Junkyard Find: 1987 Nissan Sentra XE 2-Door Sedan

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

Nissan did very well selling the rear-wheel-drive Sunny in North America, as the Datsun 1200, Datsun B210, and Datsun 210. When the Sunny went to a new front-wheel-drive platform in 1981, the North American version began showing up here as the Nissan Sentra (United States and Canada) and the Tsuru (Mexico) during the following year. 1980s Sentras have become very rare in the car graveyards I frequent, so I have documented this '87 in Denver.

The Sentra got a bit larger and sleeker-looking for its second generation, which made its debut here for the 1987 model year.

The underhood emissions tag tells us that this car was originally sold for (sub-4,000-foot-elevation) use in California.

The engine is a carbureted 1.6-liter SOHC four, rated at 70 horsepower and 92 pound-feet. The US-market Sentra went to throttle-body fuel injection for the 1988 model year.

A five-speed manual transmission was base equipment, making this 2,304-pound car not as miserable to drive as the power numbers might suggest.

This one is the third-from-the-cheapest trim level, the XE.

The 1987 Sentra XE 2-door sedan had an MSRP of $8,699, or about $23,218 in 2023 dollars. The absolute cheapest base Sentra that year cost a mere $6,299 ($16,812 today).

With the XE, you got plenty of nice stuff, including tinted glass, power steering, swaybars, dual outside mirrors, intermittent wipers, tilt steering wheel, AM/FM stereo radio, 175R13 radials with wheel covers, and so on. With the El Cheapo base Sentra that year, you were lucky that Nissan paid for the air in the tires.

If you wanted a factory tachometer, too bad! At least this car has a real temperature gauge.

I don't see many junkyard Nissans with better than 300,000 miles showing on their odometers ( this 341k-mile 1987 Maxima and 309k-mile 1986 200SX are among the few; I've found a 1989 Pathfinder showing more than 400,000 miles, but the odometer looked damaged and I don't trust it).

Next stop: The Crusher.

Until now, basic transportation was boring. Longer and wider for a big-car ride!

6.7 percent financing!

If quality and dependability is how you judge a car, the only choice you have to make is which Nissan Sentra you want.

In hindsight, the 1987 Sentra really was a better deal than the 1987 Hyundai Excel.

Just the car for Hong Kong.

The Mexican version was pitched as a good car for sliding around a wet parking lot.

It its homeland, this car kept the Sunny name.

The Beatles helped sell this generation of Sunny.

[Images: The author. Videos: Nissan]

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Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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2 of 21 comments
  • John John on Feb 13, 2023

    I owned one of these new very similar to this one. It was a 1989 or 1990 model. I drove it about three years and was happy to see it go. I put about 80,000 miles on it and the next owner (a friend) got it to over 200k. It was durable and cheap but not very pleasant. I remember trying to climb grades with that 5 speed downshifted to third and hoping I could make it!

  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Feb 13, 2023

    Ran across this diagram over the weekend (while looking into an intermittent P2181 "Cooling System Performance" code) and this seems like a reasonable place to share it with you:

    • 6 different head gasket failure types (with some other good info), and

    • a version with 8 kinds

  • FreedMike Cute car. If it's priced right it could be a winner.
  • Theflyersfan By the end of the summer, it will be buy one, get one free with a free charger at home install.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Mach-E is very easy to ignore.
  • Bd2 This is a marketplace segment leader beating toyota to the punch yet again for projected market domination by 2026. It's perfectly optimized with reasonable acceleration, size and weight and is guaranteed to hit the 375 mile charge target and probably exceed it because Kia has been known for exceeding goals regularly these last few years. The Theft issue will be forgotten soon enough, affluent buyers are flocking to kia dealerships from the Hamptons to Vancouver.
  • Dwford 169". Same size as the Bolt EUV. The void got filled pretty quickly. Hopefully the next Chevy Bolt comes next year as promised.