You can be forgiven right now if the 2014 Nissan Sentra isn't the first compact sedan that popped into your head when your shopping adventures begin. Even though the Sentra doesn't play the lead role in the compact-sedan movie -- the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Chevy Cruze share marquee sales status -- plenty of buyers end up purchasing Nissan's roomy, simple-to-drive, feature-rich, and easy-on-a-budget 4-door. Our 6-car comparison of compact sedans confirmed that the Sentra fully deserves the awards of attention that new-car buyers give it. Even if the Sentra's not at the top of your list when you start shopping, don't be surprised if it's the compact sedan you end up with.
As a value statement, the 2014 Nissan Sentra stands tall. The base model starts under $17,000 -- a rare feat in this class -- and includes a lot more than $17,000 deserves, including remote keyless entry and trunk opener, power windows and door locks, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, a rear-seat center armrest, LED accents in the headlights, LED taillights, and hold-your-head-high roominess in the front and rear seats. That high-value-for-the-dollar equation translates to every level of Nissan Sentra, from the base S model to a $23,000 SL that's overloaded with options.
As a commuter or a city-centric get-around car, the Nissan Sentra shines. Its 1.8-liter 4-cylinder isn't the lion of our test group -- in Car College, the Sentra sedan majored in fuel economy, not acceleration -- but for urban and suburban work, the sedan's graceful adequacy inspires more hope than disdain. Opting/moving up to the continuously variable automatic transmission, which most buyers will do, puts the 2014 Nissan at a class-competitive 30 mpg for city driving and 39 mpg on the highway.
The Nissan Sentra is fairly quiet around town, less so on the highway -- though none of our compact sedans could ever be nicknamed "The Quiet One" at 65 mph. The suspension won points for how well it soaked up all manner of unflat road surface without translating the vibrations up into the cabin. A few editors noted that the steering was a bit heavy for their tastes, but others appreciated the absence of sloppiness in the steering feel. Additionally, the Sentra was a cinch to park and easy to see out of. Changing lanes = no sweat.
One thing that everybody in our compact sedan comparison test said is that the Nissan Sentra gave up ground to nobody in terms of seat comfort and interior acreage. Virtually unbolstered, the Sentra's front seats kept even the fussiest lower backs in our group shockingly well supported over even the longest stretches of our test drives. Also shock-worthy, the Nissan's rear seats were spacious enough to make a midsize sedan think twice about its career choice. So, too, the Sentra's trunk nibbles at the edges of midsize-sedan cargo volume and offers the widest opening and lowest liftover height for loading.
The interior styling and materials generally received high marks for quality and upscale feel, though a few of us noted hard plastic in a few areas where a soft-touch surface would have gone a long way. The Sentra's center console bin was small, as were the audio buttons, but the glovebox was huge.
Let's have a look at how the 2014 Nissan Sentra fares head-to-head against its competition:
Nissan Sentra vs. Ford Focus:
The Focus sedan played at being a sports sedan much better than the Sentra, but it will never be mistaken for a bargain. In fact, as tested, the Ford cost more than it's even possible to spend on a Nissan Sentra, and it still came out shy on features.
Nissan Sentra vs. Honda Civic:
It's hard to argue with a standard rearview camera and a compact sedan that just feels so complete. The Civic and the Sentra share a feeling of refinement, though the Honda possesses a lightness (and lightness of steering) that will win it a lot of fans.
Nissan Sentra vs. Kia Forte:
The Kia Forte possesses one of the nicest contemporary interiors in the compact-sedan class. While decidedly not a fussy car to drive, and loaded to the gills with features, the Kia lacked the finished maturity of the Sentra, even though it beat out the Nissan for most-usable-trunk honors.
Nissan Sentra vs. Mazda Mazda3:
In classic Mazda3 fashion, the compact from Hiroshima was both the sports sedan and the sex symbol of our group -- two areas in which the Sentra can't touch it. A lack of refinement and an excess of confinement in the cabin and trunk play against the Mazda.
Nissan Sentra vs. Toyota Corolla:
Now we get to the bestseller of the bunch. Drenched in quality, reliability and resale value, the Corolla is proud to be more of a driving appliance than an automobile. Nearly absent of controversy, Toyota's baby Camry doesn't feel any pressure to be more than it already is: easy to drive, easy to own.
How much should you pay for a new Nissan Sentra? How does its 5-Year Cost to Own stack up? If you're interested in exploring Nissan's compact sedan further, head to our Nissan Sentra Editors' Page.
If you're still weighing your options, check out the other five cars included in our 2014 Compact Sedan Comparison Test.