If you were born and raised in the U.S., there have been a plethora of Nissan Sentras in the background of your life's scenery the whole time, whether you realized it or not. Perhaps you've even owned one or two of them. Nissan on Friday turned the Sentra – once its bare bones subcompact – into a viable alternative to the ubiquitous compact Toyota Corolla sedan.
To show it meant business, Nissan recently invested $2 billion into the plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico that builds the Sentra. And it's paying off. Last year, the automaker sold more than 183,000 of the cars, up from almost 130,000 in 2013. More than 100,000 have already been sold this year.
Why are so many people buying Sentras? Because the model offers high value for the price, and because it's a mid-size car in a small car costume. The Sentra features 111 cubic feet of interior volume and a 15.1-cubic-foot trunk that is, within the small sedan class, cavernous. It's basic transportation that looks nice and will get you where you need to go without using a lot of fuel.
The one we tested, a well-appointed SR model, took all that value and threw it out the window with a lot of unnecessary options. The sticker price was almost $24,000. If you're buying a Sentra, you probably want something that offers capability at a reasonable price, and adding leather seats, premium audio, 17-inch alloy sport wheels and other gadgets will inflate the price in a hurry without adding anything you can actually use.
That said, even the manual transmission-equipped base-level Sentra – the S – offers plenty of standard features for nearly $8,000 less. The bone-stock Sentra S comes with a full suite of airbags, traction and stability control, power windows and door locks, cruise control, a trip computer, a 6-way adjustable driver's seat and a 4-way adjustable passenger seat, air conditioning, 12-volt power ports and an AM/FM/CD stereo with USB and auxiliary connections.
Driving the Sentra isn't an exciting experience, but for most people, that's a positive attribute. It's smooth, comfortable and relatively quiet, and tracks straight through turns at high speed. Visibility is good and the seats are supportive. The 130-hp 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine provides adequate power for intersection launches and highway passing, and the CVT keeps its presence relegated to the background. The CVT is standard on all models above the S. While it doesn't add to the driving experience, it doesn't diminish it, and it boosts fuel economy, which is likely a major factor in a prospective Sentra buyer's decision making process.
Among other cars in its class, a CVT-equipped Sentra is up at the top in terms of fuel economy. EPA rates it at 29 mpg city/39 highway (33 combined). The manual transmission-equipped S model turns in lower fuel economy numbers - 27 city/36 highway (30 combined). Most other sedans in the segment offer between 30 and 33 mpg in the EPA combined fuel economy rating.
Other models to consider include the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla. With 2016 models already at or on their way to dealerships, deals can likely be had on the outgoing 2015 stock.
2015 Nissan Sentra SR...By the numbers:
MSRP: $23,865 (as tested, includes $825 destination charge)
Power and drive wheels: 1.8-liter, 130-horsepower 4-cylinder; front-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy: 29/39 city/highway mpg
Safety: IIHS Top Safety Pick; 4-star (out of five) government crash test rating
In showrooms: Now