First Drive: 2016 Nissan Sentra – Smooth, Quiet, Strong Competitor

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2016_Sentra_SR-1Things are hot right at Nissan new models coming out at a fast pace over the past 12 months in key markets. With the new Titan, Maxima, Murano all off to strong sales starts, Nissan is adding another newly refreshed car to its lineup – the 2016 Nissan Sentra. Can this compact car rise up to the challenge presented by the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla? That is a tall order and the Sentra might just be good enough to get the job done.

The newly refreshed 2016 Nissan Sentra is anything but a minor change. It is really more of a major refresh with only the powertrain remaining the same. Armed with a new V-motion design language, new technology and a desire to make the Sentra ride differently, designers and engineers tore it down and went to work building a new Sentra.

2016_Sentra_SR-7By all indications, this new Sentra meets all of those goals. For example, the V-motion exterior design, really seen in the grille and hood character lines, simply works on the new model. While putting a similar design throughout your lineup doesn’t always work and can look forced; the Sentra’s shape and additional styling pulls it altogether.

On the inside, the new interior feels miles better than previous Nissan cars I’ve been. The seats are comfortable (albeit not the same level as zero-gravity seats like other Nissan models) and the driver seat position is ideal for a compact car with plenty of visibility and all the buttons within reach.

Speaking of buttons, Nissan still has some work to do here. From their placement and size, the buttons are a major drawback.  For example, the driving mode buttons – sport and  eco -are located near the headlight buttons on the left side of the driver which makes them really easy to forget. In fact, while driving the car on a sunny day in Orange County, California, I pretty much forgot about them. For reference, most manufactures put these buttons near the gear shifter or in the center stack to be seen better. Also, while the steering buttons have been improved to be more responsive to the touch, they could still be better laid out and improved.

SL_Interior-6Next up is incorporating a variety of new driver assistance technology into the new Sentra like the NissanConnect Services system, forward emergency brake, intelligent cruise control, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert. In nearly all cases these systems work flawlessly, albeit I didn’t test the forward emergency brake. The only two issues I found was the NissanConnect Services system could use a little work (which is happening as I type this) and the blind spot warning is an amber light inside the cabin near the mirror. This light simply doesn’t work as well as systems with the notification on the mirror itself and is hard to miss. The setup is currently a Nissan item used throughout their lineup and one I think they should change.

Finally, a lot of effort went into how the car drove. Well, if Nissan wanted a very quiet, smooth and responsive steering wheel to driving inputs, they flat-out nailed it. This $20,000 car rides much more like a much more expensive luxury car. While I think compact cars should have a sportier ride with more zip, it is hard not to really like the smooth and quiet ride of the new Sentra.

One other note, during my day with it, I attended a presentation on the new Sentra. While this presentation went over many common items like sales results, model year changes, etc… One number really stood out – 93 percent. That number represents the number of Sentra cars still on the road over the last 10 years. While reliability may not be a word often associated with Nissan, this statistic really challenges that notion especially considering Nissan sold more than 200,000 units last year.

2016_Sentra_SL-1As this compact car hits the dealer lots, buyers will find an array of trim levels: S 6MT, S Xtronic, FE+, S, SV, SR, SL. Most buyers will find the choices will between the S, SV models with differences mainly being in features. The SR is the sporty trim (unique wheels, spoiler, lower body side sill extensions, etc…) while the SL is the premium, fully-loaded variety. If price is a big concern, the S 6MT is estimated to start at just $16,780 with final pricing yet to be finalized. While this is pretty cheap, Nissan says they think they are going to be able to offer the SV package with a host of features at just under $20,000. This is a great value for those looking for a new car without breaking the bank.

The only carryover on this model is the powertrain. All Sentra cars comes with a 1.8L, 4-cylinder engine mated to either a six-speed automatic or manual. This engine produces 130 HP and 128 lb-ft of torque and is EPA estimated to return 29/39/32 city/highway/combined MPG with the automatic transmission. The FE+ models pump up the fuel economy to 30/40/34 city/highway/combined. Interestingly, the manual returns poorer fuel economy numbers of 27/36/30 city/highway/combined and this is largely due to how well Nissan has programmed the continuously variable transmission. Unlike previous models, this CVT is really good.

2016_Sentra_SL-10Overall, Nissan is putting its best foot forward with the Sentra and prospective buyers will be quite surprised at how much better it is over previous models. Is it enough to topple the Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas of the world? Yes, it is quite competitive.

Tim Esterdahl

Tim Esterdahl

Hailing from Western Nebraska, Tim has covered the automotive industry for many years. He has written for a variety of outlets including Truck Trend, Pickuptrucks.com, Tundraheadquarters.com and others. He is a married father of three and an avid golfer.