Nissan is on a roll these days. With strong sales of their new super mini, the Micra, the compact Versa, and their best selling vehicle, the Rogue small SUV, no other auto brand has added as much volume to the Canadian auto industry’s sales total than Nissan. In fact in the non-luxury segment, Nissan is the fastest growing auto brand in Canada.
When it comes to their offerings, Nissan has always been one to take chances. From the all-electric LEAF, to the funky Juke and Cube, and on the other end of the spectrum, the absolutely bonkers GTR “Godzilla”, it’s easy to forget that Nissan also produces some pretty mainstream mass produced vehicles for the everyday commuter who just wants an reasonably-priced, reasonably-sized car for going to work and back.
The Nissan Sentra is indeed one of these vehicles, with the name brand having been around for since the early 1980’s.
One of my earliest childhood memories was riding in my aunt’s Nissan Sentra over 2 decades ago. And in fact, even though she is in her 70’s now, she has owned nothing but Sentras for her whole driving “career”.
With this in mind, I thought that it was high time that I delve into what exactly has made the Sentra the household name that it is.
A look back
We Canadians love our compact cars. The Civic is the number one selling car in Canada followed by the Hyundai Elantra, then the Toyota Corolla.
While the Sentra can’t lay claim to such sales volume, it has been the plucky underdog that has been around for 30 years. And anecdotally, I do see plenty on the streets of the Greater Vancouver area.
In fact it’s quite easy to think of it as a 7/8 scale Altima. The Sentra does look great at first glance, albeit its styling is probably not going to quicken your pulse that much.
Chrome door handles, LED accented headlamps and LED taillamps are standard across all trim levels and they add a bit of flare to what is otherwise a pretty conservative and non-offensive design. I suppose the good news is that it is a design that should age quite well.
My test vehicle was the top of the range SL model with all of the trimmings including heated leather seats up front, aluminum alloy wheels, a Bose Premium audio system, GPS Navigation, and dual zone climate control.
If you have a soft spot in your heart for the “crazy” Sentra SE-R Spec V of yesteryear, you will be a little sad. For those of you not in the know, the Spec V was a sport compact version of the Sentra with a 200hp engine and a sub 0-100 km/hr time. It even had a 6 speed manual, lowered sport suspension, and a Torsen limited slip front differential.
With this latest Sentra however, fuel economy is the name and space plus efficiency is the game. Like Nissan’s latest offerings such as the Pathfinder and the Rogue, the redesigned car focuses on class-leading design standards inside and out, and not at all on performance driving.
Built on a new platform that is lighter and stiffer than its predecessor, Nissan has been able to shave an extra 150 lbs off the curb weight while still providing one of the largest interior volumes in class.
In the name of aerodynamic efficiency, the new car is 15mm lower, 30 mm narrower, and the drag coefficient has been significant reduced from 0.34 to 0.29. Nissan claims that all of this should translate into 13 percent less fuel consumption.
The official fuel consumption ratings for the CVT-equipped model is 6.6L/100 kms in the city and 5.0L/100 kms on the highway. Since this car is likely to be used as a commuter vehicle, I spent 80% of my time testing it in the city.
With the normally aspirated 1.8L 4-cylinder engine’s modest peak output of 130 hp and 128 ft-lbs of torque, I found myself frequently flooring the throttle pedal to motivate the car on on-ramps or during passing maneuvers.
Nissan says that the revised engine has been redesigned with a variety of measures to reduce fuel consumption. These include a longer stroke to improve combustion speed and efficiency, and reductions in internal friction.
However my real world findings weren’t quite as spectacular as the advertised numbers. I averaged only 8.5L/100 kms over my test week, likely because I had to make the little engine work hard more often than not. Part of blame can also be assigned to the Xtronic CVT.
Although Nissan says that the CVT has been retuned, I still found it slow to react mainly when accelerating from a dead stop. Acceleration is not immediately congruent to the high revs that the CVT allows the engine to sit at and there is still that much loathed rubber band effect. As I quickly found out, one must leave a little bit more room when making left hand turns across oncoming traffic from a standstill.
Being a driving enthusiast, I fully admit to being more lead footed than the average motorist so your mileage may vary. However it is something to consider when carrying a full load of passengers.
A cabin that is a class-above
But the Sentra does have a few saving graces. One of which is its fantastically spacious cabin.
Compared with the previous Sentra, the 2014 model sports a 15 mm longer wheelbase and 58 mm longer overall width. Total interior volume improves from 3,137.5 litres to 3,143 litres.
Through some clever fine-tuning of the dimensions, the Sentra is one of the roomiest sedans in its class. Not only is there more usable trunk space (now at 428 litres) but enhanced rear legroom as well. At 950 mm (37.4”), the Sentra has one of the most generous amounts of rear legroom in its class.
It’s not just space that is impresses. Although I could do without the fake looking plood (plastic wood) trim in my SL level tester, the high quality soft-touch instrument panel, dash, door armrests, and leather seats all feel like they’re borrowed from its big brother Altima.
A reputation for quality and reliability
I like the Altima and I really wanted to like the Sentra. So much so that I approached random owners of the car and asked them why they chose it over the Corolla, Civic, or even the Mazda3.
The results were resoundingly one-sided: value-for-money in relation to the space and quality. Many owners previously also had Nissans in the family so there was a high brand loyalty due to the expected reliability from both the Nissan brand name and the Sentra model name.
This latest Sentra will be unlikely to blow your socks off from a performance standpoint. However if you’re looking for an point A-to-B commuter car with a long standing reputation for quality and reliability, or if one with mid-size roominess in a compact-size exterior, be sure to give the Sentra some consideration!