This article was published in CarLustBlog.com on March 11, 2015. Minus some hyperlinks, it’s almost all the same.
Whether out on the street, in magazines or the web, I find that some cars are still the darlings of car enthusiasts.
This one isn’t exactly one of them.
I don’t remember anything about the B15 Nissan Sentra when new. How many of us do? It’s not a car that one counts down the days for an official announcement, its release to the public or something. It did grab my attention when the Need For Speed Underground videogame released its TV commercial. Well, any car shown pulling an automotive equivalent of a werewolf transformation was gonna grab my attention (it would still do today). I ended up getting the game for the PC (which took a good chunk of its capacity and was quite expensive for the time). After passing the game and getting all the cars I actually wanted, I got the Sentra. They didn’t even bother giving it the SE-R/Spec V-specific bodykit (more on those later). Fun car for what it was, videogame-wise. In my mind, if it was good enough to take memory space inside the videogame, it’s gotta be good in real life, right?
About the chassis-code B15 Sentra:
- It jumped up from being categorized as a sub-compact to compact size.
- While heavier than the previous generation, the engine is also bigger, jumping from a 1.6L lump to a 1.8L with such taken-for-granted goodies like variable valve timing, timing chain instead of a belt, and coil-on-plug ignition. 122-129HP and 122-129ft-lbs of torque (depending on source).
- You can have the Sentra in XE (bare-bones) or GXE (with some of the options for the XE as standard). After the ‘04 refresh, these were replaced with 1.8 and 1.8S, respectively.
- There was also the lightly sportier SE, with a 2.0L, 16-valve, DOHC engine –the SR20DE. That one has 145HP/136ft-lbs of torque. You also get upgraded wheels and tires and a viscous limited-slip differential! Oh, and some 80lbs more. And it only lasted 2 years.
- California got the Sentra CA (Clean Air). With three catalytic converters with quick catalyst warm-up, double-walled exhaust, specially coated radiator that somehow turned smog into oxygen, it’s the first gasoline engine to win the SULEV award from CARB, with about 4HP/7ft-lbs of torque sacrificed.
Let’s face it: the car is not much of a looker. It’s boring (Would you have clicked on this post if I’ve used a standard Sentra as the first pic?). It competes fiercely with its contemporary Toyota Corolla rival for that dubious honor. Give thanks to Nissan Design International out in California. Around here you’re more likely to find a person of advanced age driving a dirty, scratched B15 with the paint peeling off and flash rust than someone much younger.
I can give you one good reason why it hasn’t exactly caught on with the stance junkies: the rear suspension is a rear multilink beam axle setup –like an Infiniti G20– meaning that unless one gets creative with bending the beams, you can’t get that mad negative camber, yo. If you’re not into that type of aesthetic, the suspension is more than adequate.
Well, car tuners, whether from the streets or the factory, never let what on paper seem like an archaic design (engine, suspension, aerodynamics, etc.) keep them from modding up their cars. Examples like the Shelby GLH/GLH-S come to mind. The Sentra, thankfully, is included on that list, and it’s where the things get interesting. Enter the SE-R.
While the regular Sentra made do with 1.8L/126HP, The SE-R had 2.5L/165HP/180ft-lbs of torque of Altima I-4 QR-series engine in its engine bay. It had a five-speed manual or 4-speed slushbox, as well as tasty outer cosmetics changes (a wing that’s said to be useless, bodykit, wheels, etc.).
But wait! There’s more! For those wanting more, there’s the Spec V. It included 10 more HP (from a tuned exhaust), an extra gear in the transmission, bigger wheels and better tires, increased spring rates and revised shock tuning, loads of extras, optional Brembo brakes (though without ABS, oh well) as well as one of my favorite bits: the Torsen limited-slip differential, a very nice touch in a performance application, as a lot of more expensive sportscars don’t have this feature, then and now. The Spec V made its B13 Sentra SE-R ancestor proud.
But that’s not all! You can get even more goodies under the NISMO banner from the dealer, and we’re not just talking about bodykits here. The ‘S-Tune’ had things like cat-back exhausts, suspension upgrades and brake pads. The ‘R-Tune’ had all that the former had but included some pretty serious hardware like cams, headers and even more suspension upgrades, to name some.
