Nissan is facing a tough drive with the Sentra. There was a time when the little sedan was mentioned among the best compact cars in the U.S. Although the car is handsome and drives well, it is quickly being left in the past by newer competitors.
Still, there’s a lot to like.
Much of the Sentra’s style was inspired by the previous-generation Maxima sedan and Murano crossover, which means it is handsome but a full generation off the standard.
A cab-forward profile with big-block headlamps and taillamps convey strength and the body is cleanly-formed. I would prefer alloys, but the 16” hubcapped steel wheels on our test car looked good enough.
There’s more Maxima inside, like the center control pod with pop-open storage compartment, leather-wrapped steering wheel, large analog gauges, and mouse fur on the doors. More like a crossover, the mechanical-feeling gear selector is conveniently located at the bottom of the control stack.
Scooting around town, or hauling tall tail on the Interstate, the car had enough power.
Auto up/down windows, keyless entry and starting, Bluetooth, and USB connection for iPods feels a step up from basic. An adjustable cupholder will grip almost anything. The big arching roofline contains space that feels more mid-size than compact, providing rear passengers with plenty of legroom.
The base engine is a 2.0-L four-cylinder that generates 140 hp, routed to the front wheels through a continuously-variable transmission (CVT). CVTs are great because they essentially have an infinite number of gear ratios for optimum performance and efficiency. They also sound like weed eaters when you tromp the throttle as they rev up and down.
Scooting around town or hauling tall tail on the Interstate, the car had enough power. For those who need more, they can choose the Sentra SE-R with its 177 hp 2.5-L engine. Fuel economy for our 2.0-equipped test car is rated 27/34-MPG city/hwy. Nissan needs to find a way to get highway fuel economy over 40-MPG to match the best of class.
5-passenger FWD sedan
Powertrain: 140 hp 2.0-liter I4, CVT auto trans
Suspension f/r: Ind./Torsion beam
Wheels: 16”/16” f/r
Brakes: Disc/Drum fr/rr with ABS
Must-have feature: space, price
Manufacturing: Aguascalientes, Mexico
Fuel economy (city/hwy.): 27/34-MPG
As-tested price: $18,840
There’s nothing exotic under the skin, but the car feels as mature as any car in its class.
An independent front, torsion beam rear suspension system absorbs bumps with nary a shudder and the car handles well. Front disc rear drum brakes equipped with anti-lock and electronic brake force distribution keep everything under control. Electronic stability control stands by should things get beyond control.
“Sentra once again meets and exceeds all the expectations buyers in the compact sedan segment have—good fuel economy, durability, safety, reliability and affordability,” said Al Castignetti, vice president and general manager of Nissan’s North America division.
“Sentra, however, goes far beyond that with a completely unexpected level of style, roominess, responsiveness, and versatility—attributes that set Sentra apart in the segment.”
No matter how Nissan polishes this pumpkin, the Sentra needs a new generation to fully compete against the hot-selling Chevy Cruze, SYNC-equipped Ford Focus, and just-re-designed Honda Civic. Then there’s the Hyundai Elantra, VW Jetta, Kia Forte, and upcoming Dodge Dart. You get the point.
Given all of that, the Sentra is still a solid car with pleasing style that will comfortably get you to and fro without complaint. I also imagine there’s a good deal to be had. Prices start at $16,060, but our test car came to $18,840.
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