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2013 Nissan Sentra Review By Steve Purdy

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2013 Nissan Sentra

2013 Nissan Sentra
A little panache for a little car

By Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

One of the most competitive segments in the car business these days is that of compact sedans. Just about every mainstream manufacturer has new product in that class introduced over the past couple of years, most loaded with style, content and technology. Nearly last to redesign, but certainly not least, is Nissan with the launch of the new Sentra.

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We spent a lovely fall day driving from San Francisco up the coast along wonderfully twisty roads, then inland through the seemingly endless miles of vineyards to a resort in Napa Valley testing the new Sentra. The drive provided just enough variety and length to get a good sense of the car, though we’ll have to wait for a full week with the car to do our usual full review.

Our initial impressions – and by ‘we’ I mean me and most other journalists on the drive with whom I compared notes – were positive. Sentra keeps up with the pack. It is stylish, technologically up to date and sets a few new standards for the class at a very competitive price.

And, what a class it is. Think of the new Cruze and Elantra as two of the toughest competitors. Focus, Corolla, Mazda3, and Civic help fill this genre. These cars define advancements in just about all criteria by which we evaluate our daily transportation options. And, as gas prices continue to increase this becomes an even more significant part of the market.

Believe it or not, this is the seventh generation of Sentra, a model that dates back to the dismal days (for car enthusiasts) of 1982. Sentra has always been built in North America with a total over 4.3 million units.(See Also Where Cars Are Made)

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Styling and design, inside and out, represent a big step forward with more swoopy lines and a more upscale feel. LED accents in the headlight and taillights, a lower roofline and substantially modernized front and rear fascia bring it nicely into the fresh-compact fold. I found the low roofline to be a bit awkward on ingress and egress, but I’m a bit oversized. Most folks will have no problem in that regard. That slick restyle on the outside also improves aerodynamics substantially making for a coefficient of drag of a respectable 0.29. And, the longer rear overhang allows a good increase in trunk space to 15.1 cubic-feet.

The upscale look and feel inside includes available leather, exceptionally well padded armrests, Fine Vision gauges, wood and nice metal trim. Sentra claims to have the most rear legroom in the class and largest interior volume, though the latter measures less than one cubic inch better than Cruze and about seven cubic inches better than Focus. Sounds like a political spin job, does it not?

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Power comes from an all-new 1.8-liter, normally aspirated, 4-cyliinder engine mated to the next generation CVT. The engine does not have direct injection or turbo so there is potential for more power from future versions of that engine. The transmission is the latest and most sophisticated of the CVTs for which Nissan has become known. Enthusiasts have panned CVTs for a wheezy feel particularly when matched to small 4-cylinder engines. This match, however, is much improved. Throttle balance is much better than the last CVT I’d driven. I especially liked how it made a distinctive downshift on deceleration.

Like some more expensive cars we have three driving modes – Normal, Eco and Sport – that change engine, transmission and other parameters to prioritize different goals of performance – maximize mpg, best sporty feel, etc. A simple knob on the center console actuates the system. While many of the changes are rather subtle we immediately feel the quicker throttle response in Sport Mode.

The little four-banger generates a modest 130 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. Because of the tuning and performance of the CVT it feels stronger than those numbers would imply. Sentra has earned a best-in-class-by-one EPA combined rating of 34-mpg. An “FE” model, designed to maximize fuel efficiency, is expected to rate 39-mpg.

Available in the new Sentra are all the technology upgrades demanded in new cars today – Navigation with POIs, weather and traffic info, rear monitor, a variety of audio inputs, Bluetooth, Pandora, premium Bose audio system and satellite radio. It comes in essentially four trim levels, much like the previous model – the basic S, slightly better contented SV, sportier SR and the top-of-the-line SL. An FE+ (fuel mileage special) can be part of the S and SV.

Prices start at just $15,990 for the unadorned S, and range to the top SL based at $19,760. Four main option packages will add anywhere from $600 to $1,200 to those prices. You can get leather, premium Bose sound, 17-inch wheels, navigation, push-button start and a variety of other stuff.

The new Sentra is at your dealers now, so go have a look. This is just one in a stream of new and refreshed products coming from Nissan this year and next.

©Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved