Nissan's newest `hot car' is miles ahead of model it replaces

WITH the addition of Nissan's three-liter V-6, the 200SX has become a gutsy, fun-to-drive sport coupe instead of the lame, less-potent car of the past. The engine was first introduced on the Nissan 300ZX in 1983. Standard on the fastback SE model and optional on the notchback and XE fastback, the V-6 gives 60 percent more horsepower than the base two-liter, four-cylinder power plant - something the car has needed if it is to measure up to the claims of its maker.

Nissan sees the 200SX as one of the new ``hot cars.'' With the low cost and ready availability of gasoline these days, carmakers are upshifting their gears to better performance.

Balance, handling, and appearance of the new 200SX are miles ahead of the model it replaces. Indeed, its stability on the road is noteworthy.

The car is even-tempered under power and brakes with a sure-footed assurance, even on wet and leaf-spattered roads. The test-model SE version of the 200SX was equipped with Bridgestone 205/60R15 tires mounted on five-bolt alloy wheels, plus four-wheel discs.

But is the 200SX comfortable to drive and ride? Not for a full day behind the wheel. The suspension is stiff, the sparsely padded seats hard. Remember, though, it's a sports-minded car, and not meant to be a highway cruiser that floats from mileage post to mileage post on a limited-access highway.

With a wheelbase of only 95.5 inches, room in the back is expectedly scant, although I found sufficient space in the front, even for someone on the short side of six feet. The safety belt keeps a slight pressure on the body and cannot be pulled out a bit so as to lessen the pressure. Thus, the belts have a tendency to crush the clothes.

Driver controls are all within easy reach, however, and the dials are clearly visible at all times. It was no problem sorting out the gears and moving from one to another. But the manual-shift lever in fifth gear neatly hid from view the manual station-select button on the radio. To change a station, you may have to fumble around behind the gear shifter.

A real annoyance, in my judgment, is the placement of two horn buttons on the east and west spokes of the three-spoke steering wheel. Isn't it enough that the horn can be activated by depressing the large hub in the center of the wheel? I was forever inadvertently honking the horn as I turned the steering wheel.

As with anything else on the road, if you want more, you pay more. While the 200SX line begins with the notchback at $10,819 with manual shift, the top-line SE fastback with standard V-6 lists for $14,499, plus air conditioning at $770 and a delivery charge of $225.

Standard items on the SE model include power windows, locks, and outside mirrors; three-spoke steering wheel, front and rear spoilers, rocker panel extensions, split fold-down rear seat, and an anti-theft security system, which gives a sense of well-being when you slam the door and walk away from the car.

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