2013 Nissan Sentra Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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There's no more important segment in the Canadian auto market that the compact car, and Nissan's Sentra has been a popular seller for decades. Looking to maintain its position with current buyers and attract new customers to the brand, the automaker brings a totally revised Sentra to market for 2013, and after a day's drive I must admit this is one impressive four-door.
Like the current Sentra did five years ago, the new 2013 model pulls many of its styling cues from the larger midsize Altima. The look is once again more conservative than some recently updated rivals like Ford's Focus and Hyundai's Elantra, or for that matter the new Chevy Sonic and Dodge Dart, but then again the Sentra looks more expensive too, almost Infiniti-like with its big chrome grille and LED-enhanced headlamp clusters. LED taillights with chrome trim surrounds grace the rear, while more chrome is added to make entry-level buyers feel like they're living the high life.

I must admit to feeling that way after slipping behind the leather-wrapped wheel of my Sentra SL tester. Its comfortable leather-surfaced seats are heated, of course, and its metal and maple woodgrain trimmed interior really needs to be experienced by owners of other compact cars to be appreciated. The dash-top is comprised completely of a high-grade soft-touch material, so it looks great, feels extremely nice and is ideal for absorbing sound, therefore refining the overall Sentra experience. That experience can include an impressive Bose Premium audio system with eight speakers and an amp that's specifically tuned to either cloth or leather seats to prevent distortion, all controllable via steering wheel-mounted buttons or a large infotainment screen on the centre stack that also houses optional navigation plus a backup camera via a new larger 5.8-inch touch-screen (up from 5 inches). And that nav system comes with NissanConnect that features NavTraffic, POIs powered by Google, Google Send-to-Car, real time fuel prices, flight info and weather (which incidentally isn't available in the U.S.), plus warning for curves and speed limit info. There are loads of additional features in the top-line SL, and at risk of making this review sound more like a brochure than a critique, I won't list them out, but suffice to say you won't be left wanting in a Sentra SL.

The new model is a lot more than just a nicely organized combination of features, mind you, it's a well thought out car with great engineering. I was first impressed with its size inside from front and back, although it's in the rear where it really has an edge over its compact rivals with the most legroom in the class, a fact that's immediately noticeable. The trunk is surprisingly large too at 428 litres, and totally accommodating with a big, wide opening.

Measuring up the new Sentra to the car it replaces shows that it's grown, but only slightly, with a shorter front overhang yet a longer rear extension allowing that larger trunk, which is up 56 litres (2.0 cubic feet) from last year by the way. Overall the new Sentra is 58 mm (2.3 inches) longer at 4,625 mm (182.1 inches), but it only gets a slight increase in wheelbase at 15 mm (0.6 inches) for a total of 2,700 mm (106.3 inches). It's narrower by 30 mm (1.2 inches) and rides lower by 15 mm (0.6 inches), which is why interior volume hasn't grown much at 3,143 litres (111.0 cubic feet) compared to last year's 3,137 litres (110.8 cubic feet), but it's still largest in the class. The most dramatic result of the new body shell is its reduction in drag, from a Cd of 0.34 to 0.29, which of course improves highway fuel economy while reducing wind noise inside the cabin.

In that respect you might not be prepared for how all of this comes together on the road. The new Sentra feels larger than it has any right to. It's a compact car after all, but it drives more like a midsize, with a superb ride and impressive handling considering how comfortable the ride is. The cars we were driving were fitted with aftermarket Bridgestone Blizzak WS70 winter tires, so we weren't able to get a true feeling of the Sentra's full measure of grip on the wet road surfaces we experienced during our day's drive, but it nevertheless felt capable through the corners and stable on the highway at higher speeds, seemingly achieving an ideal balance of performance and comfort.

