2008 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SPosted on February 27th, 2008
Value-packed sedan with exceptional cargo capability
By Nina Russin
The simplest way to save money at the gas pump is to drive a car rather than a truck. Cars have a lower coefficient of drag than trucks: they are slipperier in the airstream, and have a lower center of gravity.
Here’s an example of how big a difference aerodynamic efficiency can make. The Nissan Rogue crossover vehicle I drove last week and this week’s Sentra sedan are built on the same platform with an identical wheelbase. Both have a four-cylinder engine, though the Rogue’s is slightly larger to compensate for about 300 pounds of extra vehicle weight, and both have a continuously variable transmission.
The Sentra averages 29 miles-per-gallon city/highway versus 25 for the Rogue. While differences in engine size and curb weight account for some of the difference, the Sentra’s lower coefficient of drag, and lower center of gravity contribute as well.
Assuming the average driver puts 12,000 miles on his vehicle per year, the Rogue will consume about 480 gallons of gas compared to 414 for the Sentra. If gas costs three dollars per gallon, the Sentra driver finishes off the year two hundred dollars richer. Two hundred dollars is not chump change.
Both vehicles hold five passengers: head, leg and shoulder room for both rows of passengers is almost identical. The Rogue has more cubic feet of cargo space due to its two-box design, but both vehicles meet our bicycle friendly standards.
The Sentra’s ace in the hole is an exceptionally large pass-through designed to accommodate snowboards, hockey sticks, and bicycles. Second-row seat cushions flip forward so the seatbacks can fold completely flat. The test car also has an optional divide and hide trunk system: a removable divider wall with hooks on the outside surface for securing grocery bags.
Tuned for fun
The Sentra comes in three grades: a base model, S and upscale SL. The mid-grade 2.0 S (tested) has sixteen inch wheels compared to fifteen on the base Sentra, an upgraded audio system, remote keyless entry, cruise control and antilock brakes. Base price is $16,780, not including a $625 destination charge.
Like the Rogue, the Sentra is no barn burner, but it’s a fun car to drive. Engineers made ninety percent of peak torque available at 2400 rpm: average highway cruising speeds. So the Sentra has excellent pickup for merging into traffic, or making the occasional emergency evasive maneuver.
The larger wheels, combined with standard front and rear stabilizer bars makes it a fun car to toss around in the corners. The independent front and torsion beam rear suspension do a good job of providing a compliant but not overly soft ride.
Though the wheelbase on the sixth generation Sentra is almost six inches longer than the model it replaces, the sedan still handles like a compact car: easy to weave through traffic, and capable of squeezing into a small parallel parking spot. Overall length increases by just over two inches.
Engineers moved the wheels closer to the corners of the car, and made the Sentra slightly wider and taller to enhance interior space. The passenger cabin on the new model is 9.2 cubic feet larger: a noticeable improvement for the second-row seats.
As price conscious cars go, the Sentra offers a high level of standard convenience features: keyless entry, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD player with speed-sensitive volume controls, six-way power driver’s seat, tilt steering column, redundant wheel-mounted audio and cruise control buttons, air conditioning, and intermittent wipers. A convenience package on the test car adds Bluetooth connectivity, a leather wrapped steering wheel, keyless ignition, and the divide and hide trunk system.
Audiophiles can upgrade the standard entertainment package to an eight speaker Rockford Fosgate system with XM satellite radio. Buyers can also add an optional moonroof to both S and SL models.
Cupholders in the center console and rear seat armrest are large enough to hold water bottles. The glove box is large enough to hold a writing tablet or large map book. There are enough small bins and cubbies around the driver for cell phones, garage door openers, and other electronic devices. A 12-volt outlet is standard on all models.
A good choice for commuters
I put about a hundred miles on the test car on a week that saw some rather heavy rain, and heavier than normal traffic due to the influx of visitors at this time of year. I found the seats quite comfortable on a commute through town that took over an hour and a half. The interior is quiet enough to drown out the constant roar of construction trucks on the 101 freeway that runs through the east valley.
The car also feels extremely solid and safe. I had to make a couple of panic stops to avoid the tail ends of out-of-state cars making sudden lane changes: the brakes were solid without being grabby. Antilock brakes are standard on the S and SL models, and optional on the base car. All models come with front discs and rear drums.
Rear drums aren’t a big problem in the southwest where roads are typically dry and there’s no road salt. People living in the snow belt will have a harder time servicing the drum brakes, since rust ridges that build up on the rims of the drums can be hard to break free.
Other standard safety features include side and side curtain airbags, front seat active head restraints to prevent whiplash, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
The new Sentra is more stylish than the car it replaces: it looks like a more expensive car than it is. The wider stance and larger wheels on the two up-level grades give the car the stance of a European sport sedan.
Designers made the headlamps and tail lamps interesting without being gaudy. Ditto for the grille.
Car payments for the real world
MSRP on the test car is $18,560, including options and destination charge. The 2008 Sentra is available for test drives at Nissan dealerships nationwide.
Likes: An affordable compact car that looks and feels more expensive than it is; the Sentra is a fun car to drive, and gets excellent fuel economy. The oversized pass-through and unique cargo divider system make the Sentra ideal for people with active lifestyles. It meets our bicycle-friendly standards.
Dislikes: Rear drum brakes are harder to service, and may not stop as evenly in wet weather.
Model: Sentra 2.0 S
Base price: $16,780
As tested: $18,560
Horsepower: 140 Hp @ 5100 rpm
Torque: 147 lbs.-ft. @ 4800 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Not available
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Comments: Base price does not include a $625 destination charge. Floor and trunk mats cost $165 extra.
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