$15,000 to $20,000 Front-wheel drive compact sedan
Who should buy this car:
A person looking for a refined compact sedan that is comfortable and won't break the bank.
Comparable models in this class:
Chevrolet Cobalt, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Spectra, Mazda3, Mitsubishi Lancer, Saturn ION, Suzuki Aerio, Suzuki Forenza, Suzuki Reno, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Jetta, Volkswagen Rabbit
2007 Nissan Sentra Road Test
The Good News The new Sentra is bigger than the car it replaces, has more power, and is quieter. Plus, it has unique storage areas that enhance its practicality.
The Bad News Not a whole lot, except the small door storage pockets are next to useless.
After 24 years and five generations in the United States market, the Nissan Sentra has proven itself a worthy competitor to cars like the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cobalt and Toyota Corolla. More than 3.8 million Sentras have been sold through the 2006 model year, making it Nissans second-best selling car.
Now Nissan has introduced the sixth generation Sentra and its a fine example of what a small car should be. While its not as large as the Altima, it has decent size that makes it comfortable for oversized drivers and passengers. It also has decent power from a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine which is coupled to either a smooth shifting 5 speed manual transmission or an optional automatic which, for 2007, is a smooth continuously variable transmission (CVT) which shifts from low to high in one steady flow of seamless power.
This new sixth generation Sentra has been specifically designed for the North American market. It is built on the Renault-Nissan Global C platform that also includes the Renault Megane in Europe and the Nissan Lafesta and Serena minivans in Japan. Manufacturing will be in Nissans Aguascalientes plant in Mexico (thats not particularly important, I just wanted to write Aguascalientes). This plant also produces the new Versa, as well as the Nissan Platina and Renault Clio for South America.
Styling of the Sentra departs from the previous generation in ways other than size. On the inside, for example, theres a new instrument panel layout and the gear shifter has been relocated to the bottom of the center stack where its almost a part of the dash. What this accomplishes is to free up valuable console space so that the cup holders can be placed where they are actually reachable by the driver.
Since Im a habitual drinker in the car (coffee or water), cupholders and their location are important to me. The center cupholders that serve the front passengers are fully adjustable. You can move the center divider to create two equal cupholders or one large cupholder and everything in between. If youre not interested in carrying water, the large setting also creates a good sized cubby hole.
The trunk has a unique divider that creates a hidden storage area behind the rear seats. With this optional divider up, you can keep valuables behind the seat where anyone looking in the trunk or inside the car cant see them, yet they are easily accessible. Even with the divider up, the trunk is a good size for a compact car. With the divider down, the trunk expands to 13.1 cubic feet.
Another nice optional feature is the CD sleeve above the driver's sun visor. The sleeve stays in place with magnets and is easy to remove from its indent in the headliner. Just flip the driver's sun visor down to locate your next CD and slip it out. You can purchase additional CD holders and swap them in a flash.
Well, how does the new Sentra drive? We had an opportunity to take it over more than 150 miles of interesting hilly, winding roads east of Oakland, California. While we had amazing vistas of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, we also had the challenge of some tough roads that were ideal for evaluating a car like this.
On Interstates and Freeways, the engine was relatively quiet for a four-banger. There was certainly enough power to keep up with anything else on the highway and pass whenever we wanted. When we left the highway and encountered the twistys and hills, I was impressed with how well the engine rose to the challenge. It was a bit buzzier when I kicked in the accelerator, but it certainly was as refined as any other compact car in its class.
Equally, the CVT transmission felt smooth and responsive. When I stepped on the gas from a standing start, the car would accelerate to highway speed with no noticeable shifting at all. The beauty of a CVT is that if you drive conservatively, the engine stays at the best RPM for maximum fuel efficiency, but if you need power for accelerating and passing, the engine goes to the best RPM for maximum horsepower. This is why most CVT transmissions get better fuel economy than a 4, 5 or even 6 speed conventional automatic.
The Sentra is equipped with a new independent front suspension with offset coil springs and digressive valves on the struts that vary the damping. This offered a compliant ride that was comfortable on highways and stiff enough on the twistys to make handling competent and secure.
The Sentra also uses electric power steering that is tuned for a strong on-center feel. What I liked most was the responsive, direct steering control. I never removed my hands from the 10 and 2 oclock positions on the wheel during the entire run, which indicated that when I had hard turns I could do them without having to worry about where my hands were going to be.
I liked the solidity of the Sentra, and its something you notice in the first mile you drive it. This is a car thats well put-together and wants you to know it.