Pros: Lots of torque from a 4 cylinder, strong powerband, supurb handling
Cons: econobox feel (cheap), could use some sticker tires from factory
Let me start off by saying i do not own this car and i did not write this review from a simple one-day test drive. A good friend of mine has had this car for quite a while now; in fact he got the first on off the truck. So in theory i am relating my experiences driving his car and what he has told me about the car.
The 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine produces about 175 horsepower, as claimed by Nissan. You can expect around 140hp at the wheels with the power train loss. The motor mounts are somewhat soft which contributes to the massive amounts of dredged wheel hop. With Nissans own spin on variable valve timing and electronic lift control you can really hear the car scream at the higher rpms. But the power is limited to its rather low redline, 6200 rpms. With a higher redline, much like Hondas Civic Si, you can expect this car to out accelerate the older Civic.
Limited Slip Differential:
Included with the car you will find a helical limited slip front end, much of what is optional on the bigger brother Maxima. This helps give a close to 50/50 power distribution too both wheels.
The handling of the car is best I have seen from a factory car. The weakest point on the whole suspension is the tires, they should be the first thing to upgrade. Due to the overwhelming amount of torque you will need new tires anyway. Due to the larger, 17", rims the amount of tire you have is very limited thus making wheel spin that much easier. Do not bother to get top of the line sticky tires if you intend to keep the stock 17" rims.
The original Sentra styling has been upgraded to a new front end. This gives the car a more aggressive look. The rear deck spoiler is there so simply a cosmetic effect and does it perfectly without standing out too much.
The stereo equipped with this car is a Rockford Fosgate system. The rear subwoofer is very underpowered as much factory subwoofers are. The head unit fits the lines seamlessly and seems almost like a regular stock radio.
Now the one major problem with this car is the transmission. The 6 speed ratios are positioned great, keep you shifting all the time, but hey you bought a stick shift to do exactly that, right? The only problem being a third gear synchro being weak, grinding will occur after 5,000 miles of rough driving. This is a problem that was corrected for the 2003 models and any 2002 experiencing this transmission problem will have the 2003 transmission installed, problem fixed.
The clutch grips hard, very nice for a stock car with a performance aspect. It also grips very low from full pedal, which means you have the pedal on the floor and move your foot up about 2" and its fully engaged.
Nice design from Nissan but poor implementation. The shifter knob itself looks nice but under further investigation you will see its all plastic. The reverse lock out is non-existent, higher up models (Maxima, 350Z) have a mechanism that prevents from accidentally engaging reverse from 6th gear. Once you get used to shifting into 5th and 6th gears you will not have a problem with reverse.
The red accenting is very nice and the hold is also very adequate. With the handling of this car you will need something to hold you in your spot; these seats do just that. But beware they are not made to be the most comfortable seats so longs trips can be dreaded.
I personally would not recommend this car to someone due to other cars out there for the same price. The new 03 Dodge Neon SRT-4 will produce more power and turn numbers faster the 02 Subaru WRX. IF you want handling check out the 03 Mazda Protege 5 Mazdaspeed. This turbocharged car will out handle the SE-R and with its stock turbo setup higher horsepower numbers are as easy as turning a knob.