The 2017 Nissan Sentra spiffs up its performance in SR Turbo trim, but it's still more a need-to-buy than an want-to-buy car.
The Nissan Sentra doesn't seek out the limelight like some of its economy-car rivals. Low on star quality, it keenly avoids delivering an eye-popping driving experience. It's happy just to run in the background, more like an application than transportation.
So yes, if you really need to know, the Sentra—even the new SR Turbo version—isn't 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, or from delivering better interior space than those other compacts.
The 2017 Sentra comes in four flavors: S, SV, SR (and SR Turbo), and SL. Base prices range from the high teens to the low $20,000s, and a fully optioned Sentra will sticker at about $26,000.
We give it a rating of 5.2 out of 10, recognizing that not everyone wants a hell-on-wheels economy car with exceptional presence—but acknowledging that kind of car is readily available, for about the same price. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Nissan Sentra styling and performance
Last redesigned in 2013, the Nissan Sentra was treated to a heavy mid-cycle refresh for 2016. It now wears 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 changes give the Sentra a more upscale appearance, but nothing so dramatic it demands a velvet curtain and a playbill.
Base Sentras get a 1.8-liter inline-4 making 130 horsepower, coupled to a rare 6-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that offers decent performance overall, but extremely sluggish transitory response. Acceleration is taxed any time the Sentra veers off of zero elevation, whenever it carries more than a single commuter, but fuel economy is pretty good, at up to 32 mpg combined.
Ride and handling are a mixed affair in the base Sentra. With a torsion-beam rear suspension and electric power steering, the Sentra does its best to damp out rough roads and to steer with confidence. 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 big news this year is a new Sentra SR Turbo edition. Stuffed with the 188-hp heart on loan from the whizzy Juke compact SUV, coupled to the manual or the CVT, with a slightly stiffer suspension, the SR Turbo is a step in the right direction. It's not ready to throw down with the Focus RS or Civic or Mazda 3 in terms of handling or acceleration, but it's a moderate, worthwhile improvement to a car that doesn't otherwise put a high priority on those things.
Comfort, utility, and safety
Not long ago the Sentra would have been called a mid-size car. At about 182 inches long, with a 106-inch wheelbase, it's roomy and has excellent head and leg room for four adults. That said, though it's accommodating, its seat comfort is only average. It has one of the roomiest trunks in this class, and the back seats fold down to expand storage space.
The IIHS gives the Sentra good crash-test scores—but the feds do not—and Nissan omits a rearview camera on base models. The Sentra can be fitted with some active-safety features, but only on more expensive models. 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 more models.
Most Sentras come with power features, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and automatic headlights. 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.
Base S, SV, SR, and SL models are 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 a Style Package for the mid-range SV that includes the moonroof, a rear spoiler, and 16-inch five-spoke alloy wheels.