I don’t believe that the name Sentra was actually derived from combining the first three letters in each of the words “sensible” and “transportation”, but given that the Sentra is Nissan’s most successful nameplate in the U.S. with over six million sold over eight generations and thirty-nine years, clearly plenty of buyers liked what they saw.
Now that the world has changed for everyone, as well as certain unfortunate corporate events changing things even more for Nissan specifically, this new Sentra is part of a strong product offensive that began a year or so ago and shows no signs of letting up.
So far in this review series, we’ve seen the new Versa, the new Altima, and our old friend the Frontier with a new powertrain that’s slated to be installed in a new body next year. Nissan has also made big changes to the Titan, a new Rogue is about to be released, and the little Kicks has piqued my curiosity since I first saw it. Not everything can be renewed at once, but so far everything has pretty much been a huge improvement relative to the generally fairly lackluster offerings (visually as well as dynamically) on tap previously. There certainly seems to be a new energy in place.
So on to the Sentra. First impressions are good, while sedans are perhaps a bit out of favor with the buying public, the new Sentra sort of doubles down on the look, being very reminiscent of big brother Altima and adding a large dose of visual sportiness to the mix by being a couple of inches lower and a couple of inches wider than the previous generation.
This particular model is the top of the line SR trim, sitting above the standard S and the slightly better equipped SV in the lineup. In Nissan’s sedan range, the Sentra plays sort of a middle child role, above the Versa but below the Altima (and elder statesman Maxima).
They’ve done well to keep lots of things similar with overlap between the main three players here, but with enough differences that one could conceivably consider moving up from a Versa in order to take advantage of a few things that are improvements for not much more outlay or also perhaps deciding that a Sentra makes more sense than an Altima in some cases, as depending on the priorities it may not be much if any sacrifice.
In essence the Sentra is perhaps a bit of a utility player, doing lots of things well but not necessarily standing out (or showing off to the detriment of the others) in any particular area either.
All Sentras are equipped with a new 2.0l 4-cylinder engine producing 149hp and 146lb-ft of torque. They are also all mated to a new version of Nissan’s X-tronic CVT, with synthetic gears built in to avoid the droning feel of CVT’s of yore. My main impression was of smoothness and general engine refinement, offset though by a bit of a lack in off the line power.
It did have noticeable “shift” points that could be heard if listened for but mainly noted on the RPM gauge. They were not however completely linear, somehow what was subtly felt and heard didn’t completely seem to correspond to what the gauge was showing.
One significant caveat though is that my base altitude is right around 5000 feet and I took it up to over 8000, at sea level this engine should feel more powerful than it did here, this is obviously common to every naturally aspirated engine and should be kept in mind. Once up to speed the car had no trouble maintaining speed even on significant grades and didn’t struggle to accelerate either.
Another caveat, and an important one) is that the mission of this car isn’t to win stoplight races, its somewhat aggressive looks in SR trim notwithstanding, but rather to provide a comfortable and reliable drive every day as needed. When given the spurs to merge onto a freeway for example, it accelerates competently enough. If you don’t drive a quarter mile at a time, it’s fine. I’d however love to introduce all of you to the GT-R if anyone at Nissan is listening…
Competing primarily with the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic as well as the Hyundai Elantra, it’s more or less on par with those as far as power goes and if anything perhaps can be championed as the one that may be trying a little harder overall to get in the good graces of the public.
Driving as a normal member of the public would, this powertrain doesn’t have any notable faults. I wished for more power when I was in a hurry in town due to a minor business emergency and kept hitting red lights, getting back up to speed took longer than I was wishing to wait, however as usual nobody else got miles ahead of me at any time either.
The flip side here is excellent fuel economy, over 515 miles I averaged 36mpg according to the trip computer with the average about halfway through my mileage almost touching 38. That involved the usual Denver rounds for about 150 miles, a trip to Wyoming for another 180 or so, a trip east on mostly county highways for another 80 roundtrip miles and then the balance of approximately 105 more here in town over the week’s time. Officially, this model was rated at 28City, 37Highway and 32Combined on regular fuel.
Space inside is good, and would be so for the majority of the public, I had no issue with front headroom at 6’1″ with a 32″ inseam. Legroom was similarly fine, however the center console encroached on my right leg more than I’d prefer. At least the touchpoint was softly padded. When I first got in it I had a nagging suspicion that the steering wheel was offset to the left a tiny bit, however that went away during the week, I think it was primarily due to how the center console affected my space.
The only other ergonomic foible I noted was that while this car does not feature the nowadays common electric parking brake in favor of a foot pedal, that foot pedal is located EXACTLY where a clutch pedal would be on a manual transmission car, so in effect far more inboard than any other parking brake.
