Next Compact Car

A Value Proposition

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Starting MSRP: $17,615 | Build

Above Average: Interior space

Below Average: Powertrain responsiveness

Consensus: Comfortable, affordable sedan lacks edge

300 Miles in 125 Words

The 2016 Nissan Sentra was recently facelifted with reshaped fenders and a new grille and brightwork that bring it in line with the larger Altima. While the car looks fresher, it’s still the same platform underneath and as a result, it’s beginning to show its age against its newer competitors in the segment. The 1.8-liter 4-cylinder is the least powerful of the group and delivered just under 29 mpg over our mix of two-lane and freeway driving. The CVT is acceptable in the city, but its limitations came to the fore driving Ortega Highway over the mountains that separate San Juan Capistrano and Lake Elsinore. Still, comfortable seats and upscale features like the adaptive cruise control were well-suited to the freeway portion of the test. 

A Closer Look

Looking at both the numbers and examining the car against its competitive set, the Nissan Sentra has the roomiest cabin and the largest trunk. Low liftover, a wide opening and a split-folding rear seat ups the utility quotient of the Sentra. Among the cars tested, however, the Sentra’s drivability was its weakest point.

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Highway Driving

Cruising along at constant highway speeds is where the Sentra is at its best, if you don’t need a sudden rush of power for overtaking. With the aforementioned adaptive cruise, you can settle into a nice pace and on extended stretches get more than 30 mpg from the 130-horsepower, 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine. The cabin is relatively quiet, but you can hear an engine drone that’s associated with the CVT automatic.

City Driving

While roomy on the inside, the overall dimensions of the Sentra are fairly tidy which earns high marks for the ease of parking and maneuvering in traffic. The Sentra is also a bit taller with a more traditional three-box look to the design, which helps visibility, especially out the rear. And as an added bonus, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and a rearview camera are among the standard equipment on the SL trim level. An optional $1,230 technology package also includes forward emergency braking and the adaptive cruise control.

Sporty Driving

The Sentra is probably best used as a daily commuter rather than a canyon carver. The electric-assist power steering has decent feel, the brakes are solid and the suspension delivers a comfortable ride but lacks the tautness of the Civic and Cruze. Also, the lack of responsiveness from both the engine and CVT underscores the fact that this car is not a sport sedan masquerading as a family car.

Interior Appeal

As part of the facelift, Nissan upgraded the materials and design of the cabin. The look is clean and modern with a fair amount of soft-touch surfaces and glossy piano-black accents. Additional sound insulation helps keep tire and wind noise to a minimum. The controls and instrumentation are straightforward, with the addition of a 5-inch supplemental driver information screen in the main gauge cluster between the tach and speedometer. The power and heated front buckets offer plenty of comfort and support, especially in the lumbar region.  

Infotainment

Equipped with an optional 8-inch screen, the infotainment system on the Sentra works well enough, although the graphics could be sharper. Unlike the totally touch-driven Civic system, the Nissan has conventional buttons including volume and tuning knobs to back up the touch-screen interface. While the Sentra doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility, you can opt for Siri Eyes Free and NissanConnect with Mobile Apps and Bluetooth connectivity.

Rear Seat

The back seat of the 2016 Nissan Sentra is the roomiest among its rivals in the test. In fact, this compact is actually rated as a midsize car on EPA rankings. The tall greenhouse also means that you don’t have to duck your head as much getting in and out of the rear seat as you do with models that have a more steeply raked rear window. The seating position is upright, so visibility forward is good and there’s plenty of leg-, hip and headroom.  The folding center armrest boasts two cupholders.

Cargo Utility

In addition to largest cabin by volume in the test, the Sentra also has the biggest trunk with 15.1 cubic feet of load space. The 60/40-split folding rear seat offers additional capability with a generous pass through and nearly flat folding seatbacks. The trunk opening is wide and the liftover low, easing the ability to get things in and out of the trunk. The trunk lid can be remotely opened using the keyless fob or a dash-mounted release. 

Fuel Economy

The official EPA numbers for the 2016 Sentra are 29 mpg city/38 mpg highway with a combined rating of 32 mpg. Our mix of two-lane highway, city driving, as well as freeway cruising and crawling yielded an observed 28.9 mpg. Most of the driving was in normal or sport mode.

Resale Value

As the least expensive car in the test at $25,545, this SL model has a high level of equipment event at its base price of $22,170. Among the standard features are dual zone climate control, heated seats, blind-spot and cross-traffic warnings and rear-view camera, among other things. The extra $3,000 or so added adaptive cruise, forward emergency braking, power glass moonroof and premium 8-speaker Bose sound system. Right now Nissan is offering cash back ranging from $500 to $1,000 on the Sentra as well as financing with rates running from 0.0-8.9 percent according to AIS Rebates. A well-equipped Sentra purchased below MSRP is a good value new which should carry over to the resale market.

Inside and Out: 2016 Nissan Sentra SL

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