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.
The Sentra has been heavily revised for the most recent model year as part of a mid-cycle refresh. The styling has been updated to better match the rest of Nissan's lineup, and several new features and options are available, including advanced safety systems.
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 38 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 Xtronic (CVT), FE+ S, 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 AUX and USB inputs, Bluetooth, a trip computer, automatic headlights, cruise control, steering wheel-mounted audio controls 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, a rearview camera and a 5.0-inch audio display with NissanConnect Bluetooth and streaming audio, Mobile Apps, hands-free text messaging assistant, SiriusXM satellite radio, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and rear disc brakes. This trim also includes Siri Eyes Free.
A unique equipment bundle called the "SV Style" package is available on this trim. It adds split five-spoke aluminum wheels, extending sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors and a power sliding moonroof.
The SR expands on the SV with a sporty body kit, foglights, a rear spoiler, a proximity key with push-button start and 17-inch alloy wheels.
A Premium package is also available for the SR. This adds many of the comfort features of the SL model to the sportier SR trim, including a power sliding moonroof, 6-way power driver's seat with lumbar support, NissanConnect with navigation, leather seating, Bose premium audio, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.
The Driver's Assistance package is available on SV and SR trims. This adds NissanConnect with navigation and mobile apps, Sirius XM Traffic and Travel link, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. On the SR trim, this cannot be paired with the Premium package.
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. Last year's Leather Package has been added as standard equipment, bringing leather upholstery along with heated front seats.
Two packages are available for the SL trim--Premium and Technology. The Premium package adds a moonroof, Bose audio and illuminated/extending sun visors. The Technology package adds intelligent cruise control, forward emergency braking and the NissanConnect Services package.
All Sentra models come standard with dual front, front side and full-length side-curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems.
Blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, emergency braking and other automated safety features are available as options on various trim levels.
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.