The 2002 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V assumes that the world is a racetrack, an oval or ribbon of perfectly smooth asphalt. It also assumes that it's okay to taunt other drivers into challenging you to a drag race on busy city streets, as if local police everywhere are willing to countenance that kind of public endangerment.If those assumptions were true, the Spec V would be an almost brilliant little car, a highly spirited runner that brings joy to the soul of anyone who wants to go fast. But the assumptions are no more real than "The Fast and the Furious," the Hollywood movie that supposedly portrays the latest generation of street racers, a reckless crew of physically attractive young people zooming through life in tiny, super-powered Japanese automobiles. I drove the Spec V in a real world filled with rutted and potholed streets that turned its very tight, "almost track-ready" suspension (to quote the car's manufacturer) into an instrument of torture. I drove the car in the District, Maryland, and Virginia, where D.C. Metropolitan Police and Maryland and Virginia state troopers messed with it simply because of what the Spec V's maker calls its "aggressive . . . don't-mess-with-me stance." The police apparently read car magazines. They didn't need radar to track the Spec V. They saw it and followed it, just waiting for me to mess up. It's true that the Spec V "positively screams ferocity," as a reviewer recently wrote in Road & Track magazine. But in my operating environment, the car ate lots of humble pie instead. When it wasn't tripping over the numerous faults in city streets and shaking me up in the process, it was forced to run at or below legal speed limits by various police escorts. A driver in what appeared to be a hot-rod Honda Civic didn't pick up on this. The silly dude spotted the Spec V and started doing his rev-rev-rev thing at an Arlington stoplight. He apparently was oblivious to the unmarked metallic-blue Ford Crown Victoria police car behind us. He should have paid attention to the blue and red lights at the base of the Crown Vic's windshield. Indeed, had he been a competent scofflaw, he would have known not to get stupid in the vicinity of any Crown Vic, or aging Chevrolet Caprice, or a new Chevrolet Impala, Ford Taurus or Mercury Sable. Police departments love those cars. But my goofy challenger sped off, apparently thinking that I was dumb enough to chase him. He got about two blocks before the Crown Vic pulled him over. Even the weather conspired to turn the Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V into nothing more than a puffed-up economy car. The mid-Atlantic region had been plagued by drought for months. But it rained twice during the week I had the Spec V -- just enough rain to lift road oils and turn local thoroughfares into greasy skid pads. The climatically compromised road s severely compromised the Spec V's handling. It is a front-wheel-drive sedan with a 175-horsepower four-cylinder engine. It has lots of torque steer, which means its front end tends to pull to one side or the other during hard acceleration. When you add torque steer to wide, low-aspect-ratio 17-inch tires on a wet, oily road, you get a very skittish front end. That's what I got in the Spec V. Other than those things and a few other demerits, the Spec V is a wonderful car, a step up from the regular, 165-horsepower Nissan Sentra SE-R, and it's a much wilder package than ordinary, economy Sentra models, which I love. You can buy this one if you are a bona fide, hopeless member of the Walter Mitty League. Why not? Mitty didn't live in the real world either.
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