Once upon a time, the six cylinder versions of muscle cars were sort of the red headed step-child of real muscle cars. Those days are gone and the V6 version of the sixth generation Camaro is a real contender.
Back in college I had a core group of friends and as you can imagine, we were all a bunch of gearheads. Not long ago, a non-car guy buddy asked us for advice on what small crossover/suv he should consider. Before I could even respond, a friend had already suggested the Mazda CX-3, and I agreed. Later that day, we hear back from our buddy. He ran out and bought a Ford Escape-a perfectly fine choice, but he hadn’t even considered the Mazda.
As a car company, Mazda is offering one of the best line ups out there, and the automotive media knows it, and isn’t shy about telling you. But, like our buddy, for the average new car buyer out there Mazda, through no fault of its own, seems to fly under the radar. As one of the smallest Japanese automakers out there, Mazda wisely made the choice that instead of trying to be an ‘all things to all people’ kind of company, they would focus on what they know how to do very well-build cars that are fun to drive.
The crossover has long since overtaken the suv as the preferred mode of transportation for families, and the notion of a subcompact crossover is the latest offshoot that is quickly growing in popularity. So, Mazda took the architecture of its tiny Mazda2 and the CX-3 was born. I’m a big fan of actually recognizing a car when its coming at me, and few manufacturers are as successful as this as Mazda. Their KODO design language is seen in every car they make, and the CX-3 is instantly recognizable as a Mazda. Sportiness is the theme here, with an aggressive grill, stern headlamps, upswept greenhouse and pronounced wheel arches. The CX-3 is absolutely modern, but I suspect it should age well. If the Nissan Juke’s looks are too polarizing for you, the CX-3 is much more reasonable yet not at all boring.
The CX-3’s interior carries over the exterior’s modern aesthetic. Interesting that the most visually striking aspect was the color palette of our test car. With parchment seats accented with deep red the color choices recall 1950’s American car. This vintage color combination in such a contemporary cabin adds up to a very appealing interior. The driver faces a large tach with a digital speedometer that is different but easy to get used to (lesser model CX-3s make do with a conventional speedo/tach). Other controls are simple and straightforward to use, with one glaring exception. If you like channel surfing on satellite radio as I do, the CX-3’s controls involve a multi-step process that is so maddening and distracting I set it to one channel and left it there. There’s no reason why changing a radio station needs to be a multi-step process.
For Mazda’s tiniest crossover, the CX-3 provides a very premium feel not just in design but in the quality of materials. Up front, the seats provide excellent comfort. Picking up a cousin at JFK airport straight off a flight from Hawaii into New York morning rush hour traffic headed up to the northeast corner of Connecticut, the CX-3 was roomy and quiet enough for my passenger to doze off. I repeat, up front. The rear seats are a little tight, especially if the people up front are on the tall side. Open the rear hatch, and you are immediately reminded that even though this is a crossover, it’s a subcompact. Rear cargo space is almost laughable. To make matters worse, go for the premium Bose audio system, and Mazda throws in a subwoofer back there that eats up even more room.
You quickly forget about that and learn to pack light once you get in and go. All CX-3s come with a 2.0L four rated at 146hp mated to a six-speed automatic. It should be noted that foreign markets have the option of a six-speed manual and a diesel engine. But for North America, the only choice to make is whether you want front or all-wheel drive. Driving the CX-3, it’s instantly apparent these are the same people who build the MX-5. Steering and handling are simply fantastic. At only 146hp you’re not going to win any stoplight grand prixs but there’s enough power on tap for any passing situation. The CX-3 is more fun and rewarding to drive than any crossover has a right to be. Although the ride is on the firm side it is never punishing or harsh. And with our all-wheel drive car’s EPA rating of 27/32MPG city/highway, top of the class fuel economy is a pleasant bonus.
