It’s hard to think of a drearier hatchback than a Nissan Sunny. With multiple generations and variants spanning the course of nearly six decades, not one stands out as being clever enough to warrant the sort of praise a VW Golf gets, nor are there any stinkers to lambast like we would do, say, a Hyundai Accent. Or an Austin Montego. Or a CityRover.
Obviously, Nissan never saw a reason to make the Sunny anything more than a cheap and practical motor car. Its sole purpose was to sell in vast numbers and provide people with many years of solidly mediocre motoring. That being said, even the most magnolia of machinery needs zhuzhing up a bit to draw the punters in. Why else would Volvo enter an 850R estate into the British Touring Car Championship? Or Ford ditch the dinkier Fiesta as the template of its WRC car for the chunkier Puma?
Nissan found itself in a similar situation in the early 1990s. After launching the N14 generation at the turn of the decade, it turned its attention to motorsport to inject a little desirability. The WRC’s Group A regulations were chosen for the job, where it’d go up against the equally joyless Mazda 323. However, with Group A regs essentially being a jazzed-up production class, the Sunny would be eaten alive if Nissan didn’t make drastic changes. And so it released the car you see here, the GTI-R; comfortably the coolest Nissan Sunny that has ever existed.
Sold under the Pulsar name its home country, the Sunny GTI-R nailed the homologation special brief with wonderfully ridiculous styling and nearly double the horsepower of the next car down in the line-up. Under the massive vented bonnet bulge sits Nissan’s SR20DET 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder motor, which also appears in several Silvia variants. It develops 220hp in the Sunny GTI-R, or 10hp down on the Pulsar version due to different fuel and ignition maps in the ECU to compensate for the lower octane fuel available in Europe at the time. Nevertheless, the Sunny GTI-R was still capable of hitting 62mph in 5.5 seconds flat, or 0.2 seconds faster than a Ford Escort RS Cosworth. That’s blistering pace for any car, let alone a Sunny.
Of course, it helped that power was sent to the road via both axles, you know, for rally purposes. Unfortunately, all the hard work Nissan put in to transform the Sunny into a rally weapon proved to be in vain. It was no match for the Lancia Deltas, Cossies and Subaru Legacies of the era, racking up a sole podium finish with third place at the 1992 running of Rally Sweden.
So the GTI-R won’t be mentioned in the same breath as the Impreza or Evo any time soon, but its brash looks and genuine performance make it something of a hidden gem in the homologation sphere. If there’s ever been a GTI-R itch you’ve been wanting to scratch, this is the car to do it. It’s a right hooker - one of only 103 for Europe, according to the ad – and it’s only covered just 22,500 miles since leaving the factory in 1993. And with rally special editions such as the 22B and Tommi Makinen Edition commanding stratospheric money at the moment, the £21,995 asking price for this GTI-R seems a tad more bearable.
SPECIFICATION | NISSAN SUNNY GTI-R
Engine: 1,998cc four-cylinder, turbocharged
Transmission: 5-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 230@6,400rpm
Torque (lb ft): 197@2,600rpm
Year registered: 1993
Recorded mileage: 22,500
Price new: £20,552
Yours for: £21,995
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