VANCOUVER,BC – The Sentra has been a stalwart performer for Nissan Canada for three decades. More than 320,000, all built in North America, have been sold through six generations since the brand was known as Datsun.
The seventh-generation Sentra, the 2013 model, has been heavily revised to ensure it remains competitive in the largest segment of the Canadian market.
The compact car segment is also the most competitive with Civic, Corolla, Cruze, Elantra, Focus, Forte, Golf, Mazda3 and others in the mix. Tough crowd!
But Nissan forecasts a 5% growth rate for the segment over the next several years and has developed the new Sentra to garner a piece of that action.
Larger but lighter
The 2013 Sentra is slightly larger but lighter and has a new engine and updated automatic transmission resulting in a 13% improvement in fuel efficiency.
The wheelbase has grown by 15-mm, length by 58-mm and height by 19-mm, yet its mass has dropped by 680 kilos thanks to a smaller gas tank and the use of more high-strength steel.
It looks a lot like a 7/8th-scale Altima, and that is a good thing since the new Altima is a handsome piece of metal. Gone is the jelly-bean shape, replaced by a more chiseled look, with the new family grille, a lower roof and a belt-line that rises as it sweeps rearward giving it a more aggressive stance.
Visibility is improved by the lower belt-line and trunk space by a longer rear overhang. LED daytime running lights and tail lights are standard adding an upscale touch.
The interior has also been totally updated with a new instrument panel fitted with highly legible “Fine Vision” gauges. Soft touch materials cover many surfaces and once you move beyond the price-leader base model, the seating materials are more upscale.
The new Sentra has more front-seat headroom and rear-seat legroom than much of the competition.
Four trim levels
The 2013 Sentra is available in S ($14,848), SV ($17,548), SR ($19,948) and SL ($22,998) trim levels.
The S and SV come with a choice of six-speed manual transmission or CVT automatic, while the SR and SL offer only the CVT. Standard equipment on all includes power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, heated power mirrors and a four-speaker audio system.
As you move up the price ladder you are treated to more equipment and at the upper levels impressive technology, including navigation and Bose audio systems.
The NissanConnect navigation system, comes with a 15-cm screen, traffic rerouting (in major cities) Google-sourced points of interest, fuel, flight and weather information and a rear view display.
The Bose system includes eight speakers and a unique amplifier tuned differently for cloth and leather upholstery.
At 1.8 litres, the Sentra's new engine is big for the class but its output – 130-horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque – is at the lower end of the pack and considerably less than produced by the 2.0 litre engine used in the previous model.
The result is rather lethargic performance.
I didn’t get a chance to drive a Sentra equipped with a manual gearbox and found the CVT to be a perfect example of why I dislike this transmission type so much.
Press on the accelerator and hold it there for more than a second, which is a frequent necessity with so little power on tap, and the result is a sustained loud moan from the engine compartment as the engine revs to its peak output point and waits for the car to catch up.
The CVT has three driving modes – normal, eco and sport. Stay far away from “eco” unless you have an inordinate amount time and patience.
On the other hand, driven more sedately, as would be possible on routes with little elevation change or need to pass other vehicles, and the 1.8/CVT combo sips fuel at an impressively-low rate.
Assisting the new engine and transmission on this front are the reduced weight, improved aerodynamics and an alternator that decouples when not needed. Nissan says the 2013 Sentra has the best combined (city/highway) fuel economy in the segment.
Enthusiasts are advised not to get too excited about the “sporty” SR model that's available. While the SR label once identified a car with serious performance hardware and capability, such is no longer the case.
The SR differs only visually, with different wheels, grille, front and rear fascias, interior trim, a subtle rear spoiler and chrome exhaust tip. There are NO differences in engine, transmission, brakes or suspension and, ironically, a manual transmission is not available on this model.
To keep costs down, the brakes are disc up front and drums at the rear. Similarly the suspension consists of MacPherson struts in front and a twist beam axle at the rear.
While it is no sports car, the Sentra handles both curves and straights with aplomb. The steering is very light with only a modicum of feedback, but that is not unusual in this segment.
The Sentra was the first Nissan to be built at the company’s vast assembly facility in Smyrna, Tennessee, but production has since been transferred to Mexico.
While it has some deficiencies with respect to the competition, the 2013 Sentra is a considerable advance on the old, especially in terms of appearance and fuel efficiency.