Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V Review

Brendan McAleer
by Brendan McAleer

Anyone who’s ever watched a canard-laden, sooty-arsed Spec V Skyline blast through a corner like a turbocharged gecko knows that the NISMO (Nissan Motorsports) boys are the fairy godfathers of serious speed . Yes, well, making a street fighter out of Nissan’s weight-challenged Sentra compact is gonna require some extra strength bippity-boppity-boo. Speedy silk purse, lethargic sow’s ear, that kind of thing. In short, I approached the Sentra SE-R Spec V with a healthy dose of scepticism, cynicism and I’ll-believe-it-when-I-thrash-it-ism.

Styling. My eyes! The goggles do nothing! Okay, the SE-R isn’t quite that bad. But despite the porcine lipstick application, this is a car only Kermit could love. The new seventeen-inch rims barely fill out the wheel wells and the aero-kit fails to drop the lines low enough to disguise the micro-van roofline. And that’s on top of a car with oversized headlights, Caddy-esque edges and Chryslerberusian hood strakes. Ew.

Yes, well, the original shoebox-special early-nineties SE-R was ugly as sin, but hellish fun to drive. If the new Sentra drives as good as it looks bad, all is forgiven.

Gripping the Sentra’s fat, red-stitched steering wheel, enveloped by side-bolstered sport seats, strapped in with a bright red seatbelt, confidence is high. A 350Z-style angled gauge pod completes the NISMO wikkidness, housing a fancy acceleration/braking G-meter and an oil pressure gauge;that owners of the consumption-prone previous-gen SE-R have been trained to scan on a minute-by-minute basis.

Other than that, it’s a Sentra. The dash is too high, Sauron’s peeking out between the dials again, the shifter’s in the wrong place, the plastics aren’t as nice as baby brother Versa, the C-pillars create huge blind spots, and the side mirrors are too small and don’t fold.

On the other hand, it’s a Sentra. There’s loads of goodies (Rockford stereo, et al), the cabin is airy and spacious, the rear seats are large and comfortable, tall doors provide easy ingress/egress and it’s got a huge trunk. Practicality, thy name is Sentra. Unfortunately, the Spec-V’s chassis-stiffening rear V-brace eliminates the folding rear seats, a functionality-reducing manoeuvre best left to baggy-trousered “tunerz”.

NISMO’s breath upon the Altima-sourced 2.5-liter engine hath bumped compression with special pistons and some tasty trick pieces (e.g. a cast-resin manifold). The resulting lump boasts a higher redline (6800 rpm) and more horses (200hp). The Sentra’s modified mill stumps up 180 lb/ft of torque. Though the twist now arrives higher up in the rev range, that’s the same grunt as the previous gen SE-R.

So, finally, I fired up the little devil and watched the tach and speedometer needles perform a full sweep of their ranges, STI-style. Whoa, Dude! The new Spec V leaps off the line with only the briefest of tugs, indicating that Nissan’s love affair with torque-tainted tillers could finally be on the wane. Of course, “leaps” is a fairly subjective verb here, as those 200 ponies have a whole lot of chuckwagon to motivate.

Despite 3100lbs. of not so curvaceous curb weight and reduced low-end torque, the Sentra pulls a respectable 0 to 60mph time of around six-and-a-half seconds. That’s good enough to best a Honda Civic Si Sedan, but expect forced induction rides like the GTI and Mazdaspeed3 to huff and puff and blow your house down.

With straight-line domination off the table, perhaps the Sentra’s helical limited-slip diff, close-ratio six-speed gearbox, monster anti-roll bars and stiffened springs will let you can catch ‘em in the corners. Lest we forget, Nissan’s advertising makes much of rabid engineers honing the Sentra SE-R’s suspension through repeated hot laps of the Nordschleife Nurburgring.

Green Hell no. Push the Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V past seven-tenths in the twisties and its top-heavy roots start showing. Over the howling of not-that-sticky performance radials, you can almost hear Sabine Schmitz scoffing, “I ken doo thet time in a Ven!”

Take the SE-R off the track and it’s surprisingly settled over rough roads; it’s a bit roly-poly, but nimble enough to do some damage. Unfortunately, the engine note is about as musical as a jack hammer. Luckily, the Sentra's tach is happy enough to kiss the redline and the brakes are phenomenal. Carving a line, I felt my facial muscles spasm. Trichinosis? Nope, just a hoonish grin.

I was expecting the Sentra SE-R Spec V to be a sort of Heffalump GT-R: extra power thrown at a chassis totally unsuited to sporting aspirations. Surprise! The Sentra SE-R Spec V turns out to be a viable alternative to Honda’s hot sedan that provides a stronger (if rougher) engine, a capable (if less balanced) drive and liveable mileage (24/31).

More importantly, at around $20K, the Spec V’s a bargain for entry-level enthusiasts looking for a box-fresh, fully warranteed, practical and fun daily driver. But unlike Ye Olde B13-chassis Sentra SE-R, serious racers need not– indeed should not– apply.

Brendan McAleer
Brendan McAleer

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  • Igorian Igorian on May 22, 2009

    There is obvisouly a problem here with people not being able to see & need some really thick glasses for that reason. Sentra 07-09 is a great looking car!!!! wheather its 2.0L 140hp or SE-R 200hp. It't farley quick, beautiful design inside out and with CVT you waste less fuel and it revs right before the redline if you slam it down all the way. It is heavy but if you want A/C, So much room, and all the extra options, you may want to consider that all of it has weight to it. Eather way the retards talking about golf or civic or even about Versa SE-R should be banned from this website. People come here to find out about cars and look for help finding the one that suits them and all they are getting is bullshit non-facts here. Instead of helping them chose the right one you are telling them to get a golf or a CIVIC. Like dude who wants to drive a civic, 50% of cars on the street are civics, no one will have any respect for you having one! you will just be another person. I've driven a vr6, its quicker than sentra, but damn is it uglier, and not as confertable, and inside it looks like a 10 year old kid built it. I would feel emberessed to talk about the SI or vr6 golf being better than Sentra SE-R, its a shame how many years are passing by and people still dont have the taste for style. Or maybe its just that they dont have the money to afford. Civic simply costs less than sentra, but after all its a Honda (LOL). why would you drive something that Everyone already has. Bottom line is, Sentra is quick, spacious, beautiful looking, safe, and stylish. For you who are looking to buy a car, do not let people confuse you and give you wrong impression of sentra. It is simply an amazing car and defenetly worth the money whether its 2.0 or SE-R.

  • Iamnotarobot! Iamnotarobot! on Jul 22, 2023

    I came here because I was looking to buy a 2008 sentra ser spec v I came across. What I got from here is that the sentra makes for a sucky race car! It's a good thing I'm not a serious racer! Shoot to pass the sky, don't make the sky your limit! Do better next time!

  • ToolGuy Honda is dreaming. And resting on its 'laurels' (French for 'posterior').
  • SCE to AUX Here's some advice - slow down. That's a great way to arrive home safely, without a ticket, with lower blood pressure, and more economically.
  • Dartdude They need to rebrand the models, The standard model should be Wagoneer and long version should be Grand Wagoneer. There should offer the Ram Rev powertrain in these
  • Irvingklaws Seems more like they're adopting Honda styling queues. Now if they would just adopt their reliability...
  • FreedMike "Obsidian Edition."Oooooh, obsidian is really, really hard stuff.