The Nissan Sentra has been around since 1982, a solid player in the compact car game ever since its introduction. That includes the current edition, which was extensively revised for 2016. But solid doesn’t necessarily mean standout. The current Sentra is upstaged by many of its compact competitors, particularly in terms of performance.  In a market segment that includes some serious horsepower options—e.g., the 350-hp Ford Focus RS—the Sentra has soldiered along with a naturally aspirated 1.8-liter 4-cylinder rated for a tepid 130 hp and 128 pound-feet of torque.

A 6-speed manual comes standard but only on the base S trim. Higher trims—SV, SR, and SL—are equipped with a continuously variable (CVT) automatic. Nissan has done more development work with CVTs than just about any other carmaker, and it shows to good advantage in a premium sedan like the Maxima, as well as the Murano SUV. But in the Sentra, not so much. At least not yet.

However, in the coming model year Nissan will add a jolt to the Sentra with a performance version of the SR, propelled by a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder rated for 188 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. This is the same engine offered in the Juke crossover SUV, although the Sentra will offer buyers the choice of a 6-speed manual transmission (standard) or a CVT. The Juke is CVT only.

Vitamin HP

Adding 58 horsepower to the output of a compact car ensures a substantial uptick in forward urgency, which requires corresponding improvements in braking—the more powerful vehicle has to be able to stop as well as it goes. Accordingly, the brake package features bigger vented front rotors (11.7 inches versus 11.0 for the stock SR), and 11.5-inch rotors at the rear.

In the same vein, higher (by 10 percent) front spring rates, firmer shock damping, and selective chassis stiffening should give the more potent Sentra dynamics commensurate with the power increase. The engineering team also addressed the electric power rack-and-pinion steering system, adding a more powerful electric motor to improve response and driver feedback in fast cornering, according to Nissan. And the CVT has been massaged to provide artificial shift points, improving on the function of the CVT in the standard Sentra.

However, the wheel/tire package—205/50 all-season rubber on 17-inch wheels—is the same as that of the regular Sentra SR.

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On the comfort/convenience side of the ledger, Nissan has taken measures to reduce interior noise with thicker front and rear window glass. A bigger center console increases interior storage, soft touch materials cover most interior surfaces likely to be in contact with occupants, and the sporty bucket seats are heated and upholstered in premium cloth.

There’s a 5.0-inch display tucked between the tachometer and speedometer, and a 5.0-inch center dash color touch screen handles infotainment and telematic functions—Siri Eyes Free voice recognition, AM/FM radio, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity and iPhone or Android integration.

An SR Premium Package adds perforated leather upholstery, an 8-speaker premium Bose audio system, blind spot warning, and rear cross traffic alert. Exterior distinctions mirror the standard SR, with the addition of SR Turbo badging and a standard power moonroof.

Shades of SE-R

The SR Turbo is reminiscent of past factory hot rod Sentras—the SE-R of 1991-’94, and its 2002 revival. The SE-R Sentras were all naturally aspirated; this will be the first turbo.

While the SR Turbo will certainly be a welcome addition to the Sentra lineup, it does raise a question: why Nissan didn’t go a little further and hand it over to NISMO, the company’s in-house go-fast tuning shop. There are two NISMO versions of the Juke, and the more potent of them draws 205 horsepower from the same 1.6-liter turbo.

That would put the Sentra SR much closer to the performance of compact hot rods like the Ford Focus ST, Honda Civic Si, and Volkswagen GTI and Jetta GLI.

Unveiled at the Miami Auto Show, the Nissan Sentra SR Turbo will be in dealerships before the end of the year as a 2017 model. Nissan was mum on pricing, which will be released closer to the on-sale date. Current Sentra pricing tops out at about $23,000 for the line-topping SL trim.


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