Despite being based on a relatively ordinary, humble still, family car, the 1991 Nissan Sunny GTI-R was a very serious car, the road-going version of an ever seriouser race car, just like the Ford Escort Cosworth and the Lancia Delta Integrale were. It was incredibly popular in Japan, but somehow failed to satisfy the expectations of customers in Europe, for one simple reason: looks and interior trim were deemed to be … lacking. It was a little boxy, and it was felt that the large hood scoop was, well, ridiculous, never mind that it was actually functional. The interior trim, for its part, was exactly what you would have expected from a low-end Japanese car of the era, basic and plasticky, except for a very nice steering wheel and bucket seats.
Where the action really happened, however, was under the hood, where a 16-valve, turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine lurked. It developed a massive 220 horsepower, giving this little car all the kick it needed to make itself the king of the track, and of red-light racing. It could reach a top speed of 134 miles per hour, and accelerated to 60 in about 6 seconds.
The Sunny GTI-R really was a superior automobile. Its five-speed manual gearbox was smooth and fast, its steering razor sharp, and its acceleration, breath-taking. What held the 1991 Nissan Sunny GTI-R from having the success it deserved was its styling, and the ordinary chassis on which it was built.