Can You Turn a 2022 Nissan Sentra Into a Real SE-R?

2022 Nissan Sentra SE-R clone article highlights:

  • The Nissan Sentra SE-R, especially the B13 version, was a genuinely sporty compact sports sedan
  • There’s no true modern SE-R successor; the Sentra SR is the closest thing
  • You can mimic some SE-R features with aftermarket modifications, but getting the genuine article is arguably a better decision

The 2023 Z has understandably caught the attention of Nissan fans who long for affordable performance. However, whether you’re talking about the latest Z, 370Z, or the Z32 300ZX, it was never the Japanese automaker’s only sporty car. And no, I’m not just talking about the GT-R. Once upon a time, there was a true performance-grade Nissan Sentra, the SE-R. But while it’s not around anymore, can you recreate it with the 2022 Sentra?

The Nissan Sentra SE-R was a true compact sports car, especially the original one

The 1990s were a great time to be a driving enthusiast even if you were on a budget. Acura had the OG Integra, for example, and Mazda had just launched the NA Miata. And in 1991, Nissan introduced the B13-gen Sentra SE-R.

Today, the 1991-1994 Sentra SE-R’s 140 hp might seem ho-hum. But it comes from a JDM jewel, the 2.0-liter SR20DE four-cylinder, which redlines at 7500 rpm. In addition, the original SE-R boasts a five-speed manual, standard limited-slip differential, four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, and sub-2500-lb curb weight. As a result, it’s a blast to drive, even today, Road & Track says. It’s so fun that reviewers compared it to the iconic BMW 2002. That’s high praise, especially since the 2002 is RWD while the SE-R has FWD.

Unfortunately, the follow-up Nissan Sentra SE-R models never quite captured the magic of the original. That’s partially because Nissan swapped the IRS out for a cheaper torsion bar setup. However, they were still decently sporty, especially the later Spec V versions.

The 2002-2003 B15 Sentra SE-R Spec V, for example, has a standard LSD, too. But it’s hitched to a 175-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual. Also, the B15 has a standard front strut-tower brace and sportier suspension than even the ‘regular’ SE-R. And the 2004-2006 models offered optional Brembo brakes as well as Nismo parts.

As for the 2007-2012 Sentra SE-R, while it had slightly more power, it also had…a continuously-variable automatic transmission. The Spec V was slightly better, with bigger brakes, sportier suspension, 200 hp, and a six-speed manual, but the LSD was now optional. And while these trims made the B17 a bit more exciting to drive, the sporty compact magic was gone, Car and Driver reports.

It’s not a SE-R or Turbo, but the 2022 Nissan Sentra SR is better than the previous-gen model

An orange 2022 Nissan Sentra SR in a gray studio
2022 Nissan Sentra SR | Nissan

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2022 Nissan Sentra SR
Engine2.0-liter four-cylinder
Horsepower149 hp
Torque146 lb-ft
TransmissionContinuously-variable automatic (CVT)
Curb weight3084 lbs
0-60 mph time9.2 seconds (Car and Driver)

So far, Nissan hasn’t sold another Sentra SE-R in the U.S. But it did swap the outgoing model’s torsion-beam rear suspension for an independent setup back in 2020. It also improved the sedan’s interior at the same time. As a result, the 2022 Sentra is no longer a compact car also-ran, but a solid contender. However, is there a real performance model?

Well, not really. Although the 2022 Sentra has decent handling, solid brakes, and accurate—if numb—steering, rivals like the Civic and Mazda3 are sportier, Car and Driver says. On the plus side, the Sentra SR has sportier suspension, larger wheels with upgraded tires, as well as some interior upgrades. But it’s not a true SE-R successor; it’s also 1.8 seconds slower to 60 mph than the B13 model.

Admittedly, not every Nissan Sentra buyer wants performance, but rather style and practicality. And there are other compact sports cars on the market these days, such as the Hyundai Elantra N. But say you hanker for those SE-R glory days. Can you remake them in 2022?

Can you modify the SR into a SE-R clone?

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The good news is the 2022 Nissan Sentra already has fully-independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes. That makes recreating the OG SE-R formula slightly easier.

Let’s start with the easy stuff. Companies like Ceika and Megan Racing make strut-tower braces, big brake kits, and coilovers for the current-gen Sentra. Plus, you can get a bigger rear spoiler from Nissan itself or from an aftermarket shop. Not including labor, you’re looking at $2500-$3000 in parts so far.

From here on, though, things get rather complicated. For one, the 2022 Sentra doesn’t offer a manual, just a CVT. Secondly, as of this writing, no major tuner appears to offer bolt-on parts for the 2022 Sentra’s MR20DE engine. Furthermore, while LSDs and CVTs can play nice, there’s currently no bolt-on version for the B18 Sentra.

So, if you want more performance out of the 2022 Nissan Sentra, you’ll need custom parts and/or less weight. You could achieve the latter by removing some luxury items as well as installing racing seats. However, the latter rarely come with airbags and cost about $500 each—minimum. And if you’re that serious about performance, you might as well build a race car.

In short, no, you can’t really clone the SE-R with a 2022 Nissan Sentra. But on the bright side, B13 and B15 SE-Rs usually only cost $10,000-$15,000 these days. And the only major issue on early B13s is a curable 5th-gear pop-out, R&T notes. So, rather than spending money on cloning, getting the original might be the better way to go.

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