These two cars have plenty in common, but which is better?
The Nissan Sentra Nismo and Honda Civic Si are the latest entries into the revived affordable Japanese performance car segment. Now gearheads may think there's no contest whatsoever between the two but consumers are bound to cross shop them. With that in mind we decided to do an early comparison. Keep in mind that Nissan brought a production-spec Sentra Nismo to LA whereas Honda's Si was just a "prototype." The prototype looks basically ready, though, and the info we don't have (pricing, engine output) we can speculate on.
Under the hood: The Nissan Sentra Nismo is powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine making 188 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. Powering the Civic Si is a 1.5-liter turbo with an unknown power output. Our take: Nissan played it safe. The Juke Nismo RS' 1.6-liter four-cylinder, which makes 215 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque, should have found its way under the hood. Instead you get the same engine found in the Sentra SR Turbo. We don't expect Honda to go on a power trip but the new Si should easily be more powerful than the old one, which made 205 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque. Both cars should have similar fuel economy numbers, so advantage Honda.
Transmission options: The Sentra Nismo is offered with either a six-speed manual or a CVT. The Civic is only offered with a short-throw six-speed manual. Our take: We applaud Honda for siding with enthusiasts but the reality is that Nissan's decision to offer the Sentra Nismo with a manual and CVT will lead to more sales. Jeff Conrad, senior vice president at Honda North America, told us that the Si will make up just 5 percent of Civic sales. If you measure success in sales then the Nissan should come out on top, but if you measure success in drivability than it's hard to argue with a short-throw six-speed.
Exterior Design: The Sentra Nismo looks surprisingly stylish with its new front and rear bumpers. Those aero bits are functional, with the Nissan maintaining the stock Sentra's coefficient of drag while dropping lift by 30 percent. The Civic Si is a prototype with some optional factory parts, including its high-performance tires and drilled brake rotors. That "aero kit," which includes the front and rear splitters and spoiler, also comes from the factory. Our take: Strip off all the Civic Si's optional equipment and it still looks badass, especially that exhaust, which Cars.com confirmed will make it to the production version. Strip off all the extra bits and bobs and the Sentra Nismo looks like, well, a Sentra.
Interior Design: Highlights of the Sentra Nismo's cabin include a 5.8-inch touchscreen infotainment screen, Alcantara and leather-wrapped steering wheel and a leather shifter knob. The Civic Si prototype's interior "closely previews the production model." Highlights include sport seats up front, aluminum pedals, aluminum shift knob and red floor mats. Our take: The Civic Si's interior is where we'd rather spend our time. It's also the cabin we'd rather show off. It's not that the Sentra Nismo's cabin is bad. It's not, especially from a driver's point of view. That steering wheel and shifter combo are on point. But overall the cabin design is pedestrian.
Pricing: Nissan said the Sentra Nismo will start at under $25,000. Honda didn't release pricing info for the Civic Si. Our take: Pricing is perhaps the only area where the Sentra Nismo has a massive edge on the Civic Si. We expect the Si to start at $25,000 and wouldn't be shocked if it was a bit more expensive. The Nissan already appeals to more consumers than the Honda thanks to its optional CVT. A cheaper price point should only boost that appeal.
Our final take: The reason why this isn't a good comparison to make straight up is because we're comparing a trim level to a new model. Nissan held back on the Sentra Nismo because it's a trim level designed to appeal to the masses.
The Civic Si is designed to be appreciated solely (or at minimum mostly) by enthusiasts. Average Joes will love the Sentra Nismo's look, optional manual and affordable price point. Enthusiasts will laud Honda for only offering a short-throw shifter and for including a limited-slip differential, active dampers and active steering system. Despite the differences between the two, the Si and Sentra Nismo have one big thing in common: They're both contributing to the affordable Japanese performance car renaissance.