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2000 Nissan Silvia Spec-R Turbo Sports Coupe - Live From Japan

Nissan's New Muscle Car Edges Out The GT-R in Looks, and Offers Faster Breakaways

Boyd Harnell
Sep 1, 2000
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When Nissan quietly ushered in its new sleeper, the turbocharged Silvia Sports Coupe Spec-R, word quickly spread that this new road scorcher was a force to be reckoned with. Could the Spec-R be a potent challenger to its progenitor Skyline GT-R V-Spec, the "Big Daddy" and high lord king of all it surveys among Japan's ubiquitous array of turbo wonders?

The four-cylinder, rear-drive hotshot boasts an entirely new model change that evokes elegance and raw power artfully combined into one of the most attractively designed cars that has ever borne the Nissan logo. The coupe's low slanted nose is set off with an S-shaped emblem designed with a blade motif to emphasize the sharp frontal image that's rounded off by narrow, elliptical headlight housings. Twin air intakes below the hood add a refined aggressiveness to the coupe's look that's emphasized by the bold sweep of its rear fenders and forward rake of the rear pillars. And tasteful character lines flowing along the Silvia's side panels boldly emphasize the car's overall wedge-shaped image. The Spec-R's interior image is formidably matched by a 250 bhp turbocharged mill that outjumps the GT-R V-Spec and is endowed with superior low-end torque and considerably less turbo lag than its six-cylinder flagship icon.

Although a bit sparse, the driver's compartment is nonetheless efficiently and attractively arranged to provide easy access to all controls. Visibility is excellent and instrumentation is sensibly decked out with three-large analog gauges that provide all necessary engine functions. Hitting the scales at 2928 pounds, some 460 pounds less than the GT-R, the lightweight road rocket boasts the same Super Hicas four-wheel steering system as the GT-R V-Spec.

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The 4WS setup encompasses yaw rate feedback control to provide steering response faithful to the driver's expectations and enhances stability to achieve the highest level of road performance under all conditions. This leading edge technology is similar to that used by the latest jet fighters and incorporates a model-following control procedure among other applications. Actual data coming into the system based on independent wheel speeds and steering wheel input is compared with preprogrammed target values and discrepancies are corrected via the precise degree of rear-wheel steering. This procedure provides more accurate, fine-tuned control for enhanced tracking performance and improved convergence against external disturbances.

Although the Silvia sport coupe lacks some of the sophisticated electronics found on Nissan's GT-R twin-turbo icon, its unique torque-sensitive helical limited-slip differential (LSD), working in concert with the Super HICAS 4WS system, provides the coupe with an incredible handling capability and cornering prowess exceeded only by the GT-R. And it rates as one of the most important features of the Spec-R. Working in combination with a tuned suspension setting designed to further improve front-wheel grip, the Spec-R's helical type LSD enhances traction and reduces understeer in high-cornering situations, all in real time, while upgrading the performance of active yaw control. Compared to viscous coupling-type limited-slip differentials, helical LSD's offer a more responsive, proactive torque transfer that provides exceptional traction during hard cornering. And you can feel this improved traction at work not only when exiting tight corners, but also on slippery or uneven (undulated) road surfaces. The helical LSD also offers better pedal response and a more extreme level of maneuverability over other types of mechanical LSDs.

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Exhilarating takeoffs are the hallmark of this impressive coupe's stellar performance that, paradoxically, is not matched by the twin turbo V-Spec, which is no worldbeater on launch. The Spec-R coupe's SR20DET two-liter, in-line four-cylinder engine with an intercooled turbocharger is mated to a new six-speed manual transmission with gear ratios configured to provide hefty torque in the lower end of the gear chain with impressive turbo boost coming on at a lower tach readout than that of the venerable V-Spec.

Nissan engineers carried the Spec-R's power upgrades even down to the new exhaust system via an increase in the diameter of the internal structure to provide reduced back pressure for increased power output. The Silvia sport coupe's spirited handling and tenacious road grip over some of the winding, narrow back roads that ramble through the countryside of Hidaka, Saitama closely resembled the robust performance of Mitsubishi's rally-based Evolution VI. The tuned MacPherson front strut suspension and rear multi-link setup provides a long wheelstroke and low friction, high lateral rigidity to provide precise control as it works synergistically with the rear-mounted helical LSD and Super HICAS 4WS. Radically nimble vehicle dynamics were achieved by increasing stiffness at suspension attachment points and changing the suspension geometry to attain the highest degree of road compliance possible.

