A classic, affordable sedan with a little extra juice
As a young college graduate I wanted my first car to set the stage for my future: An elegant sedan that exuded the feel of success, but at a price I could afford. At the time the Nissan Sentra was not a contender; it had the feel of entry level, budget friendly sporty sedan.
My, how things have changed. First, a sporty car can also feel upwardly mobile. But then, the 2017 Nissan Sentra (see our Periscope broadcast of the Sentra SR Turbo here) has plenty to make you feel rewarded, but at a price to let you afford other rewards, too.
Who This Car Is For
- Singles, couples or small families
- First time car buyers
- Drivers who want a sporty, turbo drive experience
- Millennials who will bring their own phone-based tech
- Buyers who *might* make the transition from single to couple or from couple to family
- Empty nesters who need to downsize the car and payment
- Buyers who appreciate the elegance of a sedan
- Buyers who want great fuel economy
- Buyers seeking a nice selection of features for the price: $23,000
What It Costs
- S: $16,990
- SV: $18,790
- SR: 19,090
- SL: $21,500
- SR Turbo $21,990
- Price of the model we drove: $23,025
- Additional options: Premium package: $2,590 includes leather seats, Bose sound system, blind spot warning, power seats, navigation and apps, and Rear cross traffic alert
A surprising selection of features for the price
Often, a car in this price range will be outfitted with very few amenities—air conditioning and a radio, for instance. But Nissan offers a nicely edited selection so the drive experience is enhanced and you have just enough technology (and for $2500 more you can have it all).
The model we test drove included cruise control, heated seats and sport mode; buttons on the steering wheel controlled voice-activated Bluetooth (phone), radio volume and allowed us to set a custom display on the driver’s dashboard.
The touch screen featured radio options but not navigation or apps (those are in the upgrade). Still, I could connect my iPod, use Siri hands free to make calls and select SiriusXM or FM or AM radio.
For navigation and apps, I used my phone, which is easy to do. If I were buying this car, I’d buy a phone holder for using Google Maps, and honestly, that’s probably a better expenditure of my money than buying the nav system. However, since the nav package comes with leather seats and more safety features I’d probably choose that (and essentially, get the nav for free).
More safety tech would have been a nice addition
While the Sentra has a nice suite of safety features—airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, traction control, and a vehicle immobilizer system (which means no one can drive away with the car unless the key is present), it didn’t have some of the other safety systems we like to see: Blind spot monitors, cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control (those first two are available in the upgraded package).
The drive experience: Stick or automatic, no compromise in fun
I love to drive a stick shift, and I especially love to drive a Japanese manual: They tend to have a softer clutch that is easy on your knees and still fun to drive. But if you don’t want a car that radiates “seventeen year old gear head boy” as it zips down the street, the Sentra fits the bill. It is available in a stick shift or automatic for the same price.
The manual was easy to slip through all six gears and get up to speed, and the ability to downshift when merging onto or off the highway gave me a little extra confidence. However, I found that using first gear when starting out was often not necessary; it was easy and quick enough to start in second gear (first gear came to a full engine roar pretty fast) and get up to speed without over-revving the engine.
Turbo adds a little extra fun
Or at least that’s the reputation. These days, manufacturers like to add turbo for a little extra power from a smaller engine and sometimes, better fuel economy. In this case, it’s the first but not the second. The Turbo engine (188 horsepower vs. 124 for the standard engine) is estimated to get 26 MPG city/32 MPG highway, versus 29 MPG city/37 MPG highway for the regular engine models. But, then, that’s the thing about a stick: you can better regulate engine speed and fuel economy, and I was pretty happy with the performance—we averaged about 29 MPG during our test drive.
Comfortable seating for all passengers, even those in the back
Another thing to love about a sedan is passenger comfort: the shape of the roof line and the angular body mean everyone sits up straight, has head room and leg room. This was the case with the Sentra (though I would totally appreciate the leather seats the upgrade affords). Front seats were heated and while the rear seats were not, they were plenty comfortable and offered more headroom and legroom that I would have imagined in a compact car.
All about the drive, not about the stuff
While the Sentra had two cup holders and a center arm rest that has a small storage space, I found it difficult to find places for my stuff. A small charging compartment under the center console (with a 12V and USB port) was not big enough for my iPhone 6 Plus, so I had to stick it in the cup holder. My handbag went on the passenger seat or on the rear floor. I found the spaces to be OK, but not idea, especially if I needed to pull out my laptop for a quick bit of emailing while waiting in the school pick up line.
Flexible cargo space for hauling things
Another thing to love about the rear seats is that they fold down. Need to make a Home Depot run for rakes and tiki torches? They’ll fit. Need to accommodate a surf board and fishing poles? Sentra’s got that too. The seats were easy to fold down and offer a fair amount of space.
What I might love the most: its looks
The Sentra is a pretty car. It has elegant lines and draws from the same design language, or lines and shapes, that define Nissan’s other models including the Maxima, Rogue and Murano. Overall, I loved the roof and rear lines that lead to the trunk and spoiler, giving it a European feel as well as efficient aerodynamics. It’s meant to look good as well as feel good.
Music makes the drive experience even more fun. Here’s what we listened to during our test drive
What We Loved
- The price! All this for $23,000
- Seating for 5, more comfortable for 4
- Heated front seats
- Sport mode
- Zippy turbo engine
- Model we tested was a 6 speed manual, but automatic is available for the same price
What You Need to Know
- Leather seats, navigation and some safety features require a $2,590 upgrade
- Front seat storage is minimal
- One USB and one 12V power port
- Uses regular gas
- 26MPG city/32MPG highway
- Non-turbo Sentra gets better MPG