Nissan Sentra Review

nissan sentra review

Surrounded by four competing sedans, the Nissan Sentra looks like a hippopotamus amongst a pack of grinning velociraptors. It’s as if the old model went on a Haagen-Daz bender after having its heart broken by a Renault Megane LE (Lothario Edition). And talk about late to the party. If you’re young, stylish and sporty-ish, you buy a Mazda3. If you’re young, stylish, play too much X-Box and want a handbrake like a photon torpedo release, you buy a Honda Civic. And if you’re a veteran of the Crimean War or your personality’s been surgically removed, you buy a Toyota Corolla. So what does the Sentra bring to the small car party?

The old Sentra wasn't so much designed as extruded. The new car is no longer just an unidentifiable lump; it’s a lump crammed with Nissan design cues. It’s not a Mini-Maxima; more a “Maltima” with a pair of 350Z ears sewn on. The basic body shape is generic Japanese, with lots of sharp lines, flat wheel arches and anything else Nissan could think of. “Look at me!’ the Sentra shouts, “I’ve been styled!” Thankfully, the taillights are attractive– I get the feeling I’m going to be spending a lot of time admiring them whilst trundling along at exactly the speed limit.

Climb in through the tall doors and the Sentra’s interior is surprisingly spacious (as advertised) and demure (as expected). I could do without the baleful yellow eye of Sauron mounted between the speedometer and tachometer, and dash-mounted shifters always put me in the mind of a delivery van driver, but the basics are sound. From cup-holders capable of accommodating all 4453 types of Starbucks beverages to the oversized, intuitive buttonomics, the Sentra proves that less is sometimes, you know, OK.

Provided you avoid the basest of the Sentras, its Rockford Fosgate stereo proves the theory that the cheaper the car, the more important the ICE. Road noise? What road noise? The Sentra’s rear seats really are adult friendly, and there’s plenty o’ utility, with a wide opening hatch, fold flat seats and a fold-away divider. It’s all quite clever, if annoyingly flimsy. I SAID– oh forget it.

The new Sentra works extremely well sitting still. When you begin to move, everything starts to go a bit pear shaped. Most dramatically, all that clever styling has resulted in huge C-Pillars, tiny side mirrors, a porthole-like rear window and a high rear deck. Visibility is roughly on a par with a buttoned-up M3A3 Bradley.

Fire up the butter-smooth MR20DE (a stroked version of the Versa engine) and it’s so quiet you’d be forgiven for thinking it wasn't there. Unfortunately, forward progress does little to contradict this initial impression. Coupling an automatic transmission to a four-cylinder engine is almost always a recipe for slug soup. Past 4000rpm the 140-horse Xtronic CVT-equipped Sentra is as whinily reluctant as a middle school class facing a pop math quiz. The nicely-weighted six-speed stick is much better, with good torque and some higher-rpm punch, but say hello to Versa-tile throttle overrun. Then again, you can’t see where you’re going anyway, so why hurry?

Oh go on. Toss the wee Sentra into a corner, just for fun. (You remember fun.) Suddenly, you’re deep in Playskool territory: the Sentra weebles and wobbles but it don’t fall down. The numb electric power-assisted helm doesn’t help matters (unless you’re parallel parking at the same time). On the positive side, if you back off the throttle (and why wouldn’t you?), the Sentra’s strut (front) and torsion bar (rear) suspension does an excellent job soaking up lumps, bumps and cracks.

Nissan has cut the “sport” out of Maxima’s “four-door sports-car.” The Sentra feels similarly gelded. And that's fine; driven at about six-or seven-tenths, this car makes perfect sense: relaxing to drive without being quite as banana-mush bland as a Corolla. It's not (as everyone keeps saying) a little Maxima. It's a tiny Town Car. Nissan have promised an SE-R version for the spring of 2007, with more power, bigger binders and a stiffened suspension. I’m not sure Nismo can carve a Jack-o’-lantern out of this pumpkin, but I’d like to see them try.

In this I might be alone. For people who will actually want to buy this thing, the new Sentra has got the goods: a perfectly sensible sticker ($15k), some cheap thrills for the cheap seats (standard tire pressure monitoring system!) and unimpeachable fuel economy (29/36mpg with the CVT). Quiet, comfortable, practical and fairly horrible to drive, the 2007 Nissan Sentra knows its audience’s tastes and plays to them well. I’d still rather have floor tickets to the Killers than box seats for Yanni, but we all know which artist has more fans– and makes more money. Rock on!

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  • Nozferatu Nozferatu on Nov 13, 2007

    Some of you guys are hilarious... The constant criticism of the "out-dated" rear suspension and acceleration, etc etc... First off, I doubt ANYONE on this website will know the difference of a IRS and axle beam suspension setup while driving these cars in the road at 6/7 or hec 8/10ths of the car's performance ON PUBLIC ROADS. Second, now that the SE-R is out, it's plenty quick for everyday driving and handles much better than most people will care to test its limits. I find it funny that "car enthusiasts" criticize cars for particulars that have just about no bearing on real-life driving experiences and situations. Most people buy a car like a Sentra for some fun, getting around, carrying things, having 4 doors, being reliable, looking pretty decent (as the SE-R's do IMO), being efficient, etc etc. All the traits the SE-R has...and being affordable to how about that? Let's ask how the poor sap who just got raped buying a $27K GTI feels while he beats me by .3 seconds to the next traffic light.

  • Nozferatu Nozferatu on Nov 13, 2007

    Oh another thing, while the Mazda 3 handles well and feels sportier, I sure as hell don't want to sit in a car which, in this day and age, has a POOR side impact test rating...please...that's pathetic sorry.

  • Syke Given it's got a factory radio, did it also have the factory heater (as opposed to one of the aftermarket heaters as I had in my 1937 Buick Special)?
  • SCE to AUX I have difficulty identifying any car made before my year of birth (1963), and I never would have guessed at this one.Thanks for the history lesson. It was also a reminder that if transported back in time, I'd have difficulty even operating this vehicle. I've driven a column shift exactly once, but I've never operated a radio like that!
  • Lincoln That radio unit is quite the find. It must have been a ridiculously expensive option in the '30s.
  • Raven65 This is utter BS and people need to push back hard against it by refusing to buy the affected vehicles. I find it interesting that this only applies to Buick, Cadillac, and GMC... the "premium" GM brands. I guess they're betting that the people who buy these brands won't balk at a $1500 shakedown (and they may be right). I just read an article about the redesigned Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon twins that are about to start production. This will definitely push people away from the GMC toward the Chevy. Why does GMC still exist anyway? I can't believe they kept that division around back when they went bankrupt, reorganized and shed Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn, and Hummer - given that GMCs are literally nothing more than rebadged Chevys. Nobody uses OnStar... and FORCING people to subscribe to it is not going to make it any more relevant. It just needs to go away.
  • Arthur Dailey I checked the link to Artillery World in the hopes that I could purchase something to turn an old Nissan or Toyota truck into a pseudo 'Technical'. Unfortunately it seems that they sell fireworks. Another great posting by Murilee. Sure wish that there was a way to get that vintage Olds back on the road. The plaques and labels alone are a history lesson.