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2009 Nissan Sentra ReviewThe Good
The 2009 Nissan Sentra offers high-end features at an affordable price, a roomy and spacious cabin and trunk for a compact sedan, and a range of power choices to satisfy a variety of commuter lifestyles.The Bad
Overly firm suspensions deliver a bumpy ride in the '09 Sentra, and the refined upscale looks of its exterior don't mesh with the lower quality of its cabin materials.
The CarGurus View
The 2009 Nissan Sentra provides good value for the money, offering an impressive array of high-end features and passenger comfort. A strong safety record and decent reliability, along with its efficient fuel economy and use of interior space, will appeal to small families or the everyday city driver. In a growing field of high-quality compact sedans, however, the Nissan struggles to keep up with the more refined driving dynamics and powertrains found in its competitors.
At a Glance
Like most of its competitors, the '09 Sentra offers affordability, practicality, and fuel efficiency for single commuters on a budget or young families just starting out, but little else distinguishes it from the rest of this crowded segment. The compact, front-wheel-drive Sentra's lineup includes five trim levels with three powertrain options, ranging from the adequate to the sporty, in order to please a wide variety of driving sensibilities.
While its sportier trims lag behind those offered by Honda and Mazda in terms of power, handling dynamics, and refinement, the '09 Sentra delivers what most people expect from a compact: good mileage ratings, strong safety scores, and a reliable ride. The Sentra does feel roomier than its competitors and comes with a nice set of standard equipment even in its less-expensive trims. The base 2.0 comes in as the most value-oriented and least-packed trim, but the 2.0 S and SL upgrade to a better sound system, leather seats, and keyless start. The SE-R and SE-R Spec V represent the performance trims in this lineup, with beefier engines, suspensions, and brakes, as well as larger 17-inch wheels. (Base trims get 15-inch, and the S and SL ride on 16-inch wheels.)
Overhauled in 2007, the Sentra remains content with its practical if somewhat bland personality. Minor changes for 2009 include more 12-volt power outlets, a CD system with MP3 compatibility, speed-sensitive automatic locks, and a redesigned trunk lid. Charcoal and beige cloth seats and trim join the list of interior color choices.
Two engines offer three different power options for the '09 Sentra. Base, S, and SL trims pack in a 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder, delivering an adequate if unexciting 140 hp and 147 lb-ft of torque. The 2.0 S pairs that with either a standard CVT (continuously variable transmission) or 6-speed manual, while the base 2.0 and SL come only with the CVT. With its infinite gear ratios, the CVT takes some getting used to at first, but it's built to deliver smoother and more seamless shifting. Owners find it unsettling at first, but praise its seamlessness, particularly when driving uphill. Reviewers of the 2008 Sentra agree on its smoothness, but find that it emits an annoying drone at high RPMs. The 2.0 trims get a decent 25/33 mpg (with most owners reporting better numbers) and hits 0-60 in 8.6 seconds.
Moving up to the sportier SE-R gets you a 2.5-liter DOHC inline four, with 30 more horsepower. Power and torque numbers come in at 177 and 172, and the only transmission choice is the CVT. A high-output version of this engine sits in the Spec V, upping its power delivery to 200 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque, with improved 0-60 times of 6.7 seconds. The Spec V ditches the CVT for the 6-speed manual. Fuel economy drops, but stays at a thoroughly respectable 21/29 mpg.
The extra punch of the 2.5 adds a bit of fun to the driving experience, along with confident passing power on the highway, but some test drivers prefer the CVT in the SE-R to the manual in the Spec V, which they find awkward and imprecise in its shifting. For those looking for more fuel efficiency, the 2.0 proves capable for around-town and city commutes, but does feel underpowered in more intense driving situations.
Ride & Handling
By lengthening the wheelbase in 2007, Nissan intended to give the Sentra a more solid and stable feel on the road, and they generally accomplished their task. Practical and reliable, the '09 Sentra delivers predictable handling for a compact sedan, if a somewhat less refined feel than the Honda Civic and a less dynamic experience than the MAZDA3.
Electronic speed-sensitive steering adjusts from the vague lightness suited for city driving to a more weighted feel on the highway, but test drivers of the 2008 model still find it lacks driver-road interaction. Braking is responsive, and both the 2.0 and sportier trims deliver decent road grip. Base models start with 15-inch wheels, while the S and SL add 16-inch alloys and the SE-Rs boost that to 17-inchers. Some critics notice tire squeal when turning at any speed, and body roll feels unstable when taking fast corners. Engine noise increases when the 2.0 tries to accelerate, and the Spec-V can also be noisy, but in a more satisfying way, thanks to a loud exhaust note.