The CX-3 is available in Sport, Touring or Grand Touring trim. Our test car was the top-spec Grand Touring, with standard equipment including leather and lux suede seats, heated front seats, push button start, blind spot monitoring, LED headlights, fog lights and tail lights, auto climate control, head up display, navigation, Bose audio, rearview camera, and power sunroof. Options on our car included remote start, the I-ActivSense Package (radar cruise control, smart brake support and rain sensing wipers). Including destination, our CX-3 had an MSRP of $29,790USD.
The CX-3, which is a new addition to the Mazda family, may not be the solution for the family car with tight rear seating and limited luggage space. If that’s your need, Mazda makes bigger vehicles for you. But in the fast growing subcompact crossover market, Mazda has quickly established themselves as the sporty alternative. If you can pack light, but crave what else makes crossovers popular-elevated driving position and available all-wheel drive but refuse to sacrifice driving fun, the CX-3 demands your attention.
Now in its seventh generation, Hyundai’s mid-size Sonata is without a doubt a mainstay in their family of cars. Yet when it came to offering a hybrid, as Toyota and Honda had been for some time, Hyundai was conspicuous by its absence-the world did not see a Sonata Hybrid until 2013. While everyone agreed the last generation Sonata was by far the best one yet, the Hybrid was a mixed bag. Not that it was a bad car, but fuel economy-the measure by which all hybrids are measured-just didn’t stack up well against the competition. The Sonata Hybrid is all new for 2016. Let’s see if they’ve narrowed the gap.
The Sonata line was redesigned for 2015, but we had to wait another year to see the Hybrid take a bow. The last Sonata represented a massive styling departure from the ho hum cars that preceded it. The new Sonata is an evolution of that shape, but now the car has been to finishing school and is strikingly elegant. The Sonata Hybrid received a healthy share of compliments wherever I went. A svelte shape is key for maximizing fuel economy, so specially designed wheels, active air shutters behind the grill and redesigned rear end differentiate the Hybrid from other Sonatas, and contribute to a very slippery drag coefficient of .24 cD.
Inside, the Sonata Hybrid is surprisingly luxurious. Soft surfaces abound, pleasing textures and quality materials meet everywhere you place your hands and can see. Although our car was feature packed, the Sonata is a car you can simply jump in and go with no guesswork involved for any of the controls. An airy greenhouse is further enhanced with the available panoramic moonroof. Boasting comfortable seats and an even roomier interior than the outgoing car, the Sonata is a car you and your passengers can easily spend hours in perfect comfort.
Powering the Sonata Hybrid is a 2.0L four and an electric motor good for a combined 193hp. What sets the Sonata Hybrid apart from any other hybrid out there is the choice of transmission. Where the competition universally uses a continuously variable transmission, Hyundai opted for a conventional six-speed automatic. Why is this noteworthy? Not everyone is a fan of the CVT, known for droning while holding revs when the engine is called up for more power. Want a hybrid, hate CVTs? Here’s your car.
The Sonata Hybrid won’t be confused with a sports sedan. That said, its no slouch, getting around town and merging onto highway traffic without any drama. Comfort is key here, and its delivered in spades with a creamy but controlled ride. But what about fuel economy? According to the EPA, you can expect a combined 41MPG. This is an improvement over the outgoing car, but still not as impressive as an Accord Hybrid.
The Sonata Hybrid is available in either SE or top of the line Limited. Our test car was the Limited. Its interesting to note the heavier, feature laden Limited delivers 41MPG, while the lighter SE bumps that figure up to 42MPG. Standard equipment includes HID headlights, 17″ alloys, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seat, leather interior, heated steering wheel, and SiriusXM satellite radio. Our included the Ultimate Package, which adds a panoramic sunroof, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, automatic high beam assist, rear parking assist, smart cruise control, Infinity premium audio, and LED interior lighting. Including destination, our Sonata Hybrid has an MSRP of $35,765USD, which is reasonable for a hybrid packing plenty of high-end features. If you can do without the frills of the Ultimate Package you will save yourself $4,500.
