Kelley Blue Book ® - 2003 Nissan Sentra Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2003 Nissan Sentra Overview

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Not long ago, Nissan had one of the hottest little pocket rockets you could own for under $14K. When it arrived on the scene, the SE-R featured a twin cam, 16-valve engine, 5-speed close ratio transmission, a limited-slip differential and a tire and suspension package that let it run circles around costly European cars. Over time, the SE-R changed into a less potent machine and eventually faded completely from the Nissan line up. Today, Nissan is in the midst of a self-started revival—a return to its performance roots—and the SE-R and SE-R Spec V are an integral part of the new Nissan story.

Though it is based on a Sentra platform, the SE-R has so little in common with the Sentra that Nissan considers it its own vehicle, yet it is still badged "Sentra". The SE-R is intended to do battle with the likes of Subaru's WRX, Mitsubishi's Lancer and Dodge's upcoming Neon SRT-4. The SE-R's 4-door configuration opens the door to many buyers who love the feeling of speed, tight cornering and stable handling, but must also deal with the realities of transporting a family or clientele. We can tell you that the SE-R can comfortably seat four persons, has a sizeable trunk for its class and—when not being flogged by the driver—returns a comfortable ride devoid of harshness and noise. The SE-R is at the top of its game when it comes to passenger safety, with three-point belts at all positions, seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters and optional front side-impact airbags. Now that we've handled the more mundane aspects of the SE-R, lets get to the fun part.

Nissan tells us that it was important to capture the essence of the original SE-R in the current version. The plan called for the SE-R to offer sizzling performance, adept handling, an excellent interior and at a price that was affordable to the average person; to this extent, the SE-R has succeeded on all points. The SE-R's Sentra-based body has been massaged, receiving a completely new front fascia with a bold, athletic appearance the original SE-R could only have dreamed of. Side sills and extensions cover the lower sides of the car and beefy 16-inch wheels and tires fill in the wheel wells. Around back, a chrome-tipped exhaust and trunk-mounted spoiler complete the package.

With the right look in place, Nissan's engineers set about finding the right engine and transmission for the SE-R. They settled upon an all-new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 165 horsepower and 175 lbs.-ft. of torque. That last figure is important because torque is what gives a car its launching power, not to mention the ability to pass with confidence. The SE-R's engine loves to rev and it pulls hard off the line, something you'll definitely feel in the steering wheel as torque steer is quite pronounced. Once up to the legal speed limit, you'll find that the SE-R can cruise along effortlessly, though the engine does begin to lose a bit of its bite when you attempt to accelerate beyond 75 mph. A turbo or supercharger might be just what the SE-R needs to really put it on par with the WRX, but for now, buyers who want more power will have to settle for the optional Spec V model, which adds a six-speed manual transmission, an additional 10 horsepower and 17-inch alloy wheels.

On twisting back roads, the SE-R is just too much fun to be legal. You can throw it into tight turns, let off the throttle as you pull the wheel hard, get in a quick up shift and gun it out of the turn, ready to take on the next s-curve up ahead. Both the five and six speed manual transmissions have a nice, tight feel to them and require little more than a flick of the wrist to operate. While you're carving up those back roads, you'll appreciate the form-hugging bucket seats that come standard on the SE-R Spec V, not to mention the standard 11-inch front disc brakes which bring the car to a commanding halt. If you test-drive the SE-R, be sure to take the time to look around at the interior. You'll notice all the cool touches like the bright orange instrumentation, the cool colored cloth-seat inserts, the overhead console and the optional Rockford Fosgate 300-Watt, 9-speaker audio system.

Other options include a sunroof package, automatic transmission (SE-R only), an in-dash 6-disc CD changer, engine immobilizer system and a folding rear seat for increased cargo hauling.

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