Car Reviews First Drives

2017 Nissan Sentra SR Turbo First Drive – Mini Muscle

Is this the B13 SE-R’s great-great-grandson?

Is this the B13 SE-R’s great-great-grandson?

Nope. Let’s manage expectations right up front here. That original SE-R took a page from the American muscle car playbook by jamming the revvy twin-cam SR20DE engine from bigger, fancier Nissans such as the Bluebird and Primera into the cheap, cheerful, sunny little Sentra. With a manual transmission and a standard limited-slip differential, that car was heralded as the BMW 2002 of its day (1991–1994). This new one gets a reverse muscle car treatment—a bigger, more quotidian car grabbing the hella-fun 1.6-liter direct-injected turbo engine from the littler (late, lamented) Juke. All of this is a long explanation for why it is not called SE-R.

Perhaps the best way to look at this sportiest of Sentras is as an alternative to the turbocharged Honda Civic sedans. As such it offers slightly more power (188 horses to 174) and torque (177 lb-ft to 162) and even a slightly better weight-to-power ratio (nominally 16.0 to 16.7 pounds/horsepower) (7.3 to 7.6 kg/horsepower). The Nissan also offers the option of a sporty row-yer-own six-speed manual transmission or a sport-tuned Xtronic CVT (all turbo Civic sedans get a CVT), and it’s $210 USD cheaper than the Civic. All you have to give up in this sweet tradeoff is the vastly superior box the Honda turbo comes in, which was redesigned four years after the Nissan last redid the Sentra.

2017 Nissan Sentra SR Turbo front three quarters 05

To counterbalance some of that, Nissan has spiffed up other elements of the Sentra SR Turbo, retuning the suspension and steering and upsizing the front brakes (from 11.0 to 11.7 inches in diameter) to cope with what amounts to a 45 percent increase in horsepower and 38 percent more torque. Naturally, the SR Turbo shares the sporty interior and exterior trim and 17-inch wheels of the extroverted SR trim grade (which accounts for 15 percent of total Sentra sales). Beneath the skin, the front springs are 10 percent stiffer, and the damping rates are increased by 23 percent in front and 50 percent in the rear. Even the electronic Active Understeer Control system is retuned to suit the greater thrust competing for grip at the front tire friction circles. All Sentras get a little quieter this year thanks to thicker front and rear glass, and a new center stowage console nearly doubles in size; the Turbos get a standard sliding glass moonroof.

What’s it like to drive? Way juicier than the cooking-grade SR, with ample midrange torque on tap in any gear and plenty of grunt to bark the tires in second after a good rush to the redline. Said rush is far less linear than was the case in the naturally aspirated SE-R that got us all revved up back at the dawn of my car-scribbling career. This turbo suffers a bit of lag on the low end, and power tapers off about 500 revs shy of the ho-hum 6,500-rpm redline. The SR20DE would pull to 7,500. Sigh. I also remember a more snickety-snick stick in the old one, but any of these memories may have become rosier than the reality. Although that early SE-R was certainly a second or so slower than the SR Turbo, it nevertheless inspired a degree of hooliganism that this heftier, more upright, better buttoned-down, safety-first descendant never quite conveys. But who knows? Maybe the youngest journos at the SR Turbo launch drive will pine for it a quarter century hence when we’re all moving autonomously along in mobility pods…

2017 Nissan Sentra SR Turbo
BASE PRICE $22,825
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 1.6L/188-hp/177-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSIONS 6-speed manual, cont. variable auto
CURB WEIGHT 3,000-3,100 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 106.3 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 182.5 X 69.3 X 59.0 IN
0-60 MPH 6.0-6.3 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON Not yet tested
ON SALE IN U.S. October, 2016