Sitting at 100kph in the middle right lane I glance in the rear mirror and notice a car rapidly gaining on me. I indicate left and move into the lane. It fly’s past. Phew, it’s just a new Ford. Suddenly, I notice a Commodore swerve across three lanes of traffic and sit right behind me. My heart starts pulsing. Here we go, three, two, one… Nothing happens. The Commodore again swerves out and now overtakes the Ford. Its taillights fade into the distance and I breathe a sigh of relief. I think I’ll move to the far left hand lane and sit at 95kph…
Driving the 180SX on a daily basis is akin to driving on egg shells. Everything is tense. Your eyes are always scanning the traffic ahead and constantly darting to your rear view mirror. The car, like many 90’s Japanese cars scream ‘HOON’ to most people and especially the boys in blue. The stigma associated with these cars make it exceptionally hard to enjoy them for daily driving. Dare I say it; it’s almost a chore at times. A mere trip down to the shops raises mental objections.
The general consensus of the Police and public is “If your car is legal then you have nothing to worry about”. Most don’t understand the irony of this statement. My car is lightly modified. It has upgraded suspension, bigger brakes, very good tyres and an upgraded intercooler and exhaust which is under the legal decibel limit. That’s it. It’s completely legal. The issue is the Police and public don’t know that at first, they assume it’s not. When pulled over the interrogation begins and you are left trying to explain that everything is legal while you point to this and that in the engine bay. Meanwhile, a 1980’s bucket rolls past that has a hole in the exhaust, bald tyres, squeaky suspension and full of rust.
Moving on from its road presence, the 180SX with its nostalgic Japanese shape, clean lines and pop up headlights looks sharp and elegant. The engine, an SR20DET are renowned for their reliability and tune ability. Subsequently it has a massive cult following and an extensive support network of enthusiasts.
Getting into the car, the interior exudes minimalist simplicity, with only climate-control and a stereo emphasizing the driver focus.
Driving the car demonstrates relatively good fuel economy for a 90’s Japanese turbo sports car. A 60L tank of 98 lasts around 450-500km.
There are few rattles and squeaks the car happily potters around off boost and keeps up with traffic shifting at 2,500rpm. From around 3500prm full boost is achieved (11psi in this case) and holds all the way until redline. This car in particular with mild modifications runs 0-100kph in around 5.5 seconds.
Surprisingly at wide open throttle the car is not necessarily exciting. It’s relatively enjoyable and the speed climbs quickly enough but the sound of the car seems somewhat lack lustre, thus being its biggest let down. From an external perspective, an SR20DET with any aftermarket exhaust will find you looking for a truck instead of a sports car and in the cabin the sound at redline has an awkwardly mild underwhelming note.
The steering is light, requires minimal effort and still maintains an amazing amount of driver feedback. In the hills, it attacks the corners with surprising poise and precision. Turn in is direct, the rear follows suit and sits planted, to a point…
The car lacks mechanical grip in the rear, which is one of the reasons they are one of the most widely used cars for drift. Too much throttle mid corner and the back end will step out. It’s not snappy and harsh but more progressive and predictable, bringing a slight grin to your face while quickly upping the tempo of your heartbeat. If you want to slide, a drive to a quiet area with no residential houses can produce a night of bliss, but I have obviously never done this.
So they’re not that fast unless extensively modified, dated, have almost no creature comforts yet are fun and relatively reliable for a Japanese sports car.
If I had a dedicated daily driver and the 180SX sat in the garage waiting patiently for the weekend it would be almost perfect. Coincidentally I already have another car that does exactly that, which leaves me feeling a little silly and counterproductive.
So if you’re after a daily, there’s a large chance you won’t enjoy it. Second car it instead.