While Hyundai took its time in offering a hybrid, the Sonata Hybrid is a unique offering. Arguably one of the most dashing mid-size hybrids available, here is rolling proof you can go green and look sophisticated doing so. And with the Ultimate Package, you are enjoying features often reserved for premium vehicles. The class exclusive six-speed automatic is also a strong selling point for buyers turned off by a CVT. While fuel economy has improved, it is not class leading, but this is no reason to overlook the stylish Sonata Hybrid.
It’s hard to believe but the Juke, Nissan’s funky little crossover, has entered its fifth year of production. The Garage was present at the 2010 New York International Auto Show where it made its North American debut. Going on sale here as a 2011, we were quick to snap up a Juke to sample for ourselves. Five years later, it was time to see what was new with the Juke. Was it still as fun as we remembered? What’s changed?
As far as changes go, there really isn’t much to report. The Juke has exceeded Nissan’s sales estimates, so it appears the decision was made to leave well enough alone. For 2015, the Juke received a very mild (squint very hard) revision with updated grill, headlights, taillights, rear fascia, turn signals integrated into the exterior mirrors, and minor engine tweaks for improved fuel economy and throttle response.
Because the Juke was such a radical styling exercise, nothing was holding Nissan back to alter the look in any way, but five years later there is still nothing on the road that looks anything like the Juke. The front end remains the most polarizing aspect of the car, with its running lights still perched on top of the fenders offset by large, round headlights intended to mimic rally cars. The greenhouse, with large windshield that wraps to upswept side glass is meant to recall a race helmet. Still, my favorite view of the Juke remains the rear three quarters with racy taillights inspired by the 370Z and hidden rear door handles for a coupe like appearance.
Inside, the Juke is just as we remembered it, which isn’t a bad thing. Funky yet functional, the Juke’s controls are easy to use and intuitive. During our week with the Juke she was pressed hard into service, going from Connecticut to New York to Rhode Island to New York and back to Connecticut again. The Juke wouldn’t normally be my first choice for all that driving, but I was pleasantly surprised with seats that held up perfectly for the long haul. Finding a comfortable driving position was a cinch. Sometimes criticized for tight rear quarters, our back seat passengers had no complaints. If the Juke has a weak spot it is a definite lack of cargo room, even for a small crossover.
Funky styling aside, pretty much everyone is in agreement that the Juke is a very fun car to drive. Power continues to come from a 1.6L turbocharged four cylinder rated at 188hp. A continuously variable transmission is the only transmission available on regular Jukes. Buyers do have a choice of front or all wheel drive. Initially you could get a front wheel drive Juke with a six speed manual, but if you want to shift for yourself your only choice is to go for the sportier Juke Nismo or Nismo R (front wheel drive only). As always, the Juke offers plenty of pep. Thanks to its compact footprint, well-weighted steering, turbo fun and plenty of grip the Juke is a joy to point and shoot through traffic. Our all wheel drive Juke has an EPA rating of 26/31 MPG city/highway, which is pretty good, but due to a rather tiny gas tank I felt like I was stopping for fuel an awful lot.
The Juke is available in five trim levels-S, SV, SL, Nismo, and Nismo R. The Nismo Jukes have a sportier suspension, while the Nismo R kicks performance up a notch further, packing 215hp. Foreign market Jukes also offer a normally aspirated four as well as a diesel. Our all wheel drive Juke SL came well equipped with 17″ wheels, back up camera with Nissan’s brilliant Around View Monitor, leather seats, heated front seats, Rockford Fosgate audio system, NissanConnect with navigation, SiriusXM radio, Traffic and Travel Link and push button ignition. The only options on our car were carpeted floor mats and a center armrest. Including destination, our Juke retails for $28,225USD, which is not unreasonable for an all wheel drive crossover with that much content.
No, the Juke is not for everyone, but it was never meant to be. Small families looking for more room would do better looking at the slightly larger, but not as fun Rogue. In a sea of look alike crossovers the Juke not only stands out on its looks alone, but also for providing an entertaining driving experience few of its peers can come close to.
Here at The Garage, it’s a safe assumption no one has a more irrational admiration for everything Fiat than myself (that I just bought a 1981 Fiat 124 Spider speaks to my insanity, but that’s another post). So when the opportunity came up to climb back in a 500C, I was not going to let the fact that it was winter stop me.
