Nissan has finally reshaped its long-running Sentra small car and in so doing has created a featureladen vehicle that has grown up to stay in tune with the times.
The hot ticket in the automotive business these days is small sedans. Most mainstream manufacturers are currently either introducing new compact/subcompact brands or revamping existing products to make them more appealing to buyers seeking relief from escalating pump prices.
Nissan is actually doing both. The company recently brought out a brand-new entry model, the Versa, while readying the next-generation Sentra for a fall ’06 unveiling.
Having the Versa as its starter product has allowed Nissan to push the Sentra upmarket, closer to the mid-range Altima, both in terms of size and features. The Altima as well as the larger Maxima appear to be the inspiration for the Sentra’s long-hood, short-deck shape.
Compared to the outgoing version, the new Mexican-built Sentra has literally ballooned in size. Although overall length has grown by a mere 2.3 inches, there’s now nearly a half-foot gain in wheelbase, more than three inches in width and a fourinch increase in height. As you might expect from these gains, passenger space is way up and even trunk room is now equal or better than that of some midsize cars.
The completely redone cabin is a dream come true for professional pack rats or anyone requiring adequate storage for their valuables. The glove box is big enough stow a laptop computer, loose-leaf binders or even a large camera or small purse. Another handy bin to the left of the steering wheel can hold objects such as sunglasses, cell phones and a flashlight. And between the front seats there’s a fully adjustable compartment with room for two beverages or, when tucked away, items as large as a couple of paperbacks.
The Sentra also has a couple of optional containment tricks up its sleeve. Hidden behind the driver’s-side sun visor is a removable CD holder that can accommodate up to eight discs. The second is an available carpeted trunk divider that works like a false front to securely hide objects between it and the rear seat back. Very ingenious.
Under the hood is an all-new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 135-plus horsepower and 140-plus lb.-ft. of torque (Nissan is not showing all of its performance cards until launch time). These numbers compare to last years 1.8-liter base engine that made 126 horses and 129 lb.-ft. of torque.
Connected to the motor is your choice of a six-speed manual transmission or optional continuously variable unit (CVT) that contains no set gear ratios and no power-/fuel-robbing torque converter. Nissan’s use of fuel-saving CVTs began with the Murano sport-ute and and continues on all of the company’s passenger cars. Expected fuel economy on CVT-equipped models is 29 m.p.g. in the city and 36 m.p.g. on the highway.
Base Sentras (there are three models in total, 2.0, 2.0 S and 2.0 SL) arrive with a goodly assortment of standard equipment such as air conditioning, keyless remote entry, four-speaker audio system, power windows and door locks. tire-pressure monitoring and six airbags, including side-impact and sidecurtain protection.
Among the range of optional extras are features you wouldn’t expect to find in an economy car. These include leather seat covers, high-end eight-speaker audio system with six-disc changer, Bluetooth hands-free phone connection plus an “intelligent” remote-control fob that will unlock your doors and allow you to start the vehicle with the key in your pocket.
With the new Sentra, Nissan hopes to build on a premiumentry theme to entice emerging new-car buyers plus others looking to size down, but not give up those features normally found in larger, more expensive and thirstier sedans.
It appears as though the company might have found a winning formula.