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2016 Nissan Sentra Test Drive Review
This year's Nissan Sentra gets a refresh that includes updated styling and new infotainment features.
It’s been a busy year for Nissan with the introduction of the new Maxima and a redesigned Altima. The Sentra, however, was not forgotten and has gotten its own refresh. Updates include an exterior designed to match the rest of the Nissan family of vehicles along with interior enhancements to make the Sentra more appealing.
Look and Feel7/ 10
The Sentra has been around for 30 years and seen 7 generations worth of redesigns, the last in 2013. Its staying power has a lot to do with its affordable pricing and compact packaging that still offers plenty of room, even for families.
There are five trims available starting with the base S at a price of $16,780. It’s available with either a 6-speed manual transmission or an Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT). The latter is the only option for the rest of the Sentra lineup.
The base S trim includes halogen headlights, dual power outside mirrors, Bluetooth hands-free phone service, and cruise control. Seating surfaces are cloth with manually adjustable front seats and 60/40 split rear seats. As the base trim, it doesn't have any extras, but those can be easily had as you move up through the model range.
The FE+S adds a rear spoiler, aero deflectors, and low-rolling-resistance tires that help give it the best fuel-efficiency ratings in the Sentra lineup. It’s rated at 30 mpg city/40 highway, making it a fantastic commuter car. It has added style with a chrome exhaust finisher and side sill extensions.
The S and FE+S feature the same audio system, which includes AM/FM radio and a CD player with 4 speakers and a USB port for connecting compatible devices. An Aux jack is also standard, as is speed-sensitive volume control with illuminated steering-wheel-mounted controls.
The SV trim is where things start to get a little nicer, with NissanConnect making an appearance as an optional feature. This makes the standard 5-inch color monitor a 5.8-inch color touchscreen and adds voice recognition for audio and navigation. Also standard on the SV are a rear-view camera, NissanConnect with mobile apps, hands-free text messaging, and for the first time in the Sentra, Siri Eyes Free.
The cloth seats in the SV feature a higher quality material than in lower trims and are available heated, while the steering wheel gets a leather wrap and the dash gets piano black accents. The infotainment system includes a 6-speaker sound system, and SiriusXM satellite radio also makes an appearance as a standard feature on the SV. Blind-spot warning is available as an option.
The next step up is the Sentra SR with larger 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, LED low-beam projector headlights, heated premium sport cloth seats, and a rear spoiler. Fog lights, LED taillights, a sport rear fascia and spoiler with integrated LED brake light give the SR more presence than its less-expensive siblings.
Intelligent cruise control and mood lighting are available as optional features, as is a 6-way power driver’s seat with 2-way power lumbar, leather seating, and silver interior accents. Audiophiles can also opt for a Bose premium audio system with 8 speakers and 2 subwoofers. Adding to the Sentra’s safety, forward emergency braking becomes available as an option.
Sitting at the top of the Sentra lineup is the SL, which turns most of the optional features of the SR into standard features. It also adds dual-zone automatic temperature control, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and piano black interior accents.
The Sentra in any guise is not a fancy car. It’s utilitarian and gets the job done with attractive styling inside and out. The newly redesigned exterior helps it fall in line with the Altima and Maxima, but with a little less presence than those pricier vehicles.
The Sentra has seating for 5 passengers with a surprisingly roomy backseat. Push the front seats back and rear passengers will still have room for their knees. Headroom is somewhat short in the rear, and putting three adults back there will work only for a short time. Kids, however, should be just fine for as long a ride as you have planned.
The most expensive SL trim starts at a still very affordable $22,170, which tells you a lot about the Sentra. This is a very budget-conscious car, and it can’t help but feel that way. The outside looks good, but there’s nothing striking to the design.
The inside of the SR we tested was pleasant, but not plush. The leather seats are comfortable, but there is an abundance of hard plastics on the dash and doors. Essentially, the Sentra is an economy car, and it delivers exactly that experience.
The same engine powers each member of the Sentra lineup. It’s a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder with 130 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque. This is paired to a 6-speed manual in the base model, with all other trims sporting an Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT). Front-wheel drive (FWD) is also standard on all trim levels with no all-wheel drive option.
This is a small car, so it doesn’t need a monstrous engine, and the little 4-cylinder does a good job. It’s more than fine for whipping the Sentra around city streets. Merging onto highways is trickier.
Press the gas, and the engine takes longer than we’d like to respond. Once it gets the message, the Sentra moves, but it’s still not a powerful car. You may think you’re merging in front of the car next to you only to find out you’re going to have to slow down and merge behind.
Although power is not the Sentra's forte, handling is very good. Its steering is well-weighted and responsive, providing good road feedback and making the Sentra fun to drive once it’s up to speed. It's controlled in tight corners, and the brakes are solid with minimal nosedive when it comes time to stop.