The 500 has been zipping around the US since 2012, and we loved it then, but what has Fiat been up to with the tiny Italian since then? As it turns out, not very much. There is a revised front passenger seat for improved headroom, an available armrest (a feature lacking in ’12 cars I was not happy about), an upgraded instrument cluster, Bluetooth, and an improved center console with an additional USB port. Although our test car was a 2015, 2016 models are about the same with one exception: until now, if you wanted GPS in your 500, you were relegated to a TomTom unit that plugged into the top of the dashboard, and easily the worst GPS system I have ever encountered. Fiat has finally addressed that glaring problem.
But, that’s it? Yes, that’s it. The 500 is so impossibly cute, it seems sacrilege to mess with the styling. So we’ve seen a smattering of minor improvements along the way, as well as the addition of the higher performance 500 Turbo and bad boy 500 Abarth.
To keep things interesting with the ‘regular’ 500, in 2014 Fiat introduced the 1957 Edition. Available in hardtop and cabrio form, Fiat takes its top-spec Lounge model (the posh 500, as opposed to the edgier Sport) and adds the 1957 Edition as an option package, intended to honor the original Cinquicento.
What sets the 1957 Edition apart? Most noticeable is a choice of four retro colors: Bianco (white), Latte Menta (light green), Verde Chiara (green) or Celeste (light blue) offset with 16″ retro body color wheels, white capped mirrors, exclusive Avorio (ivory) interior with gorgeous Marrone (brown) leather seats, leather steering wheel, retro Fiat badging, driver/passenger front seatback pockets, and a retro fascia with chrome accents.
Otherwise, this is the same 500 we know and love. Power comes from a 1.4L four rated at 101hp, with a choice of a five speed manual or six speed automatic. That’s a very modest figure by modern standards, but thankfully the 500’s small size and light weight allow for a fun, if not quick driving experience. The five speed is what you want to squeeze the most fun out of the car, but even equipped with the automatic, as our test car was, the 500 will still put a smile on your face. Scooting down tight, twisting roads, one is reminded that a lot of horsepower is not always the recipe for driving fun.
Since all 1957 Edition 500’s start out as the Lounge model, standard features include cruise control, premium audio with XM satellite radio, steering wheel mounted controls, halogen projector headlights, fog lamps and chrome exhaust tip. Our Fiat 500C 1957 Edition came with one sole option, the automatic transmission. Including destination, our test car retails for $27,030. The 1957 Edition package added $1,900 to the price of a 500C Lounge. That’s a premium price for a small car, but there is no arguing the car’s charm.
So, the 1957 Edition takes everything we love about the 500C and adds even more charm and character. And what we don’t love-unremarkable fuel economy (27/34mpg city/highway), no trunk space, ridiculously tiny rear seat, and laughable rear visibility. But if you want a car that encapsulates all the romance of ‘Roman Holiday’ and 1950’s Italy in a modern package, your car has arrived.
Typically, when a car tries to be two things at the same time, it doesn’t do a particularly good job at either of them. Remember the Amphicar? It was a car that you could also use as a boat. Cool concept, but in reality it was both a lousy car and a lousy boat. So in going over the specs on the Toyota Avalon Hybrid, I was skeptical. Here is a car promising better fuel economy than the tiny Yaris while delivering a luxury car experience. Can the Avalon Hybrid do both, and do it well?
Now in its fourth generation, the Avalon is Toyota’s flagship car, not that you would have noticed until recently. From its inception, critics have derided the Avalon as little more than Toyota’s idea of a Buick, and an uninspired idea at that.
The Avalon Hybrid debuted in 2013, finally sporting sheetmetal befitting a flagship. Toyota abandoned the bland, utterly forgettable styling of past Avalons in favor of smart, sharp, sophisticated styling. Your flagship should look at home in front of your town’s latest restaurant, not the church parking lot on Bingo night. For 2016, the Avalon received a mild mid-life refresh, but it will take an astute eye to notice. A new grill and font turn signals is about it. Three years in the Avalon still looks fresh and contemporary. With a design that hasn’t aged a day, Toyota was wise to leave well enough alone.
