2013 Nissan Sentra SRPosted on June 21st, 2013
Compact sedan with cool technology
By Nina Russin
In the automotive world, winning is less often a matter of changing the rules than playing the game differently. All OEMs have to comply with the same federal C.A.F.E. standards. Engineers who can meet those requirements with technology that doesn’t compromise performance are the ones whose cars turn heads.
When Nissan introduced the current Altima a little over a year ago, the company did just that, by developing a continuously variable automatic transmission that doesn’t feel like a rubber band. The compact Sentra that followed utilizes a similar strategy to provide exceptional gas mileage in a car that’s fun to drive.
Designers chipped in with styling that stands apart from vanilla competitors. Using Nissan’s tried-and-true formula of having headlamps and tail lamps provide the punctuation for the car’s character lines, they imbued the newest Sentra with youthful, yet substantive personality.
The new car is lighter than the model it replaces, enhancing both gas mileage and handling. Overall dimensions are slightly larger than the outgoing car, and the interior more spacious.
There are five grades: S, FE+ S, SV, FE+ SV, SR and SL. FE+ models get slightly better gas mileage on the highway.
The SR model tested starts at $18,870 excluding the $790 delivery charge. Power comes from a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 130 horsepower and the CVT transmission. The base S model is also available with a six-speed manual gearbox.
A convenience package on the test car adds push button start, automatic headlamps, Bluetooth interface, satellite radio, iPod compatibility, easy-fill tire alert, and rear disc brakes ($1,080). The other option is navigation with NissanConnect, a voice-activated system that includes text messaging ($650). Carpeted trunk and floor mats bring the final MSRP to $21,500.
Test drive in Phoenix
This week, I drove the newest Sentra around Phoenix, Arizona’s east valley as well as on roads through the Gila River Indian reservation south of town. I wanted to see how well the 1.8-liter engine would keep up with traffic on high-speed roads, and see if my fuel economy was as good as the EPA average.
The engine passed both tests. A sport mode keeps the engine revving slightly higher for more power, while an eco mode maximizes fuel economy. I didn’t use the eco mode, but found the sport mode helpful south of town, where the speed of traffic typically exceeds 80 miles-per-hour.
The new CVT unit is so responsive that a driver might mistake it for a traditional step transmission, yet has the advantage of infinitely variable gear combinations for better gas mileage.
All cars come with a MacPherson strut independent front suspension and twist beam rear axle. It was hard to evaluate the solid rear end’s impact on drivability since I was sitting nearer to the front axle and driving on relatively smooth roads. But the setup seemed to do a good job of absorbing bumps in the road. Stabilizer bars on both axles keep the chassis flat while cornering.
Speed-sensitive electric power steering offers plenty of assist for low-speed maneuverability with a pleasantly heavy feel on the highway. A 34.8-foot turning circle makes it easy to parallel park on the street or perform the occasional U-turn.
Seventeen-inch alloy wheels on the test car are larger than the base model, for better performance at speed. Despite being a small, light car, the Sentra felt quite solid on the highway. I was disappointed to learn that four-wheel disc brakes are not standard equipment, but rather part of a pricey option package.
I would highly recommend equipping the sedan with the four-wheel discs to anyone living in areas that see a lot of rain and snow. Drum brakes tend to hold water as opposed to discs that are self-drying. Having spent hours whacking the rust ridges off frozen brake drums, I can vouch for the fact that servicing them isn’t much fun either.
Visibility around the perimeter is good. I had no problems monitoring traffic in adjacent lanes. A rearview camera on the test car enhances visibility to the back. Lines superimposed over the wide-angle image show the car’s trajectory according to steering inputs.
The Sentra interior can easily accommodate up to four adult passengers. Three can fit in back in a pinch, but the car’s floor tunnel and center console eclipse most of the legroom in the center position.
Engineers did a good job of minimizing noise intrusion to the interior, so both rows of passengers can converse on the highway.
Manual adjustments on the driver’s seat are easy to operate. There is adequate lower lumbar support. The steering wheel is also nicely designed, with redundant audio and Bluetooth controls. A digital information screen in the gauge cluster gives the driver instant and average fuel economy, driving range, odometer and trip meter readings.
I found both the gauge cluster and center stack screen easy to read in bright sunlight.
Designers added plenty of cup and bottle holders for both rows of passengers. The armrest in the center console is not adjustable fore-to-aft. For me, it was too far back to be of much use.
The Sentra has a spacious trunk with plenty of room for a weekend’s worth of luggage. While I wouldn’t call it bicycle-friendly, a person could probably shoe a road bike in back with the wheels removed after folding the second-row seats flat.
The Nissan Sentra comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes and stability control.
The optional easy-fill alert on the tire pressure monitoring system is a great feature, using audible alarms to let the drive know when he has reached the proper inflation pressure or overfilled the tire.
Nissan builds the Sentra at its Aguas, Mexico assembly plant.
Like: A stylish compact sedan that is fun to drive and gets exceptional gas mileage. Engineers have done an outstanding job on the continuously variable automatic transmission.
Dislike: Rear disc brakes are not standard equipment.
Model: Sentra SR
Base price: $18,870
As tested: $21,560
Horsepower: 130 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 128 lbs.-ft. @ 3600 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 30/39 mpg city/highway
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