Compact cars have come and gone, but the Nissan Sentra survives, 35 years after its introduction. For a generation, Sentras were cheaply made, nicely proportioned, low-priced cars with sound reliability and good fuel economy. No one bought a Sentra for its performance or luxury accommodations.
But a new generation of drivers wants more and is willing to pay for it. While the baseline 2017 Sentra S remains competitively priced at $16,990, our Fresh Powder (white) Sentra SR carried a sticker price of nearly $26,000. And it was like no other Sentra we’ve driven over the years.
Base-priced at $21,990, our test car was loaded with more than $3,000 worth of options, which included blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, navigation system, power driver’s seat with power lumbar, and leather upholstery. Standard equipment on this top-of-the-line Sentra consisted of heated front seats, power moonroof, push-button ignition, satellite radio, cruise control, ground effects and more.
Since the Sentra is marketed to young drivers, it has a full range of telematic features: Bluetooth hands-free phone system, streaming audio via Bluetooth, and Siri eyes-free, hands-free text-messaging assistant. The system’s color screen is rather small, at 5 inches, but it’s easy to operate and responds quickly to commands.
We’ve driven heavily optioned economy cars before, and they usually came up short in the performance department. That wasn’t the case with the Sentra. While the base engine is a mild-mannered, 130-horsepower inline Four, our test car was fitted with a 188-horsepower turbocharged Four used in the Juke, a quirky little crossover. This power plant motivates the lightweight Sentra enthusiastically, and the continuously variable transmission performs well. The driver can choose among Economy, Normal and Sport modes.
What’s most striking about this incarnation of the Sentra is its athleticism – more reminiscent of the Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart than anything that ever wore a Sentra badge. It’s invigorating to drive, yet rides comfortably and fairly quietly. It’s also roomier than most subcompacts, accommodating adult passengers in the back seat and sporting 15.1 cubic feet of trunk space.
Our 6-foot driver could have done with more legroom, and headroom in the back seat was tight for tall adults. Otherwise, however, the Sentra proved a good fit for most drivers and passengers.
The 1.6-liter turbo exacts a fairly substantial fuel-economy penalty. Our test car was rated at 27 mpg city, 33 highway, compared with 29/37 in SL and SV trim. But we were maintaining about 36 mpg in mostly highway driving. Nissan recommends the use of premium unleaded gasoline in SR models.
Among the leading competitors in the compact segment are the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Mazda3 and Subaru Impreza, the only one on the list that comes with all-wheel drive.
The 2016 Sentra, similar to the 2017 model, has been rated a Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
2017 Nissan Sentra 1.6 Turbo SR CVT
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged inline Four, 188 horsepower, 177 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic
Weight: 3,076 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 17×6.5-in. alloy
Tires: P205/5R17 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 15.1 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons
Fuel economy: 27 mpg city, 33 mpg highway
Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline (recommended)