There’s a lot that the Nissan Sentra does well, but those attributes aren’t quite enough to make it a class leader .
There’s a lot that the Nissan Sentra does well, but those attributes aren’t quite enough to make it a class leader .
For those who prioritize value for money as their main concern when buying a new car, the Nissan Sentra will undoubtedly have appeal. Though not quite the cheapest compact sedan on sale right now, the Nissan Sentra is very reasonably priced – and especially so, when you factor in the relative amount of space and features it has to offer. However, the compact car segment is a fiercely competitive one, with many sedan and hatchbacks vying for class-leading honors. As a result, even though there’s a lot to like about the Nissan Sentra, the slight niggles and faults it has do hold this compact sedan back from being one of the top vehicles in this segment.
There’s a genuinely impressive amount of leg room on offer.
Though they’re still referred to as “compact cars”, vehicles of the Nissan Sentra’s ilk aren’t tiny little runabouts that aren’t especially spacious. On the contrary, they’re surprisingly sizeable nowadays, to the point where the Nissan Sentra can rival some sedans for the class above in terms of outright space. For example, there’s a genuinely impressive amount of leg room on offer, regardless of whether you’re sitting in the driver’s seat, riding shotgun or relegated to the back row – even though we do concede the Honda Civic does have a teeny-weeny bit more space in this regard. Likewise, though headroom is a bit restricted in the back for six footers, there is still an ample amount of space on offer for loftier folk, and certainly more than what you’ll find in rivals like the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus sedans. It’s the trunk, though, that really excels by class standards. With a claimed capacity of 15.1 cubic feet putting it close to the top of the class (a Volkswagen Jetta just about pips the Nissan Sentra with its 15.5 cubic feet). Better still, the trunk itself has a broad opening, and the trunk lip is surprisingly small by sedan standards. There are, though, a couple of issues: the wheel arches to protrude into the trunk fairly prominently, meaning the space does narrow a bit towards the back, and there’s quite a prominent ridge to contend with when folding the 60:40 rear seat backs away.
The Nissan Sentra is a surprisingly well built car.
Despite being at the more affordable end of the compact car spectrum, the Nissan Sentra is a surprisingly well built car. Admittedly, you don’t need to look too hard before some hard, scratchy plastics are found, but the parts of the car you’re more likely to interact with (namely the steering wheel and controls on the center console) are fairly pleasant to the touch when you consider the car’s price point. The main manual controls are all laid out fairly well and are pretty intuitive to operate, though all of the touchscreen infotainment systems available on the Nissan Sentra are a bit sluggish and dated in comparison with comparable devices in most rivals. The spaciousness of the storage cubbies, though, do go some way to clawing back some of that lost ground. Both the glove box and the storage spot under the center armrest are of a good size, and we’re especially impressed by the fact broader water bottles can be slotted into the front door bins with relative ease.
There are still compact cars that place an emphasis on comfort – as is the case with the Nissan Sentra.
The compact sedan and hatchback class is slowly filling up with offerings that are seen to be sportier and more fun to drive, with the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze and Mazda 3 being perhaps the most obvious examples. However, there are still compact cars that place an emphasis on comfort – as is the case with the Nissan Sentra. That’s not to say the Nissan Sentra is this floaty compact sedan that struggles to stay on the road when you’re going around a corner. Far from it, in fact: there’s not much body lean in the bends (and especially not if you go for the slightly firmer ‘SR Turbo’ version), the grip levels are pretty good and the steering’s fairly responsive.
On the whole, we’re also fairly satisfied with the visibility in the Nissan Sentra.
However, the Nissan Sentra is far more appropriately engineered for life as a more laid-back kind of car. The ride, for instance, is fairly smooth and does a good job of filtering out the rougher imperfections in the road surface, and the refinement levels are particularly impressive by class standards. If you’re the sort of buyer who’ll be taking their compact car out on the open road or the highway on a fairly regular basis, the Nissan Sentra will certainly have appeal. On the whole, we’re also fairly satisfied with the visibility in the Nissan Sentra. The windshield is of a good size, so there’s a decent view out, and the rear window’s also fairly broad and tall by class standards. The pillars aren’t that chunky by class standards too, so you likely won’t feel like you’re missing out if you don’t go with a Nissan Sentra model that has the blind spot warning system installed.
If your budget stretches far enough, then the turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that’s available in the sportier SR Turbo and Nismo variants is a bit easier to recommend.
