Two big numbers stand out with this week’s redesigned Nissan Sentra SR compact sedan. The first, and still very important to many automotive buyers, is its starting price, $20,635 including destination fee. That is $300 less than the Hyundai Elantra, $500 less than Toyota’s top-selling Corolla and a whopping $2,200 less than the base Honda Civic. With the average new-car transaction price well over $42,000 now, you could buy TWO new Sentras and really enjoying special number two, which is … 35 miles per gallon.
The Sentra SR, in top trim here with the optional Premium Package, two-tone paint, power sunroof, Bose audio, Wi-Fi compatible, 18-inch black wheels and more ($27,270 all in), got 35 mpg going to Otter Creek for hiking, 35 mpg heading out to Bangor for a steak dinner and 35 mpg flying down the super-slab to Brunswick. Thirty-five mpg for a cold week in March — without really trying — is very welcome as the gas price numbers spiral out of sight.
EPA ratings for the standard 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder, 149-hp engine are 28/37/32 mpg running with the CVT automatic. There is no manual transmission, but also no turbo-motor option nor is there a hybrid powertrain.
Built in Aguas, Mexico, the Sentra gets a stylish new look outside and inside. The rear suspension is upgraded to a fully independent layout, which improves ride, while the interior gets better seats, more safety gear and one of the largest trunks in the compact class — swallowing 14 cubic feet of cargo.
Buyers of all ages will embrace the functional cabin design. Efficient analog gauges greet the driver, while a broad assortment of push-button controls and conventional knobs lend an air of simplicity and convenience. The 8-inch touchscreen has two large knobs for audio selections, plus clear easy-to-see graphics. With a power driver’s seat, plus heating for the front seats as well as the steering wheel, the Sentra has a decided comfort edge over the Civic.
The vast majority of Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 driver assist programs can be deactivated as you deem necessary (thank you) while the latest connectivity options — multiple USB ports, Apple/Android and Wi-Fi — make the Sentra a certified family and young driver candidate.
Sporting the largest 18-inch wheels available (16-inch wheels and tires are standard), the Sentra still delivered a well-balanced ride over heaving surfaces. Braking action is very strong and steering response is crisp, so you won’t feel like this is just a 35-mpg commuter, but a fun driver too. The Sentra was the number three selling compact sedan here last year, following Corolla and Civic.
So where are the nits to pick? The blacked-out front grille actually masks the Sentra’s freshened design. The e-brake is exactly where a normal clutch pedal would reside, so drivers who still use both feet while driving an automatic car (like me) will find that pedal an impediment to reaching the real brake pedal; plus, the extended rocker-panel skirts are wide and you will get the back of your pants leg dirty climbing out. At least the underbody ground-effect lamps are a helpful nocturnal assist.
The Sentra also proved to be more fuel-efficient without using the “intelligent” cruise control on the highway. The car surged less, and the CVT “down-shifted” less with me operating the throttle, anticipating grade changes and traffic flow interruptions that the “smart” cruise just can’t do.
This is not unique to the Nissan, yet a stark reminder that self-driving cars are a long way from replacing humans, despite many notable gains. Critics believe that fully automated operation is still more than a decade away. Given the two-year rise in driving fatalities nationally — despite more wide-spread use of numerous electronic driving aids in millions of new vehicles — the evidence is mounting that drivers are less engaged in the central task of driving and crashing more.
The Sentra provides those assists to help drivers, yet it also retains some attributes that will encourage drivers to savor the experience and enjoy the Nissan. Drivers have attractive pricing and value-adding fuel economy to gain with the new Sentra.
In other Nissan news, the Ariya battery-electric crossover arrives later this year with a starting price just over $47,000. Automakers are becoming more concerned about the impact of world-events on precious metal pricing for the batteries, which could derail anticipated retail targets. Nissan will also roll out the latest version of its ever-popular Z sports car later this year. No pricing has been announced.
Next week: GMC Sierra Denali 1500