On one hand, the 2016 Nissan Sentra is -- at least according to Nissan -- notably different than the 2015 model. It looks a little different, with a new nose and headlights, new taillights, and a refreshed interior that incorporates piano black highlights and other improved bits of trim. Less obvious are behind the scenes improvements to sound deadening and chassis stiffening.

But in practical terms, the new Nissan Sentra is a lot like the old Nissan Sentra, and in a lot of ways that's just fine. This is a car that has nearly doubled its sales since it was introduced in 2013, going from about 129,000 units to more than 203,000 units last year. Credit the Sentra's good fuel economy, bigger-than-it-looks interior and decent price.

Quieter ride

We drove the Sentra in and around south Orange County, territory familiar enough that it was easy to concentrate on the car and not the surroundings. On the road, the 2016 Sentra is definitely quieter. There's additional padding in the firewall between the passenger compartment and the engine, and the doors now have more insulation as well. Even the windshield glass is designed to keep out noise thanks to a sound-deadening laminate layer.  At speed on the highway, three people talked without any raised voices. The only major source of noise was the engine at wide open throttle, and even that was more subdued than before, partly thanks to the improved sound isolation, and partly because of Nissan's incorporation of D-Step shift logic to the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), giving it a more natural shift "feel."

Also noteworthy was the new active cruise control system. Part of a Technology Package available on SR and SL models that also includes forward emergency braking, it impressed everyone with its smoothness. There was little to none of the jerky feeling that's often associated with speed-adjusting cruise control, and it also brings the car to a complete stop, adding to this compact sedan's commuter street cred.

Good fuel economy

While Nissan has done an effective job of upgrading its compact car with new technology and better sound isolation, it hasn't done anything to hurt the car in the meantime. Acceleration isn't spectacular, but the140-horsepower 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine keeps the Sentra moving, and returns very good fuel economy -- up to 38 mpg on the highway -- that's easily competitive with the rest of the class. The suspension was tightened up as well, not enough to make the Sentra sporty, but just enough to nullify our complaint that the previous car was a little floaty over bigger bumps. The result is a pleasant and comfortable, albeit somewhat forgettable, driving experience.

Base prices for the 2016 Nissan Sentra S with a manual transmission is about $17,600. The more popular SV model starts at about $19,400, and if you add the Driver's Assist package -- which bundles navigation, blind spot warning with rear cross traffic alerts, and SiriusXM traffic reports -- the total comes to about $20,400, including the $835 destination charge. Even a fully loaded Sentra SR, with the smart cruise control, forward emergency braking, Bose audio system and all the bells and whistles, comes in at about $25,400, a couple thousand less than you'll pay for a similarly equipped version of a Honda Civic. The Sentra may be short on personality, but it's a pretty solid bargain for a nicely equipped, sharp looking, nice to drive compact sedan with a big back seat and trunk. 


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