Wow, for a moment I thought Nissan forgot they built a Sentra. The last Sentra hung around for a staggering six years, which is virtually unheard of in the hotly contested compact car market. The outgoing car, with its Lego-like styling and crude interior was hopelessly outdated. So, it was with great relief Nissan finally put the old girl out of its misery and delivered a completely redesigned Sentra. The car deserves that much, as it basically carried Nissan through the 1980′s alongside the completely forgettable Stanza.
To say that Nissan has taken the Sentra’s styling in a new direction does not even come close. The upright, tight edges of the outgoing car are gone, and will not be missed. Instead, we have a car with flowing, organic curves, not a harsh edge to be found. Our test car, fitted with attractive 17″ alloys and finished in Amethyst Gray and a ‘just right’ amount of chrome trim give the Sentra an upscale air that belies its price. Nissan aired a TV commercial where a junior executive is mistaken for someone far more important in a similar Sentra, and after seeing the car in person, I can believe it. No, it does not stand out, nor will it turn heads, but for the price of admission, you simply will not find another car that exudes this level of class and sophistication.
The austere cabin of the 2012 Nissan Sentra The Garage tested is also a distant memory. Nissan carried the Junior Executive theme inside, with features available only on high-end luxury cars ten years ago present and accounted for, and then some. Leather, and a pleasing mix of silver trim, chrome, and wood tone trim conspire to provide one of the most opulent cabins in its class. The contrasting beige and grey dashboard also add to the sense this is no ordinary compact. The quality of materials, fit and finish are excellent. Our feature-laden Sentra had easy to read gauges, and intuitive controls. As opulent our Sentra was, even more impressive was the amount of interior room. Front and rear, passengers had a surprising amount of room. The Sentra also boasts an enormous trunk.
In the engine room, all Sentras share the same engine, in this case a 1.8L four rated at 130hp, which is actually down on power from last year’s car. While that sounds like a step backward, it is Nissan’s attempt to bring the Sentra closer in line with the competition’s fuel economy ratings. In this case, the EPA rates the Sentra at a frugal 30/39 MPG city/highway. The base model Sentra can be had with a six-speed manual transmission, but all other models come standard with a Continuously Variable Transmission, a hallmark of Nissan passenger cars. Nissan makes the best in the business, but the mission of the CVT is to deliver optimum fuel economy, not driving pleasure. The new Sentra is no exception. Around town, the car gets around fine, but on highway on ramps, acceleration is lazy, and under full throttle, the inevitable motor boating effect is present. As elegant as the exterior and interior design are, under full throttle the Sentra is not. The ride is comfortable, and at cruising speeds, the Sentra is quiet and composed. The Sentra makes no promises of being a fun or engaging car to drive, just an easy car to live with. Driving enthusiasts, look elsewhere.
The Sentra is available in several trim levels to suit taste and budget. Our test car was the top-spec SL, with a starting price of $$19,760USD. For that, standard equipment includes dual zone auto climate control, push button start, six speaker audio with SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth, LED tail lamps, LED headlight accents, LED lighting on side mirrors and fog lights. Our test car added the Premium Package, which includes a power moonroof, auto dimming rearview mirror and an eight speaker Bose audio system. The Navigation Package adds, well, Navigation with NavWeather and NavTraffic, a rearview camera, and hands-free text messaging assistant. Finally, the Leather package adds, um, leather seats, front heated seats, and oddly, rear disc brakes. Including destination, our Sentra rings in at a very respectable $23,655.
Will it set your heart afire? No. That’s the job of the Sentra SE-R, and we are waiting to see if such a car will return. Long neglected by Nissan, the Sentra is back, and this is easily the best looking one yet, with a slick interior to match. In terms of style, comfort and features, the Sentra is tough to beat. Add an exceptionally roomy cabin and generous trunk space, and you have a winner. Most buyers won’t care that it is a bit on the slow side, or a bit soft in cornering. Nissan knows its buyer, and on that front has exceeded all expectations. It is simply the best Sentra of all time.