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Body stiffness was also improved over the previous model by strengthening the upper hood, reinforcing the rear pillars of the all steel body, and by adding a front and rear crossbar, rear floor stays, a trunk strut tower bar and a thicker plate for the floor panel. Rounding out the powertrain assemblage, Nissan engineers carefully aligned the clutch size and gear ratios of the 6-speed manual transmission to match the power and torque curves of the two-liter, twin-cam turbocharged powerplant. And shifting is euphoric-satiny smooth, and deadly precise. No concentration needed with this gearbox. Triple cone synchronizers are provided in the first through third gears for enhanced shifting and second to fourth gears adopts an asymmetric chamfered construction to create a delightfully impeded shift feel. Darting through a series of sharp, uncambered curves of the circuitous Naguri road that snakes its way along the Iruma river, the Spec-R hit the turns aggressively maneuvering itself effortlessly through a series of tight corners as intermitent turbo boosts rocketed the coupe into and out of the transitions accompanied by the liquid-smooth synchronicity of engine braking, 2nd-gear downshifts followed by 3rd-gear acceleration bursts. Even when revs dropped below 3000 rpm, the turbo maintained its heady compliance rocketing the Spec-R to its next encounter in an agile dance accompanied by the crisp but mellow growl of its tuned exhaust at times rising to a crescendo without a hint of raucousness. And during all this you can even glance at the boost gauge which is hanging off the right side pillar well within the driver's line-of-sight for easy readouts.

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Surprisingly, the coupe's superb suspension, although firm, precise and extremely responsive, conquered road defects easily and in comfort and failed to exhibit the bump harshness exhibited by the GT-R high performers of this genre. And the more comfortable the ride the less driver fatigue. Nissan engineers evidently went to outlandish degrees to make the Silvia Spec-R coupe not only a formidable competitor, but also one designed with ergonomics aimed at reducing driver wear and tear. One example of this was accomplished by changing the accelerator angle to facilitate the driver's switching motions between the pedals during aggressive driving tactics. At expressway speeds the Silvia comes on hard and displays its unbridled spirit annihilating most of the cars in its path-in a very civilized manner. Passing is done in a whisper; no noisy engine to alert the victim, just the slightly audible turbo whoosh and the Silvia's gone. Fourth and fifth gear pull explosively above the 4000 and 5000 rpm level respectively and keeps on accelerating strongly to the 7200 rpm redline. And hauling the Silvia down lightning fast is "no problema." The highly responsive ABS is comprised of opposed four-piston calipers with larger cylinders and brake booster, and an increase of 8mm in rotor thickness to 30mm on the Spec-R's front 11-inch vented discs. A number of important, lifesaving features have been built into the Spec-R including high strength chassis construction with crush zones, water-resistant power window switches in case you get dumped into a lake and a rollover fuel cutoff valve that's used on most race cars.

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Nissan has done an excellent job with the Silvia Spec-R sport coupe in creating one of its best high-performance vehicles by combining the most sophisticated electronics and mechanical components to achieve an incredible degree of driving enjoyment without sacrificing comfort. And all this for less than half the price of the GTR V-Spec! Some GT-R's will be imported stateside by mid-summer via MotoRex with the price for a new V-Spec slated to be around $90,000; but they're already lining up.

Conversely, the Silvia R-Spec's sticker price is 2.6 million yen or $23,634 fully loaded. If it does come to the states it will probably double in price to about $46,000-still an incredible bargain, with excellent fuel economy to boot.

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2000 Nissan Silvia Spec-R
Turbo Sports Coupe

Vehicle type Front-engine RWD coupe
Structure Steel unibody with
steel outer panels  
Market as tested Japan
MRSP $21,634
(US dollar/120 yen )  
Airbag std/driver and passenger

Type Longitudinal In-line 4,
  iron block and
  aluminum head
Displacement ({{{CC}}}) 1998
Compression ratio 8.5:1
Power (bhp) 250 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque (lbs.-ft.) 224 @ 4,800 rpm
Intake system SMPFI with single
  intercooled turbo
Valvetrain Two overhead cams,
  four valves/cylinder
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Type 6-speed manual
Ratios 1st: 3.{{{626}}}
  2nd: 2.20
  3rd: 1.541
  4th: 1.213
  5th: 1.000
  6th: 0.767
Final Drive 3.692
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Curb Weight (lbs.) 2928
Wheelbase (in.) 98.5
Length (in.) 173.4
Width (in.) 66.1
Suspension, front MacPherson strut,
  coil springs, antiroll bar
Suspension, rear Multilink with coil
  springs, antiroll bar
Steering Power-assisted
  Rack & Pinion
Brakes f/r: 11-inch vented disc;
  10-inch vented disk
Tires Bridgestone Potenza
  205/55R16 89V
ABS Std.
By Boyd Harnell
1 Articles



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