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Stagea Shock and Awe

The handling of the Nissan Stagea RS Four leaves us speechless - well, almost!

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

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At a glance...

  • Nissan Stagea RS Four revisited
  • Handling leaves us dumbfounded
  • Smooth turbo engine with plenty of torque
  • Wagon levels of accommodation
  • Massive tuning potential
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In a sea of rear-wheel-drive GTS Nissan Skylines, all-wheel-drive Skyline GT-Rs and ‘drift special’ S13s/14s/15s, the Nissan Stagea RS Four stands out like a sore thumb. Not because of what’s under the bonnet – that’s the same as you’ll find in a contemporary Skyline GTS – but because the body is practical and flexible. You don’t have to put up with the abysmal interior space and cargo area of its stablemates!

We’ve detailed the Japanese import Stagea RS Four in a previous article (see Not-so-Silly Stagea ) but we can’t help but re-emphasis the capabilities and potential of this slightly bizarre looking wagon. The trigger for further coverage of the Stagea RS Four was a recent test drive where, in short, we were left dumbfounded by its handling and poise.

So what is it that makes the Stagea RS Four such an awesome cornering machine?

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Well, an effective combination of sophisticated suspension and an electronic controlled all-wheel-drive system. Based on a R33 Skyline chassis, the Stagea employs a double wishbone front suspension (similar to a GT-R) combined with a multi-link independent rear. The rear track is considerably wider than a R33 Skyline, there’s a swag of aluminium suspension components, and the chosen spring/damper rates provide a good balance of control and compliance – there’s plenty of travel to soak up bumps. The all-wheel-drive system is a similar system to what you’ll find in a R33 GT-R – a computer processes inputs from an array of sensors and delivers the suitable front-to-rear torque split for the conditions. The calibration of this type of system is all-important; the Stagea has the secure feeling of a constant AWD rather than a let-it-slide-and-then-catch-it type approach.

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The upshot of the RS Four’s sophisticated suspension and driveline combination is a near-unbelievable level of road holding and poise. We attacked a familiar corner and were blown away by its composure and speed – it’s almost surreal in the way the RS Four sticks to the bitumen around impossibly tight corners. And all of this is achieved on pedestrian tyres on 15 inch wheels!

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And, as any Skyline GTS owner will tell you, Nissan knows how to make an oh-so-smooth and torquey turbo engine. The Stagea’s 2.5-litre DOHC straight six (RB25DET) features variable inlet cam timing, a single ceramic turbocharger and an air-to-air intercooler to deliver 173kW and 275Nm of torque. It’s essentially the same engine as found in the R33 Skyline GTS. Driving through a four-speed auto trans and lugging around 1650kg, the Stagea isn’t a rocketship off the line (not without stalling it up, at least) but it comes alive at around 3500 rpm and doesn’t stop until around 6000 rpm. Expect 0 – 100 km/h performance in around 7 seconds. Power and Overdrive lock-out buttons on the gear selector can be fiddled to achieve maximum performance in every situation.

The Stagea’s power-assisted steering has less on-centre directness than a sporty Skyline but it’s far from vague and sloppy. It’s the right set-up for a performance wagon. The brakes of our test car also felt responsive using standard ABS-controlled ventilated discs.

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The Stagea driver is confronted by a typical mid ‘90s Nissan dashboard incorporating basic and clear instrumentation, fairly drab interior colours, twin airbags, digital climate control and a leather wheel and selector knob. Leather trim and twin sunroofs are available in some models. There’s good headroom and plenty of space to stretch your legs – but rear passenger space is modest.

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As seen here, there isn’t a lot of rear knee or foot space but there’s plenty of cargo-packing space further astern. A split folding rear backrest adds to the flexibility – try throwing a mountain bike in the back of your Skyline...

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The exterior is pretty conventional in terms of its proportions but the styling is sure to catch your eye. Our test car was fitted with a roof spoiler, front bumper lip, roof rails, ‘privacy tint’ on the rear windows and lacy 15 inch alloys. The squareness of the front-end is particularly noticeable from the driver’s seat – in a modern car it’s unusual not to have the bonnet dip out of sight.

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In standard form, the Stagea is an unquestionably quick wagon but its supremely capable chassis and strong engine are begging for some power-up mods. A high-flow exhaust and air intake, upgrade intercooler and a bit of extra boost would give a huge lift in throttle response, all-round torque and probably about 30 percent more top-end power. With this level of grunt you should be nosing ahead of a contemporary Skyline GTS and scaring GT-Rs

There’s no need to make major changes to improve handling but we imagine the brakes would be pretty marginal given a boost in engine output. With its standard brakes hiding behind 15 inch wheels, it’s likely you’ll need to upsize the rims in order to fit Skyline GT-R spec anchors. It appears this should be a straightforward conversion.

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The test vehicle seen here – kindly provided by JDM Auto in Sydney – is a 1997 Stagea RS Four equipped with no modifications. With less than 80,000km on the odometer the price on this car is AUD$22,990 but Arthur from JDM Auto says he typically sells a higher kilometre examples from just AUD$16,990. A bargain! The C34-series Stagea was introduced to the Japanese market late ’96 and a Series 2 update in ’98 brought a NEO-spec engine producing greater power and torque, a sequential-shift auto and the availability of a manual ‘box. Other changes include Xenon headlights and the turbo AWD RS Four is renamed as the 25t RS Four S. These late-models fetch considerably more than the Series 1 Stagea.

Contact:

JDM Auto
0419 285 345

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