Classic CARmentary: 1998 Nissan Sentra SE Sedan

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

Reading the below review, I must have really liked the Sentra SE.  Unfortunately, this is another car I really cannot remember anything about.  At the time, my daily driver was a 1994 Nissan Sentra LE and had kind-of-owned a 1983 Coupe XE.  I should have been absolutely blown away by the SE since what you have here is the powertrain of the legendary ur-SE-R in a four-door package that, according to a quick Google search, is no heavier.  Yet, it didn’t leave a lasting impression.  It’s like that that movie that you really enjoyed but couldn’t even remember the title or who it starred a week later.

The below review ran on August 3, 1998.

Okay, so you’re a frustrated realist. You don’t want to be stuck with some behemoth SUV when the next gas crunch hits, but you don’t want a slow, boring econobox either. Nissan thinks you should take a look at its Sentra SE Sedan.

The SE model is new for ‘98. As a last go-round for the current model (a redesign is due for 1999), Nissan wedged in the 2.0 liter, 140-horsepower four-cylinder engine from the 200SX SE-R. It turns the Sentra from an adequate performer to a WHOA BOY performer, making it a solid competitor to the Dodge/Plymouth Neon R/T, its only four-door compact competition. When the current Sentra was introduced for 1995, its bland, forgettable styling paled in comparison to the chic Neon. To add pizzazz, the SE gets ground effects, a deep front spoiler with fog lamps, rear wing, and five-spoke alloy wheels on low-profile tires. Incredibly, they transform the bland little car into a real looker.

Combined with a sport-tuned suspension, the SE handles as well as many sports cars. It doesn’t stick to the road as well as the Neon R/T, but its ride isn’t as harsh. While the five-speed manual transmission shifts smoothly, I found it difficult to successfully execute a smooth shift into second with the air conditioning on. With practice, most owners should be able to master this. A four-speed automatic is optional.

Inside, the sport theme continues with cloth sport seats and white-faced gauges, which look real cool in the day, but are difficult to read at dusk. Power windows, mirrors, and locks (with remote control), cruise control and 100-watt cassette/CD stereo also help you to “enjoy the ride.”

While you’re having all of this fun, you might forget about the practical side of the Sentra: four doors, 97.9 cu. ft. of interior volume, and a 10.7 cu. ft. trunk with the split-folding rear seat up. De-powered “second generation” front airbags are standard, while anti-lock brakes are optional (and should be standard).

The Nissan Sentra SE allows the practical realist in you to be satisfied without having to sacrifice one iota of fun and “coolness.”

For more information contact 1-800-NISSAN-3


Type: 4-Door Sedan
Engine: 140-horsepower, 2.0 liter inline 4
Transmission: 5-Speed Manual
EPA Mileage: 23 city/31 highway
Tested Price: $18,716

So, by 1998, Nissan still hadn’t made a decent front-wheel-drive shifter.  In addition, up until this generation, Nissan had released a redesigned Sentra every four years, so I felt comfortable stating a new version was due in 1999.  That car didn’t arrive for an additional year, and with Nissan’s financial troubles and ultimate takeover by Renault, it hung around for seven model years.  Six to seven model years has been the standard for the Sentra ever since.