Buyers who want the world to know they have gone green will find the Avalon Hybrid frustrating. For them, there’s always the Prius. This is after all a luxury car, and understatement is key. And that’s putting it mildly in this case. A couple of badges is all the visual separation you’re going to get between the standard and hybrid cars.
With a top spec Avalon creeping into Lexus ES territory, it would be understandable to think Toyota might hold back a little on interior appointments, but thankfully that is not the case here. Far from it. In fact, cover up the logo on the steering wheel and most people would easily believe they are sitting in a Lexus. A proper luxury car will boast all the latest in comfort, convenience and entertainment features and be intuitive to use, and the Avalon excels here. Boasting a large, airy cabin, the Avalon offers plenty of room for all passengers. All seated in exceptional comfort. If there’s one area where hybrids trade in practicality, its the trunk where the batteries are kept. So it was a pleasant surprise to see the Avalon Hybrid still managed to offer generous trunk space.
So far so good, but the burning question is, how does it drive? A glance back at the spec sheet does not inspire confidence. The Avalon Hybrid is motivated by a 2.5L four paired with the hybrid system lifted from the Camry for a combined 200hp, mated to a continuously variable transmission, which is typicaly anathema for a luxury driving experience. Two hundred ponies seems like a paltry number to move a car this size, and make no mistake, this is not a fast car. Still, with 0-60mph clocking in under eight seconds, the Avalon Hybrid has no problem merging onto highways or passing. Credit smart transmission software to keep revs low, and a well insulated cabin to keep noise to a minimum. But, this being a hybrid, the numbers that impress come in the form of fuel economy. The Avalon Hybrid delivers a legitimate 40mpg, and driven right, can get you 700 miles on a single tank of gas.
No one will confuse the Avalon for a sports sedan, but the ride is comfortable and well controlled. Potholes and road imperfections are soaked up with ease. Steering is light and lacking in road feel, but that’s hardly surprising for a car such as this. For a large car, the Avalon certainly doesn’t feel it, and snaked through tight sections of New York thruways with ease. After a grueling night of Friday night rush hour which would leave drivers of lesser cars pulling their hair out, I arrived at my destination relaxed and refreshed-just as a luxury car should.
The Avalon Hybrid is available in three trim levels-LE Plus, XLE Premium, and top spec Limited. Our test car was the Limited, which comes standard with Blind Spot Monitoring, HID headlights, power sunroof, rain sensing wipers, three zone auto climate control, an impressive 11 speaker JBL audio system, navigation, leather interior, power front heated and ventilated seats, rear heated seats, power rear window sunshade, and wireless smartphone charging capability. Our car’s sole option was Toyota Safety Sense, which includes Pre Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Auto High Beams and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Including destination, our Avalon rings in at $43,285USD. Hardly inexpensive, but a fair value given the level of content.
So yes, the Avalon Hybrid legitimately delivers subcompact car fuel economy while providing a no compromise luxury car experience. And buyers are taking notice. For every four Avalons sold, one is a hybrid. With a staggering 66% increase in fuel economy compared to a V-6 Avalon, its easy to see why. More than simply a good hybrid, the Avalon Hybrid is a good car. Smooth and quiet while providing superlative comfort and dashing good looks, Toyota has finally built a proper flagship.
Poor Chrysler. If ever there was a company that has struggled with the mid-size sedan, its these guys. Do you recall the Sebring? Of course you don’t. Or if you do, its that of you rushing to the airport rental car desk desperate to rid yourself of that rolling disaster. In an effort to distance themselves from the Sebring, in 2010 Chrysler introduced a heavily revised Sebring, and renamed it the 200. With revised sheetmetal, new interior and V-6 engine, the 200 was a dramatic improvement, but still lagged behind the competition and remained the darling of rental car fleets.