There is a place to rest your foot to the left of it but it still struck me as a bit odd. I got used to it but the first few days spent a second or two trying to locate the pedal. If you are used to a manual transmission car, take good care if you jump into one of these, lest you accidentally jam the parking brake on.
As opposed to a lot of four-door vehicles, I sat with my head well forward of the B-pillar, this car seems to be more cab-forward than a lot of others (or the front doors are longer).
Back seat room is decent with several inches between my knee and the front seatback when sitting upright, headroom was on the snug side due to the sunroof necessitating a bit of a slouch or lean to avoid my hair rubbing on the headliner.
Perfectly adequate for kids or persons shorter than me but even I wouldn’t refuse to ride back there, it was still acceptable. Those rear seats fold in a 60/40 manner.
Trunk space too is very acceptable. Under the floor is a space saver spare tire, and while the wheel wells intrude a bit into the space it’s still decently deep and usable.
Going back up front, the gauges are very clear and legible with a 7″ color center display that can be set to provide all manner of information and adjust various settings as well as displaying information of momentary use at appropriate times.
One oddity in regard to the gauges themselves – the tachometer starts at zero, but the next number is 2000, then it goes to 3000, 4000, 5000 etc. For some reason the initial 2000RPM sector is given the same space as the remaining sectors, each only comprising 1000RPM. It’s odd as the engine spends a fair amount of time under 2000RPM, not that the tach really matters anymore to most drivers, but for those that do watch it this would seem curious.
The SR model sports an upsized 8″ dash-mounted screen (the other trims have a 7″ screen on the dash). The center console is very reminiscent of the Altima’s in fact (this is good) with the main visual difference being the three circular vents here instead of the Altima’s more rectangular units.
The shift lever was completely conventional without even a “manual” function and not at all lacking due to that; it did have a small button at its base to engage “sport mode”, which seemed to raise the RPM a bit at any given time but didn’t seem to provide any other noticeable effect. Ahead of that was a well sized cubby that was perfect for placing a phone and portable garage door opener or mints and a pen or business cards or whatever else. Two cupholders were also provided to the side of the gearlever with another little cubby behind it that was perfect for a travel size hand sanitizer. Behind that the center console storage compartment with soft padded lid and lots of space inside.
The 8″ touchscreen was pretty much the same as in the Versa and Altima as far as functionality, no navigation in this one, but the Audio section worked well for tunes which is what I used it for the vast majority of the time. Apple CarPlay and AndroidAuto are also onboard. Bluetooth was simple to set up on my phone and the telephone function worked seamlessly. This stuff seems to have been handled well with pretty much every maker (well, the ones I’ve reviewed anyway) these days, my routine every time is to pair my phone on the first day, program my favorite stations in the radio, and then make a Bluetooth phone call to a friend in Chicago the first time I hit the freeway in the car. If ever I experience problems I will report it, so far nothing of note has ever arisen.
Automatic dual zone HVAC knobs and buttons are below all of that, along with buttons for heated seats and steering wheel. Yes, a Sentra can now be had with heated seats as well as wheel, such is progress, a far cry from the 1982 introductory model year! The knobs and buttons all felt substantial with good resistance one solid assembly quality.
Of course there’s a stop/start button and the keyfob just remains in one’s pocket, when locking or unlocking the car, pressing a button on the doorhandle does all of that, same with getting into the trunk when standing next to it.
The screen though also of course provides the backup camera visuals and instead of just a backwards view also provides an overhead view as part of the option package included in this vehicle, it’s another of those nice to have features that sooner or later will become pretty ubiquitous as well.
This Sentra also provides a warning after starting with a visual graphic in the gauge cluster that lets you know which of the three rear seatbelts are not fastened and then also reminds you to check the rear seat when you turn the engine off if the back door was opened prior to the car getting underway. Say what you want about the nanny state but keeping little ones out of harm’s way is a good thing. Nobody intentionally forgets, actual help is always appreciated.
Nissan also equips every Sentra with a fairly comprehensive active safety package consisting of Blind Spot Assist, Lane Departure Warning (feels like you hit a rumble strip), Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert and several other goodies in that department.
It’ll also read your incoming text messages to you which is a very good way to reduce the temptation to actually look at the phone that many have. It can also send responses back. Intelligent automatic headlights and highbeam assistance are also standard across the range.
As opposed to most Blind Spot systems, this one has its warning indicator set into the base of the A-pillar instead of in the mirror. On the plus side this in theory keeps the light more inline with straight ahead vision as opposed to the mirror type, but in actuality the light was on the dim side and worse, on this SR trim level, the dashboard and seats are highlit with orange stitching (attractive) which to my eyes made the orange warning light blend in to the rest of the orange dash decoration.
