2000 Sentra New Car Test Drive
Flush with development money from new corporate partner Renault, Nissan has completely redesigned its Sentra for model year 2000. A late introduction, you can think of this as a 2001 model. This new Sentra is much more attractive than the 1999 model. It's a bigger car - a lot longer, a little wider and a bit taller. Fortunately, the Sentra's smooth-running character has been preserved.
There's more power under the hood, particularly for the XE and GXE models, which come with a new 1.8-liter engine. A performance package turns the 2.0-liter SE model into a small sports sedan in looks and in performance.
Indeed, the all-new Nissan Sentra is now a less-expensive competitor for Volkswagen's hot-selling Jetta. And that's quite a compliment.
Sentra is available as four models nationwide: base XE, well-equipped GXE, sporty SE and environmentally conscious CA (Clean Air). Two engines are available.
The lineup starts with the $11,649 XE, a stripper model that only a small percentage of Sentra customers will buy. The XE comes with Nissan's new 126-horsepower 1.8-liter engine that replaces the previous 1.6-liter engine. An $1199 XE Option Package makes it more comfortable. But at that point it may make sense to move up to the GXE.
GXE is expected to be the most popular model. It starts at $13,499. GXE includes the new 1.8-liter engine, and adds a host of features that turn it into a comfortable sedan: cruise control, intermittent wipers, tachometer, a compact disc stereo and power windows, mirrors and door locks. With an automatic transmission and a GXE Convenience Package it retails for $14,449. Sentra GXE can also be equipped with optional 15-inch wheels and tires as well as anti-lock brakes, which we recommend highly. It is also available with optional side-impact airbags for the front seats, making the Sentra a safety conscious alternative to a bigger but older car. Both the XE and GXE come with rear drum brakes.
Sentra SE ($14,899) comes equipped with the larger 145-horsepower twin-cam 2.0-liter engine. Included in the optional SE Performance Package ($899) are 16-inch wheels with P195/55R16 tires, a big rear spoiler and flashy side sills, and a security system. The suspension is firmer to match the capability of the bigger tires. Unfortunately, you can't get the 16-inch tires and firmest suspension without getting the exhibitionist spoiler and side sills. The Performance Package also includes the top-line 180-watt, seven-speaker sound system. A six-disc in-dash head unit ($399) and a motorized moonroof are optional. The total, $16,896, is about $1500 more than a Ford Focus ZTS, but $1000 less than a four-cylinder VW Jetta GLS. (Small-car performance cult members may notice that the famed SE-R designation isn't applied to the 145-horsepower SE with performance package. Nissan hints the name is reserved for an even sportier version, yet to come.)
Anti-lock brakes and side-impact air bags are a smart buy at $699 for GXE and SE.
In addition, a low-emissions model will be available in small numbers in California to test how eager people are to buy cleaner-running cars. Nissan will initially build 500 Sentra CA (Clean Air) models, powered by a 122-horsepower version of the new 1.8-liter engine. This low-friction engine uses three catalytic converters and a special sealed fuel system; it is optimized to run on the latest low-sulfur fuel available in California. Sentra CA meets the government's requirement for EZEV, which translates to equivalent zero emissions vehicle: Each one Nissan sells will count as one-fifth of a credit for selling an electric car. The engine equipment is expensive, but Nissan is offering it for $14,799. Fuel economy suffers 1 to 2 miles per gallon over the standard engine. You can run the car on non-California fuel containing more sulfur, but emissions increase; do this long enough and it'll degrade the catalysts.