Unique JDM

Japanese Classic: Nissan Sunny RZ1 Nismo| Forgotten Heroes   

Nissan Sunny is a familiar name, known as a commuter-friendly little sedan. But little do people know that the B12 version produced between 1986-1990 came with an RZ1 Nismo variant. But for some bizarre reason, the RZ1 Nismo seems to have gotten completely forgotten. And it was not because it was a bad car, the Nismo variant provided some really cool upgrades to the car making it a blast to drive.


The looks of the Sunny RZ1 Nismo are in our opinion one of Nissan’s best designs. Sure, it shares a lot of its looks with the likes of Subaru and Toyota (AE86), but the product of the two makes for an amazing-looking coupe.

There is no mistaking, this was an 80s car. The sharp edges of the exterior, the protruding front bumper with the fog lights, as well as the graphics design by the side of the car makes for a success story. And still, even with this, the car still looked sleeker than ever.

I’m going to go ahead and say that the Nissan Sunny RZ1 Nismo has both the R31 Skyline and the Toyota AE86 beaten when it comes to the design. Good job Nismo.

Nismo Upgrades

The Nismo badge was not put up just for show, there were also upgrades along with it. For starters, all the Nismo versions only came with one color option – Nismo Black. Along with it came various Nismo stripings, a white-colored speedometer, as well as a unique Nismo, badged leather steering wheel. Exterior designs such as white wheels and a boot spoiler also came with the Nismo package. Compared to the standard Sunny model, the RZ1 Nismo also came with a more Nismo suspension, improving the handling tenfold.

Surprisingly enough, the RZ1 Nismo did not come with the praised 1.5L (E15ET) turbo engine from the previous generation. Instead, Nismo provided an improved 1.6L I4 DOHC (CA16DE) producing about 120ps which was on par with the Toyotas 4A-GEU engine. But the RZ1 Nismo was no slug. This was the 80s, and producing 120bhps from a naturally aspirated 1.6L engine, in a chassis weighing in at about 1,000kg was a feat in itself, and should be praised.

Specification Summary

Overall Length
4,230 mm
Overall Width
1,665 mm
Overall Height
1,335 mm
2,430 mm
Tread (Front/rear)
1,425/1,425 mm
Curb Weight
1,050 kg
185/60 R14
Engine Type
1,598 cc
Max. Power
88 kW (120PS)/6,400 RPM
Max. Torque
137 Nm (14.0kgm)/5,200 RPM

Why did we forget about it?

Clearly, the B12 RZ1 Nismo was not a bad car in any way. But it had some tough competition. Unlike previous generations of the Sunny, the B12 came with FWD, at a time period when drifting started to arise in the Japanese Domestic Markets, the B12 was not considered particularly “hot” in the market. People were looking for RWD sedans and coupes, cars like the Nissan R31 Skyline as well as the legendary Toyota AE86 were at the center of attention.

Also, to be taken into consideration is the time period. Looking back, I think there is no denying the RZ1 Nismo was a beautiful car. But it is clear that as the production headed into the 90s, there was a designer shift made. The demand for boxy cars with sharped edges slowly faded, and so did the demand for the RZ1 Nismo as a new era of car design arrived – clearly, the chassis was outdated. People do not want to pay new-car money for a vehicle that looks to be 5-years old.


The Nissan Sunny RZ1 Nismo was an incredible little car. Its 1.6L I4 produces about 120bhp and thanks to its Nismo upgraded suspension, the RZ1 Nismo clearly knows how to take a corner well. The RZ1 Nismo embraced what 80s car design was about, Boxy shapes, sharp edges, and graphic design. Unfortunately, the Sunny RZ1 Nismo seems to have entered the market a little too late. As we headed into the 90s, a new era of car design came to be, and the RZ1 Nismo with its 80s design quickly became forgotten.

E. Lindgren

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