The independent Macpherson strut front and rear torsion beam suspension floats along like that in any good compact, and the ride is generally quiet and vibration-free. The SE-R features a stiffer sport-tuned suspension, along with larger brakes and 17-inch alloy wheels. The Spec V firms things up even more, increases the brake size, and offers an optional limited-slip differential. The stiffer suspensions do translate into a much harsher and bumpier ride overall, but even the softer suspensions in the 2.0 trims unfortunately pick up every dip and rut in the road. Though it packs a pleasing punch, these sportier trims lack the agility and sharp maneuverability that make the Civic Si and Mazdaspeed3 more fun to drive around corners and winding roads.
Cabin & Comfort
A redesign in 2007 added inches to the wheelbase of the Sentra, which in turn added more room to the cabin and trunk. Owners and critics alike mention the spacious feel overall, with one 2008 reviewer calling it a compact car that doesn't feel compact. A high ceiling provided by the boxy roofline of the '09 Sentra offers plenty of headroom for tall drivers and passengers, with the added benefit of good visibility. In fact, one critic of the similar 2008 model thinks the sedan is too oriented toward tall drivers, with a steering wheel that tilts but does not telescope and a high dash that puts some controls out of reach for smaller or average-size owners.
Drivers generally find the dash layout simple and intuitive, although a few do not like the backlit gauges, and both owners and test drivers notice that direct sunlight tends to wash out some of the displays. Seats feel supportive and comfortable on long rides, and the SE-R and Spec V's sport seats provide good bolstering, but a few owners bemoan the lack of lumbar support up front. Drivers can stretch out with 42.6 inches of legroom, while rear passengers get a somewhat cramped, but class average 34.5 inches. With limited knee room, particularly with the front seats shifted back, adult passengers may only want to ride back there on very short trips.
Rear seats split-fold flat 60/40 in all trims but the Spec V, which replaces the folding seats with a reinforcement brace. The trunk holds a spacious 13.1 cubic feet of cargo and can be outfitted with an optional partition. The divider creates hidden compartments, but also reduces the amount of storage capacity. Supplemental storage can be found inside the cabin, with the expected door pockets, a large glove box, and oversize cupholders to accommodate larger bottles. A fold-down rear armrest also features cupholders, and the '09 Sentra offers an optional convenient CD holder under the driver's sun visor.
The '09 Sentra offers Maxima-like features on many of its trims, while still keeping the cost down. However, its budget compact sensibilities show through the use of cheap plastic material in the cabin, which several drivers of the 2008 model find gets easily scratched and causes rattling.
On the plus side, owners enjoy the long list of standard equipment. The economic base 2.0 Sentra offers power locks and windows, a 4-speaker sound system with CD player and MP3 jack, suede cloth, and a tachometer. The better bang for your buck comes with the 2.0 S, which adds power mirrors, cruise control, remote entry, a trip computer, and a 6-speaker sound system with CD/MP3 player. The luxury-like SL upgrades to leather upholstery and trim, keyless start, wheel-mounted audio controls, satellite radio, and Bluetooth. Most of the SL's features can be added to the lower trims.
Both the SE-R and Spec V are comparable to the SL, although remote start and the wheel-mounted audio controls are optional instead of standard. Sporty touches include special badging, sport seats, and aluminum pedals. Only the SE-R and Spec V trims can be equipped with a Rockford Fosgate sound system and a sunroof.
The '09 Sentra delivers a reliable safety record, earning five stars from the NHTSA for front and front-side impacts and a strong four stars for rear side impacts and rollovers. Except for the base trim, the 4-wheel disc brakes come with ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution. Keeping passengers safe are the dual-stage dual front-side and side curtain airbags for both rows, seatbelt pretensioners, and active front head restraints. A tire monitor comes standard on all trims, along with daytime running lights. As you move through the lineup, automatic headlights get tacked on. Nissan claims the Sentra offers 50 standard safety features, but traction and stability control do not make either the standard or options list.
What Owners Think
Owners of the 2009 Sentra have yet to voice their opinion. However, because the sedan has barely changed from 2008, reviews from that year offer valid insight into driver likes and dislikes. Strong fuel efficiency numbers combined with good looks and a roomy cabin built for tall adults top the list of highlights for owners. Many mention the wheel-mounted audio controls and large trunk as their favorite features. Drivers also appreciate the affordable price that gets you a decent amount of high-end features, such as leather seats and remote start. Some drivers find the Sentra's mileage ratings disappointing, but the biggest negatives focus on the cheap interior parts that get easily scratched and worn. Several owners from 2008 say the stiff suspension transmits every bump and jolt into the cabin.
CarGurus reviews for 2009 are also still on hold, but 2008 owners echo most of the sentiments found on other websites. Top marks go to its roomy and comfortable interior, cost savings due to its pricetag and superior fuel economy, and its safety record. Drivers find the '09 Sentra delivers a smooth and quiet ride, particularly with the CVT, and the Spec-V offers satisfying power and handling. Low marks get attributed to rattling body parts, the turtle-like exterior looks, and the underpowered 2.0 engine. Drivers of the SE-R trims wish they had even tighter handling for more agile maneuverability.
by Ann Jackman
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