"(Review note: Apparently KBB does not like line breaks in its reviews, so this will look like one big block of text. Terribly sorry about that.)
After test driving the Mazda 3, Chevy Cruze and Nissan Sentra, I ultimately decided on the Sentra SL for nice interior, drive quality and city MPG. Car and Driver hated this car, claiming its weak horsepower makes it "not fun to drive." If twitchy, overly sensitive gas pedals are your definition of "fun to drive," then by all means get a Mazda 3. There was nothing wrong with the Cruze, but just too small for a guy my height. If you like middle of the road handling that gives you the ability to gun it when you want to or drive conservatively, then you'll like this Sentra.
The exterior has a classy, almost luxury-car style. My SL has a very attractive silver trim around the doors and windows. The look, as Car and Driver points out, is somewhere between a Versa and an Altima. This is not a negative point - it looks better than a Versa and not quite as cool as an Altima, but close. If you get the SR package, you get a rear spoiler that looks pretty nice but serves no practical purpose. The keyless features are very cool and make sure you never have to take your key out of your pocket. For me, the car is perfectly sized, being incredibly roomy while still being a compact.
Interior - Driver controls:
The steering wheel is pretty standard, but nothing to complain about. I do agree with previous reviewers that the gauges are a little bit dated (digital MPH would have been nice), but the Sentra does have a screen for your odometer, trip calculators, average and current MPG, and even current gas pedal throttle, which shows you what range you should be in for optimum gas efficiency. The auto lights are convenient but don't be an idiot like me - if your parking lights are on and your headlights are set to auto, then your headlights will be always on.
Interior - Technology:
I got the Navigation package, which includes a nicely sized screen with GPS navigation. The screen doubles as a radio/bluetooth/MP3 player controller, so I'm not sure how those would work without it. Scrolling through the radio is very easy, and the steering wheel has a switch for going up and down preset stations. I guess this is supposed to replace the Scan function, because as far as I can tell the Sentra with navigation does not have it (in a lot of radios, pressing the Scan button will find the next good station, let you listen to it for a few seconds, and then continue to the next one). This might just be an error on my part though.
You can play your music through Bluetooth, which is a very nice feature since I buy all my music on my phone with Amazon MP3, so it's great to be able to play them all as soon as I enter my car. Any music app you have will work since the audio is just piped through Bluetooth. I haven't tried these features but you can play songs on a USB stick or hard drive, which is very cool and I imagine would be great for a road trip with friends. The default sound system is nice, bassy and clear. I do not have the Bose system but I imagine its great.
The rear view camera is extremely convenient, especially when backing out of crowded shopping areas. The guide markers show you approximately how close objects are to you - be aware that these markers are aligned to the ground. It works very well in low light or no light situations.
The GPS navigation I believe is TomTom. It takes about 30 seconds to calculate a route to a given location. It is pretty accurate and I have no complaints, but it would have been nice if it showed the speed limit for the area. It does show you which freeway lanes you need to be in, which I have found convenient.
Updated navigation packs from Nissan are a little annoying: they charge $150 dollars for an SD card that contains the current year's up-to-date maps. I could go out and spend less than $100 bucks on a Garmin with lifetime updates, or just use my phone's free built in and always up-to-date maps.
Voice commands work well and are pretty spot on. It has the ability to send texts but only a limited number of canned responses, so no real speech-to-text like that found in Siri or Google Now. It will read your texts however, which I use all the time.
Interior - Space:
There is plenty of leg room in the front and the back. I was able to fit 3 people in the back without any awkward scrunching together. I imagine this would make it a good family car. The trunk space is also gigantic, large enough for me to climb inside it and shut it.
I hit the speed limit dead on when I drive, so I'm not that bent up over acceleration or 0-to-60 speeds. I've been 75+ on the freeway and live in a town where most roads have a speed limit of 50 and have had no trouble keeping up or hitting the limit, and could certainly outpace them if I choose. The wheel feels tight and just sensitive enough to feel like you have a lot of fine control. Accelerating is smooth and nice. The car is pretty isolated from the road - I know KBB said it's not as isolated from the road as the Cruze, but my experience was the opposite. Maybe my model is different from what they tested with.
There is no option for changing gears (because there are no "gears" in the Sentra thanks to the continuous variable tranmission). I certainly don't care about this because I loves me some automatic, but others seem to.
The car has an Eco mode, which makes the engine essentially weaker, therefore theoretically using less gas. I'm not sure if the mode is actually useful. It may make the engine weaker, but it doesn't make the engine more efficient - it really just forces you to accelerate slower. If you to turn on the mode that shows you pedal throttle position and try to hit the green range, you will accelerate painfully slowly, potentially annoying the people behind you. Like I said, where I live the speed limit is 50, so if you live in a place where the limit is lower then you might benefit from this.
I've been just a tad disappointed with the MPG of the car - if I really pay attention to accelerating slowly, then I can get 30+ city. If not, then I will get around 24-26. Maybe I just need to work on accelerating optimally. On the highway however, I get 42+ MPG, 45 if traffic is moving along the whole way. This is much better than expected and I'm pretty darn happy with this.
All in all, great car, very minor negatives. If you're in the market for spending around ~22000 on a car, then this, the Mazda3, Chevy Cruze, Hyundai Elentra and Ford Focus are probably all in your list - the Sentra is a huge contender I ultimately ended up with it and am very happy with my decision."
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