Nissan built a rival to the Acura Integra back in the 1990s, but nobody seems to remember it. Part of that, I’m sure, is because the car was never sold in the United States. Another part, I’m also sure, is because the car had absolutely no styling.

Look at the Nissan Presea. It’s not an ugly car. I’d call it handsome, both in its proportions and its general look. The car was a four-door quasi-hardtop, meaning that it was designed to look like it was a hardtop, but it wasn’t exactly.

If you’re not exactly familiar with the term “hardtop,” don’t feel bad. The design style is almost completely extinct by now. It was big in the 1950s, and it just meant that the sedan had no b-pillar. Put all the windows down and it was like being in a convertible with the top up.

Advertisement

Advertisement

It might not have been the most structurally sound construction, but it was a good look, one that had a resurgence in the Japanese carmaking world in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It was a way to make a luxurious car that was still on a small platform, a good way to make healthy profit margins without busting up Japan’s tough vehicle size-based tax scale, as Curbside Classics noted in a discussion of this trend.

The car that we know from this little movement best was the Acura Integra, a kind of fancy quasi-hardtop version of the Civic. It had a bit of style, and thanks to Honda’s existing good engines and good chassis, the car absolutely dominated America’s idea of a tuner/import car.

Advertisement

The Nissan Presea followed the same formula. It was a fancy quasi-hardtop version of the Nissan Sentra. That meant it had the same chassis and the same engines. Yes, this included the tuner’s beloved SR20, a dual overhead cam 2.0 liter four cylinder that people run up into the four-digit horsepower range.

But does anybody make a thousand-horsepower Presea? No they do not.

Advertisement

The Presea sits forgotten, a car never sold here that’s too dull for anyone to go out and import. There’s a bit of a fascination for these things in Southeast Asia (check out this second-gen Presea Facebook fan group here), but not really anywhere else.

There’s got to be a parallel universe where Nissan’s compact cars were just a little bit more fun to drive, more tuner-friendly, where Sentra SE-Rs stood above Civic Type-Rs, where Preseas litter the streetcorners of wrong-side-of-the-tracks neighborhoods across America instead of Integras. There’s no good reason for this not to be the case.

But for some slight differences, we never saw the Presea, and the rest of the world largely shrugged as well. I’ll think about it often when I wonder about how good a car needs to be to succeed in the market, and how little stands between greatness and anonymity.