Very economical across the board, but don’t expect much oomph from the base engine Though the mantra often goes that small, not-very-powerful engines work at their best in compact cars, there are exceptions to that rule. Take the base engine in the Nissan Sentra as a prime example: with just 130-hp and 128 lb-ft of torque on offer, the 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that’s available on almost every Nissan Sentra trim has outputs you’d associate more with a supermini than a compact sedan (the entry-level Ford Fiesta supermini, for example, has 120-hp and 112 lb-ft of torque on tap). Admittedly, it’s not like the engine buckles under the Nissan Sentra’s weight every time you apply pressure to the gas pedal, and the 1.8-liter unit does admittedly return some very good fuel economy figures (automatic models return 29mpg in the city and 37mpg on the highway; versions with a manual transmission are two mpg less frugal in both instances). However, those already limited outputs are available fairly high up in the rev range, meaning you’ll have to work the engine rather hard in order to extract everything the unit has to offer – which, unsurprisingly, results in a blaring drone emanating from the strained engine. For sure, when you’re not intending to go quickly, the 1.8-liter settles down to a fairly hushed and refined state that suits the more relaxed characteristics of the Nissan Sentra. Plus, as you don’t really need that much power in more built-up areas, such concerns aren’t quite as apparent if you’ll only be using the Nissan Sentra as an urban runabout. But it is still a shame that the engine a majority of buyers will go for isn’t particularly potent by class standards. If your budget stretches far enough, then the turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that’s available in the sportier SR Turbo and Nismo variants is a bit easier to recommend. For sure, with starting prices of $21,990 for a base SR Turbo (prices for the Nismo model haven’t been announced at time of writing), it’s far from being affordable, but this unit does have some benefits. It’s nowhere near as strained as the 1.8-liter, thanks to the 188-hp power output and 177 lb-ft of torque that’s accessible from 1,500rpm all the way up to 5,200rpm – meaning you don’t need to work the engine as hard in order to get up to speed or pull off overtaking moves in a sufficiently concise period of time.
Those who want the optimum fuel consumption figures will undoubtedly find appeal with the automatic transmission.
It’s also, surprisingly, not too inefficient in comparison with the 1.8-liter engine, with claims of 27mpg in the city and 33mpg on the highway for automatic models (adding a manual transmission drops both figures by one mpg each). Considering the extra performance provided by the turbocharged engine, that isn’t too bad a trade-off. That said, as with the larger engine, the 1.6-liter can sound a bit strained at higher revs, but does make up for that a tad by being smooth and refined when you’re just pootling about. Those who want the optimum fuel consumption figures will undoubtedly find appeal with the automatic transmission. However, it is worth pointing out that it’s a $1,000 optional extra on most models (Nissan Sentras in SV spec only come with the automatic) and, as the transmission is a continuously variable one, or CVT (which basically means it doesn’t have conventional gears), it does have a slight tendency of holding onto the revs where the engine starts to sound a bit strained. Still, it gets the job done, and is surprisingly refined for a CVT available in a car at this price point. For most buyers, though, we’d recommend you stick with the six-speed manual. On top of saving your $1,000, the transmission also suits the engines (and especially the 1.6-liter turbocharged one) fairly well.
The Nissan Sentra is a good value proposition at face value.
As we’ve said a few times before now, the Nissan Sentra is a good value proposition at face value. Though some rivals do undercut its $16,990 base asking price (though not, admittedly, by large margins: an entry-level Kia Forte sedan is only $500 cheaper to buy outright), the lowest rung on the Nissan Sentra spec level ladder noticeably undercuts the Mazda 3, the Ford Focus, the Honda Civic, the Hyundai Elantra and the Toyota Corolla – to name but a few examples. It’s not like you’re left with a poverty spec car if you go with a base Nissan Sentra in ‘S’ trim either. For sure, it’s not the one we’d personally go for, but those looking for something cheap and cheerful will still be treated to features like cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, air conditioning and front, side and curtain airbags. We’d be more inclined to suggest you consider the ‘SV’ trim, though. For a premium of $1,800, all of the gear featured on the entry-level car is carried over, on top of more useful extras like a reversing camera, a multimedia display and higher grade cloth on the seats and door trims. Plus, factor in the $1,020 Driver Assistance Package (which includes built-in navigation, blind spot monitoring and rear traffic alert which warns you of oncoming cars if you’re, for example, reversing out of a parking spot), and you’ll have all the Nissan Sentra you’ll really need.
Three-years/36,000-miles bumper-to-bumper and five-years/60,000-miles warranties to fall back on.
If you have more money available to spend, then the $19,990 SR and $21,990 SR Turbo trims will undoubtedly appeal, though we wouldn’t recommend you consider any of the spec levels after this. Even though the 17inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and heated front seats are niceties to have, and the $1,020 Driver Assistance Package that’s carried over is still a decent value option, we do think the Nissan Sentra starts to lose its value-oriented appeal from here on. Safety-wise, the Nissan Sentra fares fairly well, if not amazingly by class standards. Though the safety gear it does feature helped secure a four-out-of-five-stars safety rating in its most recent crash test, it’s worth pointing out that the likes of the Honda Civic and Subaru Impreza were able to score five stars. Likewise, reliability should be pretty good considering most of the car’s features have been in production for a while and are shared with other Nissan models, but rivals like the Toyota Corolla have proven to be slightly sturdier over an ownership period – though the Nissan Sentra does at least have decent-by-class-standards three-years/36,000-miles bumper-to-bumper and five-years/60,000-miles warranties to fall back on.