In 2015 the 200 finally got a clean sheet. With the convertible gone, the 200 continues as a sedan only. Elegant, sporty styling is without question one of the 200’s strongest selling points. Our test car, finished in Vivid Blue seen above, was certainly easy to spot in a parking lot. Contemporary and not trendy, I suspect the 200 will age gracefully. Yet for as handsome as it is, I could not help but wonder if Chrysler designers aren’t sure just what a Chrysler is supposed to look like. Stripped of its badges, people will be very hard pressed to guess what it is they’re looking at.
The interior is where many a Chrysler has fallen down. Thankfully, a stylish, well executed cabin complements the exterior nicely. The driver is faced with easy to read gauges set against soothing blue lighting. Controls are easy to use, and the UConnect 8.4″ touchscreen remains one of the best in the business in terms of speed and ease of use. The rotary shift knob reminds one of the Jaguar XF. Although unusual, it was easy to get used to. Fit and finish cannot be faulted, and the quality of materials are excellent.
Our 200 was to be a getaway car for a romantic weekend in beautiful Essex, Connecticut. It was easy to find a comfortable seating position, and we arrived at our destination relaxed and refreshed. A six speaker stereo with Sirius XM satellite radio and easy connectivity to an iPhone made for stress free entertainment. The interior, by no means cramped, is slightly smaller than its peers, especially in the rear. If your backseat passengers are lanky teenagers, you may want to look elsewhere. On the plus side, the trunk offers generous size, easily swallowing our luggage and a weekend’s worth of shopping.
The 200 is available with a choice of two engines. Base cars have a 2.4L four cylinder with 184hp or a 3.6L V-6 with 295hp. Both engines are mated to a nine speed automatic, though V-6 cars get paddle shifters and a sport mode. All wheel drive is also available. Our car had the V-6, and from other reviews, this is the engine you want. Quiet while cruising, the V-6 produces a nice snarl on acceleration. Fuel economy is commendable, offering 19mpg city, 32mpg highway. Range was impressive. The transmission shifted smoothly around town and merging onto the highway, but in the twisting roads of Middlesex County, the 200 seemed challenged finding the right gear.
In the near limitless array of mid size cars available, the 200 without question leans toward the sporty end of the spectrum. Handling is enjoyable, the ride comfortable but taut. Buyers seeking a creamy ride will do better to find a Camry. Our test car had the standard 17″ wheels, which still gave the car a firm ride, but left me wondering what the 200 would be like with larger wheels that are available. The steering offers good feedback and is beautifully weighted. In all, the 200 is an enjoyable car to drive.
The 200 is available in four trim levels: base LX, Limited, which is expected to account for the majority of sales, sporty S and luxurious C. Our test car was a Limited, which has a starting price of $24,145USD and comes reasonably equipped. Options on our car included the Convenience Group (sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors, body colored heated mirrors, power drivers seat), and Comfort Group (dual zone auto climate control, heated seats, remote start, dual exhaust, leather wrapped steering wheel, UConnect 8.4″ touchscreen, Sirius XM radio, auto dimming rear view mirror). Including destination, our 200 rings in at $29,370USD.
In a class where the default car is an Accord or Camry, the Chrysler 200 stands apart. Beautiful exterior styling complemented with an impressively well executed interior, powerful engine and excellent handling make for a compelling package for the buyer seeking something different. Still, the 200 is not for everyone. A firm ride and cramped rear quarters will turn away some buyers.
If the 200 sounds like a compelling choice, you may want to act sooner than later. In January, parent company Fiat announced production of the 200 will be ending this year. With a car that has been on the market only two years this may seem like a brash decision. So what happened? This is a great car, why kill it? For as fine a car as it is, the new 200 is selling about the same as the far inferior previous generation car. My reasoning is after years of offering such mediocre mid size cars, Chrysler has simply fallen off the radar of todays buyer. This will not be the first time a company offers a perfectly good car, but is ignored by buyers.
After calling the 911 Carrera 4 GTS the ultimate car for life in Canada last week, I’m having second thoughts now that I have driven the Targa4 GTS!
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!