This car has got something going on. In an age where cars have come to be seen as all the same (a deserved reputation, what with manufacturers extensively sharing underpinnings) the 200 SX seems incredibly unique.
Right from the moment you see the car, you're drawn in. There is something beautiful and timeless about the shape. It evokes memories of the Porsche 911, especially when seen from the rear. The bonnet looks much like that of the Corvettes and Pontiacs of the 1980's.
Stepping into the cabin, something clicks immediately. The interior is understated, yet somehow powerful and focused. Nothing squeaks, shakes or rattles, illustrating the legendary build quality of Japanese cars of that time. For comparison, the comparable Alfa Romeo 156i, which I have ridden in many times, is so badly built that it seems like nothing, but God's grace is holding the car together.
I especially love the large, smooth buttons that activate things like wing mirrors. Almost everything on this car is electrical, and it's a Nissan so they'll never go wrong. The handbrake looks a bit odd, but that's only a modification away from perfection.
And then there's the drive. I didn't appreciate how brilliant the experience was until I had to sell my 200SX and revert to a Vauxhall Cavalier, and quite frankly, it felt like driving a shed. The 200SX feels connected. Like it was built for sheer driving pleasure first, and all other functions a delicious second. That's not something you'd expect to find in a car which is currently trading hands for around £1000. Braking, steering and above all accelerating make any journey fun and full of unexpected thrills. I can't think of any other car at the price which gives you this sort of genuine sports car experience, apart from perhaps a Mazda MX-5 (Mazda Miata to North Americans.) That's not really a fair comparison though, given that the Mazda is a tiny two-seater sports car whilst the 200SX has a decent stab at being a practical hatchback.
Accelerating is what this car does exceptionally well. Up to 3,000rpm it feels like a lively 1.8 sportster... and then the turbo kicks in. I'd never experienced anything like it. It whines up in a thrilling crescendo of noise, like an jet taking off, and the car surges forward as if being shoved by an unseen, unholy force.
Taking off from the lights left me, and whatever cars I left behind, awestruck. You take the engine to 4,000 rpm to spool the turbo, drop the clutch quickly, the weight of the car moves backwards to pin the tyres to the floor, and the 200SX blasts itself towards motoring immortality. Especially impressive is its ability above 70mph, an area in which all other cars in the class struggle. At 90mph the engine is champing at the bit, begging you for more and rewarding you for every extra inch you dare to press the accelerator down.
Top speed is another exceptional feature. A perfectly judged fifth gear ratio and a low, sleek aerodynamic shape allow the 200SX to top out at 140mph. Such is the exceptional build quality of the car that the first time I touched this speed, my passenger didn't even notice.
For those considering buying one, consider this. Virtually every time I was stood still at the lights, I would look at the cars ahead and behind me, and realise with a stunned silence that my car was not only the fastest in the queue, but by a big, big margin. That goes for Volvos, Mercs, BMWs... all who are willing to race the 200SX will be shown up for what they are - tottering, overweight family sheds, good for nothing, but depreciating.
The 200SX provides so much performance for so little money, it raises the question of why people pay so much more to get so much less. Is a Civic Type R really worth £8,000 more?
And now... the bad points.
Petrol cost was what eventually caused me to part company with it. A modest 100 mile round trip would drink £20 worth of fuel, unless I drove the car like an old woman. I remember having to complete a 300 mile trip at no more than 60mph to save fuel costs. The point I'm trying to make is: There is no point buying this car unless you can put up with its fuel-snorting character. I thought I could, but it turned out I couldn't.
Insurance was predictably steep, but now I have a year's no claims bonus, it's starting to look tempting again. For the record: it was £1,000 FT&TP for me, a 22 year old male with no NCB. With a year's NCB it will be £650.
So, fuel and insurance out the way, the other things are just quirks. The view out the back is restrictive, and makes the thing difficult to park. Changing gear very quickly (ie. in a drag race) is difficult because of the precise gearbox action. You'll accidentally select fourth instead of second a lot.
I found the clutch to be rather strange. The pedal has about half the amount of travel I would have liked. I suppose this was done to make quick shifting easier, but as mentioned above, the tight gearbox action kind of nulls this advantage.
I should also take this opportunity to mention that the 200SX has just enough power to be dangerous. The performance isn't something you can forget about. One time I left a roundabout in icy conditions whilst racing a Toyota RAV4, gave it too much power, and ended up facing the other way.
After four months of owning the thing, of living the dream, reality eventually caught up with me and I realised that it was slowly bankrupting me. I was living in fear of something going seriously wrong with it and me not being able to repair it nor sell it on. So I quit while I was ahead and sold it in a day. Demand for them is clearly quite strong.
To summarise: I loved this car. But I couldn't afford it, and that was the unfortunate bottom line. In that respect, it is no different from wanting something like a Ferrari: you can either afford it or you can't, and there's no point trying to toe the line.
One day in the depressingly near future, rising petrol costs will have killed off this car for good. Nobody who can only spend £1500 on a car can afford a £100 tank of petrol. I would dearly love to buy another 200SX, but time is running out, and that goes for the wider automative world too.