The Nissan Sentra has struggled in recent years with a severe identity crisis. It is neither as sporty to drive as the best of the original Sentras, nor as inviting to own as current compact stalwarts Civic, Corolla, and not to mention the great looking Hyundai Elantra. Clearly, a major change is in order. So, let’s see if this new 7th gen Sentra will do more than just make do.
The task of standing out in the compact car segment isn’t going to get any easier. But, ditching its “cloak of invisibility” is what the 2013 Nissan Sentra must do if it wants to be a major small sedan player. That’s good news if you’re a buyer, as with so much competition, brands are cramming more and more features into their small family cars while lowering prices along the way. The new Sentra seems to embrace that more-for-less theme fully.
The exterior is still not as dramatic as some rivals. But, Sentra’s soft, swoopy, almost elegant lines are a scale downed version of the very popular Altima midsizer.
That said, it’s inside the new Sentra where the real revolution is taking place. Not only is it a wholesale change from the previous Sentra, but we think it outranks even the Altima when it comes to material quality and functionality. The optional Navigation Package includes a back-up camera, and both it and the Bose premium audio system work very well. Make more of the buttons larger and it would be perfect.
Though it rides on the same basic platform, and wheelbase is stretched slightly, rear seat legroom grows almost three inches. Rear seatbacks also fold. Trunk room goes way up as well, to 15.1 cubic-feet. It’s impressively well finished, and for toting really long items, the front passenger seatback also folds flat.
But, the engine has been downsized from 2.0-liters to 1.8 with an eye clearly towards increased fuel economy, which it achieves, but at the sacrifice of power. There are not too many cars that we would call underpowered, but this one certainly qualifies, with output of just 130-horsepower and 128 lb-ft. of torque. As with most modern re-designs, weight has been taken out, 150 lbs in this case which helps cope with so little power. It also assists in upping the back road fun factor slightly. Suspension response is compliant enough, but by no means seamless. However, the Sentra feels plenty sturdy compared to most of its compact competition.
And with such little power coming from under the hood, the CVT transmission roars as it works over time to get you up to speed. Still, at our test track, the Sentra felt surprisingly willing off the line, But, after a second or two, the soul draining CVT takes hold and rob precious seconds of your life, as well as your 0-60 time, taking a lengthy 9.8-seconds.
While tackling the handling course, the Sentra proved very soft, and the well weighted electric steering still had less feel than we hoped. There’s lots of side to side weight transfer as well. It’s certainly no Jetta. Still, commuters and family will likely see the flip side of these results. A smooth riding sedan that is more fit for longer trips than most four-doors of its size.
Government Fuel Economy Ratings are also quite good at 30-City, 39-Highway, and 34-Combined with the CVT. A 6-speed manual is also available, but doesn’t do nearly as well. Our mileage loop was short of the combined mark at 30.8 miles per gallon of regular. Still, the Energy Impact Score is about as good as it gets for a non-hybrid using 9.7-barrels of oil yearly while producing 4.3-tons of CO2.
Pricing is indeed a tad lower than last year starting at $16,780. A very well equipped SL will take you just over $20,000. So, even with its faults, you can buy a lot of Sentra for the money. And, that, plus fuel economy, are undoubtedly why Sentra sales are well ahead of a year ago.
The 2013 Nissan Sentra is competent, solid, with an excellent interior, if still a little hard to pick out of a crowd. It also continues the trend of recent Nissans by growing in size and value. It may not win us over, but at least for now, it is clearly winning on the streets.
Engine: 1.8 liters
Torque: 128 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 9.8 seconds
EPA: 30 mpg city/ 39 mpg highway
Energy Impact: 9.7 barrels of oil/yr
CO2 Emissions: 4.3 tons/yr