I believe the earlier ‘02-’03 SE-Rs with manual will be more desirable, because while the ’04-’06 cars came with stuff like upgraded Brembo brakes (still without ABS) and shorter gearing it only comes available with an slushbox. Relax, the Spec V still has the 6-speed. Also, those early SE-Rs and Spec Vs had a distinct front fascia that I personally like and believe it helps out with the car’s looks tremendously. Following the trends of the time, the interiors changed accordingly.
Peter Cunningham’s SCCA NISMO/Team RTR Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V
These Sentras have done well in motorsports, both professionally…
Jon Olschewski’s RallyCross 2003 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V
And on a grassroots level.
I still remember reading the Motor Trend article about the Spec V, the same one that pitted it against the EP3 Honda Civic Si, among others. They spoke well of it, being taken by surprise in many aspects. It definitely wasn’t the most refined (on many areas), but it performed very well. It did look good in black, too.
If the SE-R/Spec V is too much for you, there are two other choices, depending on what you’d consider “too much” with these cars: The Sentra Special Edition and Sentra 2.5. The Special Edition had some of the looks, stereo and one or two suspension tweaks, but was still powered by the 1.8L engine. Very few came with the manual gearbox. The Sentra 2.5 –called 2.5LE for pre-facelift and 2.5S post-facelift- had the bigger engine, but that’s it. In the right(?) hands, it could be transformed into a serious sleeper. If I was to own one, I’d slap a Trollface sticker right over the 2.5 Limited Edition/2.5S badge on the trunk lid. I’ll be keeping an eye out for those (no luck as of this writing).
Up until this moment in time I’ve only ridden in one B15 Sentra. And not any plain-Jane Sentra. Take a gander at the pic below:
We have a bodykit, aftermarket taillights, an Impreza STi wing, dual exhausts and stickers, which were quite original. I believe the ones that covered the reverse lights are Metal Mulisha logos, which was tragically all the rage in those days- especially on that college, but the one on the trunk lid is Family Guy’s Peter Griffin as Ché Guevara, which was great! Inside, I was disappointed to find an automatic transmission, but was quickly forgotten by the Rurouni Kenshin/Samurai X mural on a part of the dash. Other than that, it was just a regular car, with an interior that looked pretty much like this.
I was taking a course in a technical college, and was invited to go out and eat with a small group of guys. One of them owned one of the few modded B15s I’ve seen on local roads. We seldom talked as we only shared one classroom, but he offered to drive, so much to my surprise we went in his blue wonder. I even broke the ice and talked to the owner a bit on about his car. From what little we talked, I can only remember asking him why he caved in to the fad of the so-called JDM amber lens look that was faked up (as in, no actual turn signal, just a piece of yellow stick-on film) on the bodykit in the front (I personally found it to be the biggest eyesore), as well as let him know that there were Sentras done up in a rally car style (I believe he liked that). Nice guy. Shame we didn’t hang out more, what with studies and stuff. So imagine my surprise finding this pic of his car on a local car-enthusiast website.
I could’ve just written about the SE-R/Spec V, but I’ve been thinking how appropriate even the most basic Sentra could serve as a pocket-rocket, despite their relatively bigger size and weight. Instead of, say, swapping Mitsubishi engines on early Hyundai Accents (like somebody at my local college did) why not turbocharge the thing? They already come with 1.8L instead of 1.6L or less. I know this chassis has enough aftermarket support to make 1980s Japanese sportscars cry, not to mention fan support willing to give advice and help avoid common problem areas, some that may really harm the engine. The hardest part would probably be finding a manual car. If something were to happen, I’d just look for another one, swap the parts and start again… if I don’t develop any more sympathy for the thing.
Yellow Spec V by the sea: http://www.fuel-infection.com
SE-R ad pic: http://funny-pictures.picphotos.net/
SCCA Spec V: http://en.autowp.ru
RallyCross Spec V: http://www.sccabb.com
Burnt-orange SE-R pic: http://darkbrownhairs.org
Local riced-out Sentra: carrito.net