Review: 2016 Nissan Sentra

By Byron Hurd
Monday, Feb 8th, 2016 @ 7:40 am
Nissan's seventh-generation Sentra compact has been on the market since the 2013 model year. In this highly competitive segment, that might as well be an eternity. Unlike the midsize class, which is ever-more losing sales to compact crossovers and SUVs, compact sales are holding more steady. The Sentra alone accounts for 15% of Nissan's sales (in a market where compacts represent 14% of all new vehicles sold).

With that in mind, Nissan set out to improve the Sentra's value and curb appeal in one fell swoop. To show us the fruits of this effort, Nissan invited us out to Orange County, California to take a spin in the 2016 model and see what we had to say. Read on to find out what we thought.

A fresh look
The 2016 Sentra's exterior overhaul follows that of the Altima's. It now wears Nissan's "Energetic Flow" styling complete with the "V-Motion" grille. It's an aggressive look that blends an angular, aggressive front treatment with a swooping body line that terminates at the tail lights. Along the way, Nissan redesigned the hod, fenders, headlights, tail lights, rear fascia and wheels.

Like Altima, the Sentra doesn't take the styling treatment to the extreme of the new Maxima or Murano. It appears the floating greenhouse look will have to wait until these cars are due for a redesign (if Nissan wants that visual here, anyway). The new look isn't drastically different, but it keeps the smaller Nissan aesthetically reflective of Nissan's current direction.

A more livable space
The interior got some love as well. Nissan's focus was on the parts of the cabin with which the driver comes into direct contact. As such, the center console, infotainment interface, steering wheel, seats and shift knob all saw revisions.

The steering wheel is the most obvious interior tip-off. Inspired by the Nissan 370Z, the three-spoke unit is much sportier and cleaner looking than the old, shield-shaped unit. The shift handle too is more substantial and modern looking--less clunky. Nissan also upgraded the trim around most of the revised components, lending the cabin a more upscale feel.

Under the metal
The 2016 Sentra's overhaul is more than just skin-deep. Nissan revised the Sentra's chassis, suspension and powertrain for a more comfortable, efficient and sporty driving experience. Chassis improvements include a boxed front tunnel stay (which braces the area where the exhaust exits beneath the firewall); a new, thicker steering shaft for improved steering response and feedback; new and revised suspension components and improved spring and damper rates.

Backing up these hardware changes are a few improvements to the car's programming. The electric power steering system was remapped, as was the CVT's "step shift" logic, which was implemented to provide a more natural acceleration curve than most expect from CVTs. Nissan also specced new, grippier tires for its 16-inch wheel options.

Nissan also added/adjusted some of its construction to reduce NVH.

More life-saving tech
2016 Sentra shoppers now have at their disposal a modernized array of driver assistance technologies, including forward emergency braking, intelligent cruise control, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. In keeping with the Sentra's value proposition, the latter two options are available as part of a Driver Assistance package even on the somewhat sparsely equipped "SV" trim (a step above the base model), meaning they can be had for less than $20,000.

Forward emergency braking and intelligent cruise are both available as part of the Technology package on the pricier SR and SL models only. As much as safety feature as it is a convenience feature, Siri Eyes Free is also available from the SV model up.

A day in paradise
The theme for Nissan's test drive was "A day in Orange County." Media participants were encouraged to imagine themselves on a couples' day sightseeing trip to sunny Southern California. Despite the awkwardness of this premise, the prescribed outing did give us a chance to put the Sentra through its paces in all manner of surroundings, including interstate highways, back roads, surface streets and even a ferry ride.

Essentially, Nissan selected a handful of local tourist spots and strung them together so that we could experience the 2016 Sentra in what the company considers its natural habitat--the urban and suburban jungles. With that as the goal, it's no surprise that our drive route lacked one of our favorite types of pavement: twisty.

In the few areas where we did get to push the new Sentra a bit, we found Nissan's claims of improved body control and grip to be truthful, though we'd hesitate to the call the Sentra "fun." Its suspension is tuned for comfort, and the 130-horsepower, 1.8L engine isn't going to set the world on fire when it comes to acceleration. Even driving an SR model with the drive mode set to "Sport" and the D-stepped CVT giving us every possible shot at the little four-banger's 128 lb-ft of torque, it never felt particularly lively. Nissan is reportedly working on bringing some new, peppier engines to the Sentra lineup, and we'd welcome them.

The news from the road isn't all bad. While the Sentra may not be taking home any trophies when it comes to fun factor, we're pleased to note that the car is pleasantly more quiet. There's less drone from the notoriously buzzy CVT on the highway, which is welcome, and the cabin feels comfortably more isolated at high speeds. Nissan's stepped CVT programming not only makes the Sentra's acceleration feel more like that of a car equipped with a traditional automatic, but it has the added benefit of holding the revs slightly lower too, which contributes to the improved NVH.

Leftlane's bottom line
While we wouldn't recommend the Sentra to those who prioritize a sporty drive, its value proposition is virtually unmatched. Those looking for an inexpensive, efficient compact car can comfortably add the 2016 Nissan Sentra to their shopping lists.

2016 Nissan Sentra, base price: $16,780 (S, MT) $17,630 (S, Xtronic CVT)

As tested:
2016 Nissan Sentra SR, base price: $20,410; SR Premium package, $2,590; Technology package, $1,230; Destination, $835
2016 Nissan Sentra SL, base price: $22,170; SL Premium package, $1,130; Technology pacakge, $1,230; Destination, $835