2010 Nissan Sentra SE-R Road Test Review

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Car writers live a charmed life, and I'm not nearly as privileged as some.  Having access to the most outrageously expensive cars on the planet makes it easy to lose sight of the "real world," from an automotive standpoint at least.  Even though I rarely find myself in supercars like Porsches and Bentleys, a regular diet of Lexus and Mercedes products has a way of making everything else seem inadequate by comparison.  Out here in the real world, on the other hand, the Nissan Sentra SE-R is probably the nicest car a lot of people will ever drive. 

Frankly, if that turns out to be the case, you're not doing too badly.  The current SE-R has had a somewhat subdued life since its introduction in 2007, but it offers entertaining performance in a practical package, just like the first Sentra SE-R did back in 1991.  Nissan has tweaked the styling and interior appointments for 2010, making the Sentra SE-R an even better deal for anyone in the market for an under-$22,000 sport sedan. 

The Sentra's junior-Altima looks carry Nissan's distinctive slab sides and arched roof.  Standard models get a new grille that bears a stronger resemblance to that of Nissan's larger sedans, while the SE-R keeps its honeycomb-style grille and standard body-side cladding.  Smoked taillights, seventeen-inch wheels and a stubby trunk lid spoiler help to set the SE-R apart from the standard Sentra. 

Naturally, the things that are good about the Sentra apply also to the SE-R, and that includes the roomy interior and improved instrument panel trim.  The materials are far from down-market, and the Sentra now feels like a compact version of the almost-luxurious Altima.  It's not that far off in size, either; the Sentra's interior is spacious enough that it's classified as a midsize car, rather than a compact.  In proper Nissan sporting fashion, the SE-R has auxiliary gauges on top of the dash, just like the 370Z.  A USB/iPod plug is standard on the audio system.  Equipment like the navigation system, backup camera, Intelligent Key proximity sensing keyless entry and pushbutton start system would enable the Sentra SE-R to be equipped like a much larger vehicle if available in Canada, but alas they're only available south of the border. It is possible to outfit your SE-R with a moonroof and a Rockford-Fosgate premium audio system with XM satellite radio, however.  Standard front, side and side-curtain airbags ensure that it's as safe too. 

Performance is enthusiastic and confident.  The Sentra SE-R is powered by a 2.5-litre DOHC four-cylinder engine.  The 177 horsepower output is a 37-horse boost over the standard 2.0-litre Sentra powerplant.  The standard continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) makes odd noises and doesn't sound especially racy, but the car's reaction times help make up for that.  Steering-wheel mounted paddles enable the driver to select specific ratios for a semblance of manual control.  Power delivery is broad and eager, and the Sentra SE-R is much better than the peaky sporty fours of past years.  The Sentra SE-R Spec V wrings out even more performance.  Modifications like a resin intake manifold, sport camshaft and pistons and dual exhaust help to increase the engine redline to 7,000 rpm and output to a healthy 200 horsepower.  The Sentra SE-R Spec V is available only with a six-speed manual transmission, for those drivers to whom an automatic in a performance sedan is anathema. 

It's no longer enough to bolt blacked-out trim and big wheels onto a standard sedan and call it a "sport" edition.  With cars like the Mazda3 and Ford Focus displaying a high level of natural ability, the Sentra SE-R wouldn't make the grade if it didn't back up its claims of performance with real ability.  The suspension's layout is the same as that of the decent-handling Sentra, with MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam rear.  In the Sentra SE-R, it's retuned for better response.  The Sentra SE-R is more fun to drive than its boardroom exterior would suggest, with fast reflexes and sharp electric power steering that is retuned for enthusiast-pleasing handling.  Vehicle Dynamic Control stability control and traction control are standard equipment for 2010.  Four-wheel discs and anti-lock brakes are standard.  This car is good at doing double-duty:  when it's time for commuting, the Sentra SE-R feels pretty much like any other compact sedan, but give it a challenge and it won't back down from fast freeway onramps or twisty mountain roads either.  The SE-R Spec V adds stiffer springs and an available limited-slip differential to the suspension package for harder-edged handling. 

The Sentra SE-R is underrated, thanks in part to the high-profile performance of class leaders like the wild Subaru WRX STi and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.  When it comes to sensible yet entertaining real-world performance, however, the SE-R delivers nicely.  Pricing for the Sentra SE-R starts at $21,798, plus $1,400 for freight and pre-delivery inspection, while the Spec V goes for slightly more at $23,198 plus freight and PDI.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Nissan, 2010, Sentra SE-R, Sentra SE-R Spec V, $20,000 - $29,999,

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