While this version was equipped with an attractive set of alloys wearing 215/45-18 Hankook Kinergy tires, (500 treadwear, “A” temp and “A” traction), I didn’t really notice until a few days into my drive that the suspension was not making itself very apparent, clearly the ride was quite good and after then focusing on it, it became clear that road irregularities and bumps were dealt with very well, in fact far better than should be expected.
Handling though was so-so, while cornering grip was quite good, feel was mostly non-existent, speeding into corners wasn’t particularly rewarding beyond safely arriving at the other end of the corner without any drama whatsoever. Again, mission of the car and all of that…Interestingly this car also had one of those understeer assistance features wherein the inside wheels are braked slightly in certain situations in order to turn the car better. Interesting technology, it’d be fascinating to go back to some older cars and be able to retrofit this stuff and see how they then compare.
Road noise was sometimes high, sometimes very low, mostly due to the tires and how they interacted with the various road surfaces, both concrete and asphalt, high speed and low speed, new and worn, in two states. The body doesn’t appear to have much sound deadening to absorb that particular type of noise but conversely wind and engine noise were extremely well suppressed at speed.
Value is there, with the Sentra line starting at $19,310 plus a $925 destination charge, this SR top model started at just $21,430. So the spread across three trims is only $2,120. The SR includes 18″ wheels, LED headlights and fog lights, the sporty body bits such as the rear spoiler and sill extensions, dark colored front chrome trim, the larger 8″ touch screen, a 7″ central display in the instrument cluster, remote start, leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter, a couple of USB ports in front and another in the rear and a bunch more…
The main option package on my tester cost $2,170 and for that provided the following: Thin type LED headlights and Daytime running lights as opposed to the standard ones, Power Glass Moonroof, Heated Front Seats and Wheel, Leatherette seats, 6-way Power Driver’s seat with 2-way lumbar, 8-speaker Bose Audio System, the Intelligent Around View Monitor I mentioned earlier, Auto-dimming rearvew mirror, and Sunvisors containing lit vanity mirrors. If you’re the type that requires a moonroof, then the rest of the stuff ends up being not much more, so overall this seems like a fair value.
Other options included a “Lighting Package” which consists of External Ground Lighting and Interior Ambient Lighting for $500, the Two-Tone Premium Paint Color Treatment (Black roof with Aspen White Tri-Coat body) for $595, and Carpeted Floor Mats and Trunk Mat for $205. I’d skip the lighting, take the mats, and I’m not sure about the paint, there are several included colors, several for a couple to a few hundred and then this two-tone with the more special paints are the priciest (But still much cheaper than anything on any premium marque).
Altogether this one rang in at $25,825 including destination. That’s $4,000 more than the loaded Versa I reviewed a few months back and compared to that this is far better on the freeway and has more space. However I did like the way that one handled, it was quite engaging. Skip a few options or go down a trim level and it gets closer.
Compared to the Altima which I also reviewed here, that one cost about $6,500 more but included AWD. If you need the space, you need the space, but this Sentra is not much if at all smaller than Altimas of not that long ago and provides a lot of the same features for quite a bit less money. The Altima is built in Tennessee while the Versa and Sentra are both from Aguascaliente, Mexico, so perhaps that plays into it as well. All three were assembled to the same quality standard as far as I could tell from my test cars.
There’s a lot to recommend here, and it’s an attractive vehicle and overall package. Yes, the class itself isn’t necessarily the most compelling, however it provides what a lot of people are looking for. As far as Nissan is concerned, if the next few models improve as much as the last few have, I think they have every reason to be optimistic about the future with one caveat – That caveat is the CVT. A lot of people got burned by the transmissions in Nissans over the last fifteen years and we shouldn’t gloss over that.
I’d like to think that Nissan have made progress in that department and put it behind them, however there may be a lag time between that and the public’s perception of it. What would perhaps help tremendously is reaching for that time honored cure-all, the super long warranty. Cover the transmission (or powertrain as a whole) for at least 100,000 miles or better yet, lifetime of the original owner.
Others that offered or offer a lifetime or very long warranty generally included a clause limiting a maximum payout to the present value of the vehicle at the time of claim, so worst case down the road at 200k miles when/if something big breaks and it’s still the original owner, Nissan would have to buy it back for market value (minimal) if the owner so chose. Realistically there aren’t too many cases like that so the risk seems small.
Peace of mind is a huge consideration at this level of the market and peace of mind in these turbulent times with lots of things to cause people worry could be a very welcome inducement to purchase. Having now experienced this car as well as the others I mentioned, the building blocks are there and things look very promising indeed for the road ahead.
Thanks go to Nissan for letting us sample yet another of their vehicles as well as providing a tank of fuel.