Off the line performance won't pin you into your seat, even in sporty SR trim, because unlike last year's SE-R and SE-R Spec V, the new Sentra's sport model is powered by the same 130-horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque as the base model, and my SL tester. That's a bit lower than the outgoing Sentra, by the way, which produced 140-horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque, but Nissan's new objective is status quo performance with much better fuel economy, and in this respect I think they're being smart. The new engine is a bit smaller at 1.8 litres compared to 2.0, but when combined with internal upgrades like twin variable valve timing on input and exhaust cams; a new smart alternator that decouples from the engine during acceleration and then re-engages automatically to recharge the battery; a six-speed manual in base trim or optional Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which incidentally is a next-generation variant that allows for better efficiency thanks in part to a new sub-planetary gear and 30-percent less friction, 13-percent lower weight, and a 10-percent reduction in size; plus a 68-kilo (150-lb) reduction in overall mass, makes for a car that actually feels more alive on the road while being much more efficient. And in reality, most of us don't spin the tires at takeoff unless we've accidentally hit the gas pedal too hard, and we don't tend to fling our cars through every cloverleaf turn at full throttle either, so why do we need more power at the expense of higher fuel costs? Yes, I'm with you. Give me better fuel economy.

How does 6.6, 4.9 and 5.8 sound? I'm talking L/100km for the city, highway and both ratings combined. That's significantly better than its three main rivals, the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra. Of course you won't likely see these numbers in real life, but they serve for comparison's sake. If you want a dose of reality just convert the U.S. EPA figures, but make sure and do the same conversion for the Sentra's competitors too. The numbers will be best in class either way, with EPA metric-converted estimates equaling 7.8, 6.0 and 6.9 respectively. In comparison the outgoing 2.0-litre car was EPA rated at the metric equivalent of 9.8, 7.6, 8.7 in manual trim or 8.7, 6.9, 7.8 with the automatic, 13-percent less efficient.

The new Sentra's excellent rating is easier to achieve if you set the drivetrain to Eco mode, which adjusts throttle sensitivity, lowers revs, and reduces air conditioning draw on the engine, while cars with the manual get an upshift indicator. A Sport mode comes as part of the base package too, which adjusts all parameters to optimize performance, or you can just leave it in Normal mode for a best of both worlds scenario.

So what about trims and pricing? The new 2013 Sentra will start at $14,848 plus $1,567 in destination charges, which makes it $630 less expensive than last year's Sentra in base 2.0 6MT trim. That makes it easier to afford than Civic, Corolla or Elantra, incidentally. The new base Sentra is automatically updated to "S" trim, too, which was last year's second trim level. A Sentra S with Xtronic CVT automatic adds significantly to the bill, however, with a starting price of $19,115 including destination because it requires an upgrade to the $1,400 Value Option package with its air conditioning, illuminated steering wheel audio and cruise controls, and Bluetooth hands-free. A Sentra SV starts at $19,151 including destination, and includes the CVT as standard, while the previously mentioned SR or SL packages can be added to enhance appearances and feature sets.

The $1,100 SR package adds a unique blacked out grille insert, racier front and rear fascias, fog lights up front and a rear spoiler plus a chrome exhaust tip in back, all tied together with lower body side sill extensions while riding on unique 5-spoke 17-inch alloy rims. Only the Canadian model gets rear disc brakes, reason alone for some to opt for this sportier trim level. The SR cabin gets exclusive fabric sport seats too, and silver metallic trim for a really nice look. Features such as powered and heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, proximity sensing access with pushbutton ignition, dual zone automatic climate control, and Bluetooth hands-free with audio streaming are included. The $4,150 SL package includes these interior upgrades too, and much more, but I've already mentioned many of these features so there's no need to go over them again. Filling in the gaps is a $2,000 Luxury package or a $2,000 Premium package, these adding the aforementioned rearview camera, navigation and audio upgrades as well as a powered moonroof. But best to check Nissan's website and build your own Sentra just the way you like it.

At the end of my day's drive I came away impressed with the new 2013 Nissan Sentra, not only because it's a really nice little car that delivered an upscale experience way above its price tag, but also because it's a car that makes sense in today's ultra-expensive budget-oriented world. In a nutshell it's the largest car in the class with the best fuel economy, while it's filled with a lot of features for the best starting price. Doesn't that just about cover it all?

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Nissan, 2013, Sentra, $10,000 - $19,999, Compact,

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