The 2016 Nissan Sentra has evolved into compact car for buyers who value the features, amenities, and even styling of a mid-size sedan with value-oriented pricing.
The trade-off for the Sentra's focus on comfort and livability is lackluster performance. It's not nearly as fun to drive as rivals like the Mazda 3, Ford Focus, and Honda Civic. That hasn't stopped the Sentra from outselling some of its competitors in recent years.
Last redesigned in 2013, the Nissan Sentra has been treated to a heavy mid-cycle refresh for 2016. There's a more dramatic V-shaped grille (similar to what’s used in the Altima and Maxima), modestly resculpted hood and fenders, and a new front end and headlights. The Sentra also gets the boomerang-shaped headlights of some other recently redesigned Nissan models, like the Murano; and SR and SL grades get LED accents. In concert with new chrome trim, the changes give the Sentra a more upscale appearance.
There's just one engine: a 1.8-liter inline-4 making 130 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission is theoretically available on the base S model, though few will be stocked in dealer inventories. Other models use a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that offers decent performance overall, but extremely sluggish transitory response—for instance when a quick burst of power is needed to merge into an adjacent, faster-moving lane.
Although Nissan made changes to provide crisper simulated shifts, they're barely perceptible. The engine still revs like a CVT, and few Sentra drivers will mistake the transmission for a conventional automatic (as they might in an Altima).
The Sentra keeps its front independent strut setup and torsion-beam rear suspension, with stabilizer bars front and rear. The electric power steering is speed-sensitive, and most models include a front disc/rear drum braking setup—although four-wheel discs are included in SR and SL models. Revisions for 2016 include a 10-percent increase in spring and damper rates, and a new Active Understeer Control system that brakes the inside wheel in cornering to help keep the Sentra on course. It performs well in aggressive cornering, but the sensation feels more like you're being saved than like you're driving a sport sedan.
The Sentra might have been considered mid-size—or close to it—not so long ago. At about 182 inches long, with a 106-inch wheelbase, the Sentra is roomier than most rivals by the numbers. Compared to other models in the compact segment, it has the best official front head room, front leg room, and rear leg room. In all, the Sentra feels accommodating, but its seating design and seating comfort are only average. The Sentra does have one of the roomiest trunks in this class, and in back you can flip the seat backs forward (not flat) to an expanded area.
Nissan improved cabin materials as part of the Sentra's refresh, though their quality is probably more class-competitive at the lower end of the Sentra price range. There are soft-touch plastics in critical areas, but the mix of matte plastics, metallic trim, and plasticky leather looks like its trying to appear more upscale than it is in top-spec models that hit the $25,000 mark. Additional soundproofing and laminated glass provide a pleasantly serene environment in highway cruising, but the drone of the engine is still quite present under hard acceleration.
The 2016 Nissan Sentra comes with a NissanConnect with Mobile Apps system in its SV and SR grades—good for iHeartRadio, Pandora, and Facebook apps; the system also has Bluetooth streaming audio, satellite radio, and a hands-free text-messaging assistant. Included in the SL, but optional on the SV and SR is a Nissan Connect with Navigation and Mobile Apps system that has expanded apps capability and a larger 5.8-inch touchscreen.
For 2016, Nissan has added NissanConnect Services, which include remote access, emergency services, and customizable alerts; it’s all in addition to a SiriusXM satellite radio subscription.
The 2016 Nissan Sentra also receives some new active-safety features. Forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control are part of a new Technology Package, while blind-spot monitors are offered on this model for the first time this year.
Base S, FE+ (fuel-efficiency-oriented), SV, SR, and SL models will be offered, with only the S available in manual-transmission form. The SR is the sporty, premium model in the lineup and can be equipped with a Premium Package adding a power sliding moonroof, Bose premium eight-speaker audio, leather upholstery, upgraded infotainment, and several active-safety features. There’s also now a Style Package for the mid-range SV that includes a power sliding moonroof, dual vanity mirrors, a rear spoiler, and 16-inch five-spoke alloy wheels.
Base prices range from the high teens to the low $20,000s, and a fully-optioned Sentra will sticker in the mid-$20,000s.
Most Sentras use the CVT to achieve 29 mpg city, 38 highway, and 32 combined. These numbers drop to 27/36/30 mpg with the 6-speed manual transmission, which is sold in very small numbers.