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2011 Nissan Sentra
Nissan's "Altima Light" hits the road in search of attention and a little more
R-E-S-P-E-C-T

By Malcolm Gunn

2011 Nissan SentraThe Sentra might be traveling in the shadow of the less-expensive and slightly smaller Versa, but Nissan's not-so-little sedan still has a lot to offer and is one of the better-looking cars on the road.

It's also available in two performance models that the Versa just can't match.

The current Sentra - introduced for the 2007 model year - has undergone a minor facelift for 2010 and more closely identifies with the mid-size Altima sedan. The headlights and taillamps have been revised and an all-new front-end treatment has been grafted onto base editions.

This certainly helps the Sentra stand out a bit against the Versa, which has gained a somewhat cult-like following, especially among younger buyers.

Physically, the Sentra remains pretty close to its primary sedan competitors, including the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Chevrolet Cobalt, but the car's key strength is its interior packaging. The Sentra's cabin space outshines that of its competitors thereby giving the car more of a mid-size feel. The Versa has allowed the Sentra to move up in size, potentially making it a candidate as a primary family hauler.

2011 Nissan SentraSince the Sentra's wheels are positioned as far outboard as possible, there's little in the way of overhanging bodywork. At the rear, the chopped-off tail seems a bit abrupt but doesn't adversely affect trunk space.

The mildly restyled cabin is also a great place for professional pack rats or anyone requiring adequate storage for their valuables. The glove box is of sufficient capacity for stowing a laptop computer, loose-leaf binders or a large camera or small purse. Another handy bin to the left of the steering wheel can hold sunglasses, cell phones, or a flashlight. And between the front seats there's a fully adjustable compartment with room for items as large as a couple of paperbacks or a number of CDs.

The three base-model Sentras, consisting of the 2.0, 2.0 S and 2.0 SL, run with a 140-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. By contrast, the Versa uses a 1.6-litre engine. Moving up to the SE-R gets you a 177-horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder, while the thoroughly performance-focussed SE-R Spec V steps up the 2.5's output to 200 horses.

A six-speed manual transmission is standard with the base 2.0 and 2.0 S. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is optional on both, but is standard on the 2.0 SL.

2011 Nissan SentraThe SE-R's CVT has paddle-shift controls to simulate the gear selection of a manual transmission while the SE-R Spec V features a close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox as its sole transmission pick.

Base fuel economy is pegged at 7.5 l/100 km in the city and 5.8 on the highway. The Honda Civic is rated a little better on the highway, while the smaller Versa is rated slightly better in town and about the same as the Sentra on the highway.

From a standard-equipment standpoint, base Sentras come with only the essentials along with power door locks, while stepping up to the 2.0S adds air conditioning, keyless remote entry, premium audio system and fancier wheels among its standard offerings. As well as the CVT, selecting the premium SL also gets you leather seats (heated in front) and an eight-speaker Rockford Fosgate-brand audio package.  

Along with a more potent powerplant, the SE-R includes a sport-tuned suspension, more supportive bucket seats, additional gauges, aluminum pedals and 17-inch wheels (base models come with 15-inchers).

To the SE-R's content the Spec V adds bigger brakes, stickier tires, chassis stiffening (extra braces) for the engine compartment and trunk area and its own suspension package that lowers the ride height. Note that the Spec V requires premium fuel to feed its 200 horses, but that's a fair tradeoff considering the extra grunt.

Sentra pricing begins at about $16,600 and reaches into the $24,600 range for the Spec V, which is competitive with its peers. All it needs now is for the Versa to quit hogging all the limelight.

What you should know: 2010 Nissan Sentra

Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact sedan
Engines (hp): 2.0-litre DOHC I4 (140); 2.5-litre DOHC I4 (177-200)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual (std. on base 2.0 and 2.5); continuously variable (opt.)
Market position: The Sentra is part of a competitive (and gas-saving) small-car movement that is rapidly gaining acceptance, particularly among cost-conscious suburb-to-city commuters
Points: Class-leading roominess; Handsome, but not a runway model; Spec V performance model shines, but the manual transmission could limit broader appeal; Optional luxury content a trend that seems to be catching on; Offering hatchback, coupe or wagon choices would mean more Sentra buyers and counter-balance the thunder-stealing Versa.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control (opt.); stability control (opt.).
L/100 km (city/hwy): 7.5/5.8 (CVT)
Base price (incl. destination): $16,600

By comparison:

Mazda3
Base price: $17,400
New-for-2010 sedan and wagon. Mazdaspeed3 comes with 263 horses.

Honda Civic
Base price: $17,400
Popular compact offers lots of room plus sporting flair, especially Si model.

Toyota Corolla
Base price: $16,850
Conservative looks and nature, but solidly built and competent cruiser.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted October 31, 2010. © CarTest.ca TM


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