The Nissan Sentra offers compact sedan buyers a well-trimmed interior, generous rear seat and trunk space, and excellent fuel efficiency. A slightly anemic engine and mellow chassis tuning mean that the Sentra is hardly the quickest or most exciting of its competitive set, but for those simply seeking comfortable and economical transportation, it fits the bill quite nicely.
Completely redesigned last year, the Sentra benefits from an updated navigation system and retuned CVT, steering and suspension for the latest model year.
Stylistically, the Sentra closely resembles its bigger brother, the midsize Altima sedan; both are distinguished by Nissan's trapezoidal grille and feature comparable headlight and side window treatments.
The similarities continue inside, where the simple, pleasing design of the Sentra's cabin are rendered in upscale materials seemingly pulled from the Altima. The Sentra also takes after the Altima in size, being one of the larger sedans in its segment in terms of legroom and trunk space, with the latter measuring a midsize-like 15.3 cubic inches.
Notable luxury extras available for the Sentra include a Bose audio system, heated front seats and a rearview camera. There's also an optional navigation system - updated for the latest model year with improved voice recognition - with a 5.8-inch display screen, point-of-interest search powered by Google and available NavTraffic and NavWeather functions. It's bundled with NissanConnect, a connectivity system that includes Bluetooth with streaming audio, Pandora radio capability, and a Hands-Free Text Messaging Assistant setup that reads incoming text messages and allows drivers to reply without taking their hands off of the steering wheel.
When paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) - standard on all but the base model - the Sentra is capable of impressive mileage: 30 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway. Economy-focused FE models add aerodynamic underbody panels, low rolling-resistance tires and a rear spoiler to increase highway efficiency to the magic 40-mpg mark.
The price to pay for the Sentra's fuel-thrifty ways is less power and acceleration than many competitors, with the standard 1.8-liter four-cylinder producing just 130 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. The entry-level six-speed manual helps hasten passing maneuvers but increases consumption to 27/36 mpg.
Competent and predicable on the road, the Sentra is nonetheless not the most engaging compact sedan around; more fun can be had in rivals like the Ford Focus or Mazda Mazda3.
Trim Level Breakdown
Nissan sells the Sentra in seven different trim levels: S 6MT, S CVT, FE+ S, SV, FE+ SV, SR and SL.
The S 6MT comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, air conditioning, power windows and locks, a four-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with an AUX input, a trip computer and 16-inch steel wheels.
As its name suggests, the S CVT largely mirrors the S 6MT's content but substitutes a CVT for the six-speed manual.
The FE + S enhances fuel economy by adding aerodynamic underbody panels, low rolling resistance tires and a rear spoiler.
The SV builds on the S CVT's features with premium cloth upholstery, two extra speakers for the sound system and cruise control.
The FE+ SV blends the SV's equipment with the aforementioned efficiency upgrades.
The SR expands on the SV with a sporty body kit, foglights, a rear spoiler and 17-inch alloy wheels. Both the SV and SR can be optioned with the Driver's Package, which brings a 4.3 inch display for the audio system, satellite radio, a USB input, automatic headlights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, keyless ignition and, in the case of the SR, rear disc brakes.
The range-topping SL marries the SV's equipment with the goodies in the Driver's Package. Additionally, it includes dual-zone climate control, foglights, imitation wood interior trim, heated exterior mirrors and unique 17-inch alloy wheels.
The SV, SR and SL are offered with the Premium Package, which adds an eight-speaker Bose stereo, a sunroof and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Also available is the Navigation Package with a navigation system, NissanConnect Bluetooth connectivity system and a rearview camera. Exclusively available with the SL, the Leather Package delivers on the promise of its name with leather upholstery as well as heated front seats and rear disc brakes.
All Sentra models come standard with dual front, front side and full-length side-curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems.
The Sentra's closets rivals are similarly safe, reliable and efficient machines like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. The Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte bring heightened style to the table, while the Ford Focus and Mazda Mazda3 combine upmarket interior appointments with grin-worthy handling.