Monday, June 30, 2014


Unlike the current Civic and Corolla, which are very similar to their predecessors, the new Sentra charts a decidedly different course. It's quieter than the car it replaces and bigger, too, especially in back. Crucially, it's also much more fuel efficient, yielding an estimated 30 mpg city/39 highway (40 mpg highway with the FE+ package) versus last year's subpar 27/34 mpg. And prices have actually dropped, making the Sentra something of a bargain.

One potential drawback is that the Sentra's mandatory 1.8-liter engine is less powerful than the old model's 2.0-liter engine. We're okay with that, though, because the new car has lost over 150 lb, largely balancing out the missing horses. For a no-nonsense economy car, the acceleration seems just about right.

Nissan's newest compact might not be a superstar, but we think it's the company's most well-rounded small sedan in years. With the Civic and Corolla standing pat these days, the 2013 Sentra looks upgrade to the next American idol.

The Sentra sedan is offered in S, SV, SR and SL trims. An FE+ package that mildly enhances fuel economy is available on S and SV.

The base S sedan starts with 16-inch steel wheels with plastic covers; LED headlight and taillight accents; power accessories; air conditioning; a tilt-telescopic steering wheel; a height-adjustable driver's seat; full power accessories; and a 4-speaker audio system with an auxiliary audio jack.

The SV steps up to cruise control, a 6-speaker audio system (still lacking USB/Bluetooth), illuminated steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, a security system and upgraded cloth trim.

The edgier SR features 17-in alloy wheels; more aggressive front and rear fascias; side-sill extensions; a rear spoiler; fog lights; a chrome exhaust tip; special silver interior trim; and unique sport cloth upholstery.

The range-topping SL is treated to different 17-in alloys; automatic headlights; heated exterior mirrors with integrated LED turn signals; keyless entry with push-button start; leather steering-wheel and shift-knob trim; wood-tone interior accents; dual-zone automatic climate control; a 4.3-in audio display with SiriusXM satellite radio (subscription sold separately); and USB and Bluetooth connectivity.

Depending on trim level, options include some of the SL's standard features, plus a touchscreen navigation system, heated front seats, rear disc brakes (see Safety, below), a sunroof and a rear collision warning system.

As with the cheaper Versa, the Sentra's rear quarters are exceptionally hospitable by segment standards, providing near-midsize passenger accommodations. The trunk is in the mid-size ballpark as well, measuring an impressive 15.1 cu-ft.

Don't look to the entry-level Sentra S for technological leadership, as the best it can do is a 4-speaker stereo with an auxiliary audio input. In fact, USB and Bluetooth connectivity are only standard on the top-of-the-line SL; they'll run you extra on the SV and SR. That's a bit disappointing for an all-new model in 2013.

Although it has some upgrade Nissan Connect features, such as Google point-of-interest integration and automatic read-aloud for text messages, the system's graphics and speed are underwhelming. Also, its 5.8-in display seems a bit small. More satisfying is the decent 8-speaker Bose stereo, which is offered from the SV on up and can be paired with Pandora Internet radio.

Every Sentra is powered by a 1.8-liter inline-4 that makes 130 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. That's about what the Corolla gets out of its 1.8-liter four, but almost every other engine in this class has more juice. Still, the Sentra barely weighs 2,800 lb, so it generally keeps up with traffic well enough.

In most Sentras, the little 1.8 will be overseen by a gear less, continuously variable automatic (CVT). While the base Sentra S offers a 6-speed manual transmission, the rest of the lineup comes only with the CVT. Nissan's been building CVTs for a while now, and this one is a good match for the humble motor, delivering nearly seamless acceleration.

Fuel economy estimates for mainstream models with the CVT are very good at 30 mpg city/39 mpg highway. The CVT-only FE+ package creeps up to 40 mpg highway, while the 6-speed manual drops to a more pedestrian 27/36 mpg.

The 2013 Nissan Sentra comes with anti-lock brakes that use front discs and rear drums. Cheaper and simpler than disc brakes, rear drum brakes are a common feature on entry-level economy cars, but you want discs if you can help it. To this end, note that the Sentra S and SV models come only with rear drums, while the SR and SL have standard rear drums but can be equipped with discs all around if you pay extra.Every Sentra is outfitted with six airbags (front, front-side, and full-length side curtain).

As Nissan rightly points out in its marketing materials, the Sentra is a good deal, with even the SL starting at a hair under $20,000. We'd make ours an SL with the Leather Package, which is the only way to get rear disc brakes on the SL, and we'd still be out the door for an MSRP of less than $21,000. That's refreshing.

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