Nissan Tsuru Review - Of The Month

There's a time warp just south of San Diego where Nissan geeks can step back to the glory days of 1991. That was the year the B13 Sentra debuted, a three-box sedan that reminded many of the Datsun 510. While the B13 gained a small following in the United States, it lit a fire in Mexico. Dubbed the Tsuru there, the simple, robust B13 was snatched up by taxi companies, police, and every Tom, Dick and Jose. It was so popular that when the frumpy B14 debuted in 1995, they kept making the damn thing. And the current B15? Fawgedaboutit. 2003 marked the seventh consecutive year the B13 Tsuru was the best-selling car in Mexico.

With one of our all-time favorite shitboxes still going strong just two hours from our office, we couldn't resist taking one for a thrash down memory lane.

Like the Tsuru, the 510 was a Mexican hit in its day. Also like the Tsuru, Nissan built them in Mexico, and kept making them long after the rest of the world was getting groovy with the frumpy 610. But the Mexican 510, which was called the Datsun 1500, wasn't the 510 we love-it was stripped of all its goodness. The 1.6-liter SOHC L16 engine that powered U.S. cars was replaced with a cast-iron 1.5-liter pushrod A15 engine better suited to a forklift. The two-door was never produced, and the four-door used the leaf-sprung solid rear axle of the wagon instead of the sophisticated (for 1970) semi-trailing arms of the U.S. 510.

At first glance, the Tsuru follows the same formula. It's a four-door with the same 1.6-liter DOHC GA16DE that powered the base B14 nine years ago. It rides on 13-inch steel wheels, has rear drum brakes and no rear anti-roll bar. Inside, there's no tilt wheel, no floormats, crank windows, no side impact beams, no airbags, no passive restraints, seemingly no sound deadening and every place there could be a switch on the dash, there's a block-off plate instead. But there is A/C, a CD player, power steering, a tach and a five-speed-things the base U.S. Sentra didn't even have in '91.

In other words, this third-world stripper is the kind of lightweight model Porsche charges extra for. Our test car tipped the scales at 2,140 pounds, dripping wet. That's 250 pounds less than a Miata. And $8,000 gets you the whole car.

We didn't dyno test the Tsuru, but the calibrated butt says about 83 hp to the wheels. It isn't fast, but the handling is shocking. Mexico is paved like the moon, so the Tsuru is suspended like a rally car. It's stiff but supple all at once, eats up potholes the size of buses, and despite having no rear bar, it's a left-foot braking machine. Touch those drum brakes midcorner and the tail steps out into a slide that would have any American product liability lawyer crying for his mama. Like the SE-Rs of old, it's nimble, tail happy and easy to place anywhere on the road.

It truly is an entertaining drive. Downhill, at least. - Dave Coleman

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