New Car/Review

1997 NISSAN SENTRA GXE

by Tom Hagin

Nissan

SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 14,799
Price As Tested                                    $ 15,298
Engine Type                             1.6 Liter I4 w/MFI*
Engine Size                                  97 cid/1597 cc
Horsepower                                   115 @ 6000 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               108 @ 4000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                   99.8"/66.6"/170.1"
Transmission                              Five-speed manual
Curb Weight                                     2395 Pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  13.2 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P175/70R13
Brakes (F/R)                                      Disc/drum
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                 45 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.33

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            29/39/34
0-60 MPH                                         10 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       17.5 seconds @ 80 mph
Top-speed                                           112 mph
     * Multi-point fuel injection

The Nissan Sentra was introduced in 1982, and the 1997 model is the fourth generation of Nissan's very successful entry-level car. And while it used to be available as a coupe or a sedan, it is now only offered with four doors and a trunk. Coupe duties are handled by the more sporting 200SX, which is built from the same platform.

There are four Sentra models from which to choose: standard, XE, GXE and GLE. This week we evaluate the GXE.

OUTSIDE - Like Sentra models of yore, this newest version strives to be sensible and conservative. Its shape seems to blend with the current genre of economy cars, and after a makeover in 1995, it went from a simple boxy shape to a more aerodynamic boxy shape. The hunchback look of its tail helps to increase interior and trunk room, while the nose has been lowered and smoothed. Sentra GXE models have a body-color grille and bumpers, and black-painted outside mirrors, door handles and side rub strips. The car grew in almost every dimension compared to the old model, except length, where it's just a few tenths of an inch shorter. Its trunk is also large, with over 10 cubic feet of space, and has a very low lift-over height, which is welcomed when it's time to load groceries. GXE models come standard with full wheelcovers, while alloy wheels shod with larger tires are optional.

INSIDE - Space was a primary goal of Nissan when it designed Sentra, and that goal was met, as Sentra offers nearly 98 cubic feet of interior space. The car is built to hold five, although things are tight with three passengers in back. The front bucket seats offer good support, and most drivers should be able to find a comfortable position. Its simple dashboard controls use rotary knobs for the ventilation system, and while the stereo controls are small, they fall right to hand. All Sentra models have such niceties as a tilt steering column, full carpeting and reclining front bucket seats. Our GXE test model came with uplevel cloth upholstery, a 60/40 split rear seat, air conditioning, an AM/FM cassette stereo, cruise control, and power windows, mirrors and door locks.

ON THE ROAD - Sentra is powered by a 1.6 liter inline four cylinder engine which features dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder to produce 115 horsepower and 108 lb-ft of torque. Technological engine revisions such as more efficient breathing through variable intake valve timing, and a higher compression ratio have boosted its output and quieted engine noise, without penalizing fuel economy. While sizzling acceleration is not part of Sentra's mission, it does give sprightly performances out on real roads. Also, jumping into freeway traffic or passing on two-lane roads aren't heart-stoppers like while driving some econoboxes. The five-speed manual transmission features shift linkage with short throws and good precision, which can make it enjoyable to "row" it through the gears. Last year, we tested a Sentra GXE that came equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission, and its acceleration results were less impressive. Unless an automatic transmission is an absolute necessity, we recommend the stick-shift.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The Sentra underpinnings use the familiar struts in front, with an uncomplicated twist-beam axle in back. This rear suspension deserves some note, however, because it uses a sliding lateral link that delivers better wheel control without the space required by a fully independent layout, much like that of Sentra's larger stablemate, the Maxima. The ride is well-controlled, but less nimble than what we've found in others in its class. This may be due to its smallish 13-inch tires, which quickly lose their grip and start to plow under heavy cornering. Our test Sentra was equipped with the standard braking system, which included front discs and rear drums, though an all-disc setup with an anti-lock braking system (ABS) is optionally available (and we highly recommend it) on GXE and GLE models.

SAFETY - All Sentra models use dual airbags, side-impact beams and three-point safety belts for all outboard passengers.

OPTIONS - Our car's sole option were floor mats, which added $79. An automatic transmission is $800, while ABS is $499.

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