Making Sentra of Nissan’s Refreshed Compact
Has the GT-R and 370Z of compact sedans arrived with the newly refreshed 2016 Nissan Sentra? The seventh-generation Sentra arrives for 2016 with a color also offered on the GT-R (Deep Blue Pearl) and a three-spoke steering wheel inspired by the Z . . . but that’s where the similarities end between the Sentra and Nissan’s sports cars. Although we’d love to report the updated Sentra has the soul of a Juke, Nissan’s compact, like the Corolla, has its sights set on commuters, consumers who think “sporty” means a body kit, alloy wheels, and a spoiler. Nissan sold 203,509 Sentras in 2015, and we recently drove the 2016 Sentra to see how well it can compete this year in a segment full of activity.
The new Sentra enters 2016 quietly, with an acoustic windshield and other changes that allow for a more hushed cabin than before. That interior is still just as big as it was before the refresh, with enough rear-seat legroom to surprise folks who haven’t shopped for a compact car in a while. The Sentra is not the only compact to delight buyers with midsize-like interior space for four or with a cavernous 15.1 cubic-foot trunk. The refreshed Sentra now offers active safety tech, sports changes to the steering and suspension, and wears revised styling, though that cool swoopy character line down the side of the car remains.
What hasn’t changed is the engine, which still produces 130 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque from a naturally aspirated 1.8-liter I-4. A six-speed manual is available on the base S model, allowing Nissan—and other automakers in this segment—to advertise an impressively low base price, even if most buyers will opt for the retuned CVT. When Motor Trend tested a 2013 Sentra with the same engine and a CVT, the Nissan hit 60 mph in 9.6-9.7 seconds, not much different from four 2014 Corollas with CVTs we’ve tested that made the run in 9.2-9.7 seconds. And like the Toyota Corolla‘s CVT, the Nissan Sentra’s transmission is designed to mimic a conventional, stepped automatic. Even that approach can’t disguise how slow the Sentra feels, and the engine does moan a little. Keeping in mind this is a mainstream compact, we experienced no issues with the CVT’s tuning. Among the neat standard features on all CVT-equipped Sentras are the Eco and Sport modes, which tweak the responsiveness of the CVT and throttle mapping.
Speaking of mapping, navigation on a 5.8-inch touchscreen is available as inexpensively as $20,405 USD on the 2016 Sentra SV, including destination and the cost of a $1,020 USD package. The package also adds blind-spot monitoring and a rear cross-traffic alert system I found useful on Motor Trend’s long-term 2013 Altima when backing out of a parking spot with limited visibility. That 5.8-inch screen is as big as it gets in the Sentra (instead of competitors’ 7-inch screens), and the CD player slot’s placement above the screen instead of below or behind it makes the center stack look a bit dated. The Sentra wins back a few points with Apple Siri Eyes Free that can, among other functions, send text messages with voice commands and can read them aloud and display them, too. Then there’s the well-designed instrument cluster’s central 5-inch color info display that’s standard on all but the base S trim and can show lots of useful information.
Driven sensibly on city roads, the Sentra’s steering system performs well, but drivers who prefer quicker steering will be better off with the 2016 Honda Civic. More powerful and efficient than the Sentra, the Civic also includes as standard on all trims four-wheel disc brakes. The Sentra, like the Corolla and the 2017 Elantra, keeps a lid on prices by using rear drum brakes on lower trims. Cars as small and light as compact sedans don’t really need four-wheel disc brakes, Motor Trend technical director Frank Markus tells us: “What discs do for you is greatly improve the brake feel.”
With 35-40 percent of all Sentra buyers going for the SV model, that’s where we started our time with the car. The ride was comfortable (S and SV get a higher-grip tread compound this year), and the 16-inch wheels and tires didn’t transmit as much road noise into the cabin as on the Sentra SR we later drove, which rolls on 17-inch wheels with dark accents and eye-catching detailing. The gray SV pictured above wears alloys, but most SV buyers stick with the standard 16-inch steel wheels and wheel covers. Even the sportier-looking SR was a comfortable commuter—remember that even if you drive with Sport mode on all the time, there’s nothing appreciably sportier about the Sentra SR aside from the exposed exhaust outlet, spoiler, side sill extensions, and trim-unique wheels, plus the trim-exclusive Red Alert paint.
— Motor Trend (@MotorTrend) January 27, 2016
The Sentra SR joins the SL in throwing in standard LED headlights and making available active safety tech that’s not yet offered on the Corolla. Thankfully, we didn’t have an opportunity to experience the forward emergency braking system, which can slow down the car if it detects an obstacle ahead. There’s also active cruise control, which worked well in the brief time we had to try it out. Once the car is tested with that optional equipment, the 2016 Nissan Sentra may qualify as an Insurance Institute for Highway Top Safety Pick+; the 2016 Altima uses the same systems and just received the same rating. Currently, the Sentra is a Top Safety Pick. In safety testing from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2016 Nissan Sentra has an overall four-star rating (out of a possible five stars). The 2016 Corolla earned five stars, and the 2017 Elantra and 2016 Civic haven’t yet been tested.
More than half of all Sentras sold are the lower two trims, and that makes sense. The refreshed Nissan isn’t an aspirational compact, but it is spacious, relatively efficient (CVT models get an EPA-rated 29-30/38-40 mpg (8.1-7.8/6.2-5.9 L/100km) city/highway), and not overpriced. The 2016 Civic offers just as much space but with a sportier driving experience and more power from two engines, but that Honda‘s bold styling and low driving position aren’t for everyone. When you’re in the market for a mainstream compact and don’t mind a slower drive, add the spacious and now-quieter Sentra to your list beside the Corolla, Elantra, and Cruze.