’s especially impressive in contrast to other lowered vehicles whose ride quality is more drastically diminished by their trip downward. Putting on more-radical, lower-aspect-ratio tires could improve handling even further, but it’s these tires’ generous 50-series section width that’s largely responsible for the livable ride.

Stillen’s take on the 200SX isn’t a slayer of M3s, but it may open the eyes of those enthusiasts bolting parts onto Honda Civics and Acura Integras. The Civic and Integra dominate the econo-import aftermarket, but the 200SX may well be just as solid a platform to build upon.