2009 Nissan Sentra 2.0 SPosted on July 10th, 2009
Nissan infuses its compact sedan with youthful styling and sporty performance
By Nina Russin
Whenever I get in a Nissan, I’m reminded of the company’s talent for infusing its cars with elan. Nissan maintains its competitive edge with distinctive designs, and cargo systems that appeal to buyers with active lifestyles.
The most obvious example is the Xterra gear rack: if I had a nickel for every triathlete who’s purchased the SUV because of its wet suit cage, I’d probably be rich. The roof rack on the Frontier pickup is another good example.
The Sentra compact sedan is a value-packed offering with styling and versatility rarely found in its segment. Designers used similar jewel-type headlamps and taillamps to the larger Altima, to serve as focal points for the sporty exterior. The 140-horsepower, four-cylinder engine has surprisingly powerful performance, especially on the low end.
The interior is spacious, attractive and versatile, with a rear pass-through that extends the cargo floor for long items such as skis, snowboards or golf bags. An available cargo organizer adds utility to the trunk, as well as a hidden storage space.
Three available grades
The front-wheel drive Sentra comes in three trim levels: 2.0, 2.0 S and 2.0 SL. The test car is the mid-grade 2.0 S that retails for $17,760. The two-liter engine is mated to a continuously-variable automatic transmission. Buyers who want a sportier ride can opt for a six-speed manual transmission.
The suspension consists of an independent front axle and torsion beam rear end with standard front and rear stabilizer bars to enhance high-speed handling. Sixteen-inch wheels, standard on both S and SL models, provide a stable footprint.
An option on the test car upgrades the standard steel wheels with hubcaps to alloy rims. I’d recommend the option to anybody living in four-season climates, where potholes can make the hubcaps pop off the car.
Since almost two thirds of the vehicle weight is up front, engineers opted for rear drum brakes. Combined with the front discs, they do an adequate job of stopping the car. All grades come with four-channel antilock braking.
Standard safety features include front, side and side curtain airbags, and active front head restraints. Electronic stability control is not available as either standard equipment or an option. This is probably the biggest drawback to the car, especially for buyers in areas with severe winters.
Power for the on-ramp
One of the things I like best about the Sentra is its ability to accelerate hard into high-speed traffic. The car’s small engine produces a surprising amount of torque: 147 foot-pounds. It reaches peak torque at 4800 rpm: far enough below red-line for the driver to safely make use of the available power.
Despite being a relatively light car, Nissan’s compact sedan maintains good presence on the highway. An electric power assisted steering pump provides plenty of assist at low speeds, while maintaining a positive on-center feel on the highway. The car’s low center of gravity prevents it from coming unglued due to crosswinds.
A standard tilt steering wheel allows small driver to maintain a clear forward view. I found myself fiddling with the side mirrors to try to compensate for some blind spots in the rear corners, due to the car’s thick C pillars. The rear glass is wide enough to provide good visibility out the back.
The Sentra’s compact wheelbase makes it ideal for urban dwellers who need to park on the street and navigate through crowded streets. Its turning radius of 35.4 feet makes the occasional U-turn a non-issue.
Clean, modern styling throughout the Sentra interior gives the car an upscale feel. Designers included standard features such as steering wheel-mounted audio controls and a digital display with trip computer, ambient temperature and distance to empty, normally found in more expensive cars. There are two, twelve-volt power points for recharging electronic devices.
The test car is equipped with several convenience options: satellite radio ($150), a moonroof ($750), and a premium package that adds Bluetooth interface, keyless ignition and the cargo organizer in the trunk ($850).
Keyless ignition allows the driver to enter the car using a button on the door handle, and start the ignition without removing the fob from his pocket. Overall it’s a great convenience: just make sure to get the key fob back when valet parking the car.
The driver’s seat is easy to adjust, with plenty of lower lumbar support. The standard cloth upholstery is attractive and more practical than leather for hot summer climates.
Both front and rear passengers have access to large cupholders: in the floor console and in a fold-down rear armrest. Map pockets in the front doors hold magazines and paperwork. There is a deep storage compartment in the center console. The glovebox is large enough to hold a small purse or pack.
Access to the rear seats is excellent. Headroom is quite good in back. Despite a floor tunnel, an adult can sit in the central seating position on short trips. The rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern to extend the cargo floor. While sedans are not as practical for cyclists as wagons and sport-utility vehicles, the pass-through gives the Sentra more versatility.
The cargo organizer keeps small packages from sliding around in the trunk. It was nice not to hear quarts of Gatorade rolling around in back on the way home from the grocery store.
Excellent fuel economy and low emissions
Budget-minded buyers will appreciate the Sentra’s 28 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy. The sedan is classified as an ultra low-emissions vehicle.
The 2009 Sentra is on display at Nissan dealerships nationwide.
Likes: An affordable compact sedan with sporty styling and a high level of standard comfort and convenience features. Its rear pass-through and optional cargo organizer give the Sentra extra versatility.
Dislike: Electronic stability control is not available either as standard equipment or an option.
Model: Sentra 2.0 S
Base price: $17,760
As tested: $20,860
Horsepower: 140 Hp @ 5100 rpm
Torque: 147 lbs.-ft. @ 4800 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Fuel economy: 25/33 mpg city/highway
Comments: MSRP does not include a $695 delivery charge.
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