2007 Nissan Sentra S Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2007 Nissan Sentra S

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Nissan

The just-introduced sixth-generation Nissan Sentra has grown up. It's larger, especially inside, very well-equipped, yet still reasonably priced and offers a more upscale experience than expected from a compact sedan.

The debut of the smaller and less-expensive Versa as the new entry-level Nissan has allowed the Sentra's increased stature and status. Underneath its recognizably Nissan styling lies the company's new "C" front-engine, front-wheel drive platform. With a 5.9-inch increase in wheelbase but only a 2.3-inch growth in overall length, and greater height and width, the new Sentra emphasizes passenger space.

Power is from a new 140 horsepower, 2.0-liter engine, which, unusually, is matched to either a six-speed manual or optional continuously-variable (CVT) transmission. The chassis is standard for the class, a front-engine, front-wheel drive unibody with independent strut front suspension and a torsion beam axle in the rear, but the suspension tuning is better than average, providing both a comfortable ride and good handling.

There are three trim levels, base, S, and SL. The base model is well-equipped, with power windows and door locks, microfilter air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD audio system with an auxiliary input jack for external audio players, a 60/40 split flip and fold rear seat, and side-curtain airbags among its standard features. The S adds to that with larger, 16-inch, wheels, power outside mirrors, an upgraded audio system, interior upgrades, and available options. The SL is almost a pocket luxury cruiser, with leather-trimmed seats and most of the options available in the lesser models as standard equipment. These include the CVT, antilock brakes, the "Intelligent Key" keyless ignition and entry system, hands-free wiring for Bluetooth¨-equipped cell phones, and convenient touches like a CD holder behind the driver's sun visor and the "Divide-N-Hide" trunk partition system. Either XM or Sirius satellite radio systems are available in the S and SL trim levels.

Entry level it is not, but with prices ranging from $14,750 for the base model through $15,650 for the S and $18,400 for the SL, the 2007 Nissan Sentra is not a budget-killer, either. I've just spent a week with a well-equipped S model with the manual transmission. It was a spacious and comfortable car with a sporty personality.

APPEARANCE: All of the current Nissan styling cues show on the 2007 Sentra's exterior - twin lines cut into its simply-curved hood, rectangular stacked headlights, a chrome-trimmed grille with an interesting "key" motif, prominent flat wheel arches, and a character line on each side that rises toward the rear, emphasizing a sporty wedge shape. It is the most like the Altima, logically as that's the next step up in the Nissan line, but if the shapes are vaguely similar, the Sentra's proportions are very different. In the manner of many Asian and European sedans in its market segment, the Sentra is relatively short, tall, and wide, with a long wheelbase, short overhangs, and a high rear deck.

COMFORT: If the Sentra's tall stance is the opposite of a sports coupe's low and sleek look, it is for good reason. Inside, the new car is larger in every dimension, and is 9.2 cubic feet larger in the passenger cabin. Headroom all around and rear-seat legroom are especially noteworthy. Upholstery is a grippy textured knit cloth. The front buckets provide a high level of comfort and support for the Sentra's class and price point. In the S trim level and above, the driver's seat is adjustable for cushion height. Interior styling is unsurprisingly similar to other current Nissans. Since a Sentra is likely to be its owner's only car, versatility is important, and it scores high in that regard. The rear seat not only holds two or three people in comfort, and has a 60/40 split with a trunk passthrough, its cushions flip up for a flat load floor. This is standard fare in all models. S models can be outfitted with the Convenience Package, which, among other useful things, includes the "Divide-N-Hide" trunk divider, which partitions the trunk, so that there is a hidden compartment between the trunk proper and the rear seat, wiring for hands-free operation of Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones, and a convenient CD holder behind the driver's sun visor. There is a 12-volt power outlet at the front of the center console, and the glove box not only locks (unusual in this class) but it's large enough to hold a small laptop computer. Partitioned or not, the trunk is usefully large. With the flat load floor and large trunk opening, unwieldy items up to and including a bicycle can fit inside, although some assembly may be required.

SAFETY: Standard safety equipment in all 2007 Sentras includes front and rear crumple zones, the Nissan Advanced Airbag System of front, front side, and side curtain airbags, and three-point safety belts for all passengers.

RIDE AND HANDLING: No new ground is broken in the Sentra's chassis or suspension design, but it is well-executed. Its unibody structure is solidly built, contributing both to low interior noise levels and good ride and handling characteristics. The independent strut front, torsion beam axle rear suspension is typical of cars in the Sentra's class. It's tuned in a European manner, with soft spring rates and matching shock rates for good control and comfort. It soaks up the bumps and potholes of everyday driving well. It also allows spirited driving, albeit with plenty of body roll. As the old saying goes, "it corners on its door handles," but it gives a fun driving experience while doing so.

PERFORMANCE: Nissan's new MR20DE four-cylinder, twin-cam, 16-valve aluminum alloy four-cylinder engine has a dual personality. Driven gently, it's calm and economical. Short-shift the standard six-speed manual gearbox before the tach reaches 4,000 rpm, and it will seem that there is adequate but not exceptional power. Wring it out above that, to the 6400-rpm redline, and there is no power shortage whatsoever, and a pleasantly raspy exhaust note. It's sporty, if not truly "sport" in the manner of the old SE-R model. The six-speed's ratios are geared more for economy than acceleration, with fifth and sixth both being overdrives. Still, a relatively short 3.933 final drive ratio and low lower gears means snappy acceleration, especially using the upper part of the rev band. EPA economy estimates are 28 mpg city, 34 highway. I averaged 27mpg in mostly short-trip city driving, with liberal use of the upper rev range. A lighter right foot could improve that, and the optional CVT is rated for slightly better mileage. I haven't driven a Sentra with the CVT, but the similar transmission in the Nissan Murano is extremely smooth and pleasant.

CONCLUSIONS: Nissan's Sentra moves up in style and space for 2007.

SPECIFICATIONS
2007 Nissan Sentra S

Base Price			$ 15,650
Price As Tested		$ 18,265
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 16-valve aluminum
				 alloy inline 4-cylinder
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 121 cu. in.
Horsepower			140 @ 5100 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 			147 @ 4800 rpm
Transmission			6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		105.7 in. / 179.8 in.
Curb Weight			2907 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		20.8
Fuel Capacity			14.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane regular unleaded gasoline
Tires				P205/55 HR16 Bridgestone Turanza EL400
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / drum, antilock optional
Suspension, front/rear		independent strut /
				 semi-independent torsion beam
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		28 / 34 / 27
0 to 60 mph				est 9.0  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Convenience Package - includes:
  Bluetooth¨ hands-free phone system, cruise control with
  illuminated steering wheel-mounted switches,
  leather-wrapped steering wheel, integrated overhead
  CD holder, Divide-N-Hide trunk system, cargo net,
  satellite radio pre-wiring			$ 650
Audio Package - includes:
  8-speaker Rockford-Fosgate audio system with
  AM/FM/in-dash 6-CD changer with MP3 and
  WMA CD playback				$ 750
Alloy Wheel Package - includes:
  16" aluminum alloy wheels, antilock brakes,
  electronic brake force distribution		$ 600
Destination charge				$ 615

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