Road and wind noise aren't bad and won’t interfere with conversation even in bad weather. What does intrude is engine noise thanks to that CVT. It’s common for CVTs to be loud and somewhat drone-like. Some cars do a good job masking this with sound-deadening materials, but the Sentra lets too much of this noise through into the cabin, especially during acceleration to highway speeds.
Fuel economy varies slightly between trim levels with an overall rating of 29 mpg city/38 highway/34 combined. These numbers add to the Sentra’s value and make it a great car for commuters with long daily drives.
Form and Function8/ 10
The Sentra has a Spartan interior, but that’s not a surprise. This is not intended as a luxury car, nor is it intended to have the same comfort levels as the Altima or Maxima. Those cars cost more, and they have the look and feel to match.
Seating is comfortable both front and rear. Legroom up front is also good, so taller passengers won’t have their knees jabbing into hard surfaces. Three adults can sit in back, but it will be tight for longer drives with short rear headroom. The backseat is best for two adults or the kids.
There’s good cargo room in the Sentra with 60/40 split rear seats and 15.1 cubic feet of cargo capacity. This is easily enough to carry a family of four and their luggage without having to fight to make things fit into the trunk. There’s also a nice roomy glove box and a large center console.
Controls are well organized and easy for both the driver and front passenger to reach. The infotainment screen is small, but making it a touchscreen makes up some for its size. The buttons along either side of the screen also make it quick and easy to bring up the menu you need.
There are two levels of fabric seats or leather seats in higher trims. The leather seats are quite comfortable and definitely add refinement to the otherwise modest interior. Contrast stitching on the seats also adds a nice accent.
Tech Level7/ 10
The Sentra offers a good level of technology, especially for the price. The base infotainment system is simply an AM/FM radio and CD player with 4 speakers. There is a USB port for connecting compatible devices as well as an Aux jack, MP3/WMA CD playback capability, and a Bluetooth hands-free phone system.
The tech level jumps when you get to the SV, which adds a 5-inch color monitor, 6 speakers, hands-free text messaging, and SiriusXM satellite radio with a 3-month trial subscription. NissanConnect mobile apps are standard at this level with an optional package adding a 5.8-inch color touchscreen as well as navigation and voice recognition.
Siri Eyes Free, a first in the Sentra, is also standard beginning with the SV trim. Those looking for a premium sound experience can choose the optional Bose premium audio system with 8 speakers and 2 subwoofers, which is available only in the top two trims. Once you reach the top trim level, NissanConnect with the larger touchscreen, navigation, and voice-recognition become standard along with SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link.
The system is easy to use with a responsive touchscreen and well-placed buttons along the side to quickly access infotainment menus. The screen is small, which is a big drawback. It’s not as easy to see the navigation maps as it would be on a larger screen, making following directions more difficult. Competitors offer 7-inch screens that are much easier to view.
The Nissan Sentra is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick+ this year, which is the organization's highest possible rating. It got a top score of Good in every category and earned extra points for its optional forward emergency braking. It also did well in government crash tests, scoring an overall rating of 4 out of 5 possible stars. Side crash tests earned the top 5-star rating, while frontal and rollover tests came in at 4 stars each.
Despite being a smaller car, the Sentra feels substantial and imparts a sense of security when you’re behind the wheel. Good handling and solid braking add to a feeling of being in control at all times. Visibility is also good, so you’re always able to get a clear view of your surroundings.
Airbags, vehicle dynamic control, front seatbelt pretensioners, and child safety locks are standard on every Sentra. Forward emergency braking and blind-spot warning are available, but only as options and only for the top two trim levels.
The Sentra is rated at 29 mpg city/38 highway/34 combined, making it a great commuter car. Our average in mixed driving was 33 mpg, coming in right on target. This puts it ahead of competitors like the Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra and adds to its value.
Pricing is also on target for the segment, with the base model costing less than the base of many competitors. The Sentra is a value-minded car. Nissan nailed it here with an attractive, spacious, and well-equipped sedan that gets great fuel economy and has a low starting price.
Nissan also includes a 36-month/36,000-mile limited warranty and 5-year/60,000-mile limited powertrain warranty with available Security+Plus offering extended warranty coverage. Its combination of affordable pricing with modern safety features and technology make the 2016 Nissan Sentra an incredibly appealing sedan.
Nicole Wakelin's passion for cars started on the day she went for a ride in a bright red Ferrari as a teenager. She writes reviews and covers everything cars for CarGurus, The Boston Globe, BestRide, and Be Car Chic and blogs all things geek over at TotalFanGirl.
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