2016 Nissan Sentra Quick Spin
Nothing to get excited about, but still a recipe for success.
Power130 HP / 126 LB-FT
Curb Weight2,920 LBS
MPG29 City / 38 HWY
As Tested Price$25,065
Best Deal Price$17,419
The 2016 Sentra is an updated version of the seventh-generation sedan that launched a few years ago. Overall, it's no different than its predecessor, with only modest tweaks to an otherwise competent package. It looks better, it's quieter inside, and you can get it with more goodies. It's definitely not the enthusiasts' choice, but in the compact class – and especially for Nissan – that doesn't really matter. The Sentra alone is responsible for 15 percent of Nissan's sales in the United States, and in 2015, 25 percent of the brand's overall growth came from this car.
- Let's be honest, this isn't a fun car to drive. Don't be fooled by the more aggressive appearance of the SR model here – it's all for show. Every Sentra uses the same chassis tuning, and there's only one engine: a naturally aspirated, 1.8-liter inline-four with 130 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque.
- Only the base S model can be had with a six-speed manual transmission (you'll probably never see one), and the moment you select any options, you're forced into the CVT. Like all modern continuously variable transmissions, the Sentra's setup is relatively well-behaved, and doesn't suffer from the overly buzzy nature of old CVTs.
- Besides, CVTs are commonplace in the compact class these days, since they're good for fuel economy. Most Sentra models achieve 29 miles per gallon in the city, 38 mpg highway, and 32 combined; the FE+S trim ups those numbers to 30, 40, and 34, respectively. Within the Sentra's competitive set, its fuel economy is right on par with the new Hyundai Elantra and Toyota Corolla, but it does fall short of the Honda Civic's lofty 41-mpg highway claim.
- How's it drive? Like a Sentra. The retuned suspension is relatively compliant, even over broken, post-winter Michigan roads, but you don't get a lot of feedback through the chassis. Same goes for the steering: it's numb, but nicely weighted, and should be fine for normal Sentra activities like traversing parking lots at rental car offices, high schools, and shopping malls.
- Nissan made incremental changes to the Sentra's steering and suspension setups, and the result is a car that's only incrementally better to drive. We'd rather steer a Focus, Civic, or Mazda3, of course, but the Sentra falls somewhere around the Corolla/Elantra/Cruze set.
- This is a much quieter car for 2016. Little things like more sound-deadening material and remapped CVT programming to keep it revving lower mean there's less noise inside the cabin. It's not Lexus quiet or anything, but the inside of the Sentra is surprisingly hushed.
- Speaking of the interior, it's the same as it ever was. The seats are relatively comfy, the back seat is huge, and all the materials used throughout the cabin are average-for-the-class good. Headroom isn't great, but that's really the only sore spot in an interior that's clean and simple to use. Nothing here will wow you, but you won't struggle to figure out the controls, either.
- Speaking of clean and simple, that's a good way to describe the Sentra's design, too. The revised front fascia looks a lot better than the frumpy-ish outgoing model, but it's not going to turn heads like a Civic or Mazda3.
The Sentra's biggest selling point is perhaps its price point. It starts around $17,000, and even a fully loaded model with leather, navigation, a full infotainment suite, a sunroof, and driver assistance conveniences like blind-spot monitoring, forward emergency braking, and intelligent cruise control, tops out just above $25,000. A loaded Honda Civic tops out near $28,000, and a Mazda3 sedan will easily hit $30,000.
To us, cars like the Civic and Mazda3 are worth the extra money because they look better, have more stylish interiors, and drive a hell of a lot better. But remember, there's a huge majority that doesn't really care about that stuff. To them, it's all about getting the best bang for their buck, and these thoughtful updates continue to put Sentra on a path for success in that regard.
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