2013 Nissan Sentra Road Test and Review: Introduction
The new 2013 Nissan Sentra is the perfect car for people who don’t care about cars. An utterly practical and dispassionate appliance on wheels, the new 2013 Sentra is evidently designed to serve drivers who get behind the steering wheel only out of necessity and who want maximum comfort and trunk space combined with the lowest price and the best fuel economy.
To be fair to Nissan, that describes a significant chunk of Americans. In a country where the average household income is about $50,000 per year and in which most residents are overweight or obese, are increasingly disinterested in driving, and claim fuel economy is their most important concern in a new vehicle, a cheap, roomy, dull, and fuel-efficient car like the Nissan Sentra oughta set the sales charts afire.
Trouble is, Nissan already has a cheap, roomy, dull, and fuel-efficient car in its lineup. It’s called the Versa. And if somebody wants a cheap, roomy, and fuel-efficient car but without the dull part, Nissan dealers can sell that buyer the funky little Cube.
Nevertheless, the redesigned Sentra plugs the $4,000 gap between a loaded Versa 1.6SL ($18,580) and a base Altima 2.5 ($22,550), helping Nissan to woo indifferent compact car buyers shopping a long list of competitors that includes the Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Mitsubishi Lancer, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla, and Volkswagen Jetta.
The 2013 Nissan Sentra is sold in S, SV, SR, and SL trim levels, with prices starting at $16,780 for a Sentra S with a manual transmission and topping out at $24,715 for a Sentra SL with every factory-installed option. The sporty SE-R and performance-tuned SE-R Spec V models are discontinued.
My test car was the Sentra SV model, painted Graphite Blue and equipped with a Charcoal cloth interior and a standard continuously variable transmission (CVT). It wore a sticker price of $21,670.
Options on my test car included the SV Driver Package ($1,000 – Bluetooth connectivity, Nissan Intelligent Key with push-button ignition, automatic headlights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, upgraded audio system with satellite radio and a USB port, Easy Fill Tire Alert system), the Navigation Package ($650 – 5.8-inch color touchscreen monitor with Nissan Connect navigation, real-time traffic and weather, voice recognition technology, Bluetooth streaming audio with Pandora Internet radio, hands-free text messaging assistant, Google POI and Send-to-Car functionality, reversing camera), and the Premium Package ($1,200 – power sunroof, Bose premium audio system, auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass, sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors and extensions).
To improve the Sentra SV’s appearance, Nissan offers factory-installed 16-inch aluminum wheels ($975) and a set of front fog lights ($310), which would have pushed my test car’s price to $22,955. Personally, I think these items need to be less expensive, and included in the Premium Package.2013 Nissan Sentra Road Test and Review: Design
- Larger, roomier, 150 lbs. lighter than previous Sentra
- “Class-Above” styling with improved aerodynamics
- Standard LED running lights and LED taillights
- Nissan calls the interior “premium,” “sophisticated,” and “high-quality”
Nissan has attempted to translate the larger Altima’s sleek styling and new signature brand design elements to the smaller Sentra package, and while the result isn’t unattractive, producing a compact sedan that is more appealing than some competitors, neither is it compelling enough to stand apart as a driver of showroom traffic. When I look at the Sentra, I see the future of bland, aerodynamic automotive design.
The Sentra’s interior is better executed, a good thing because this is where an owner spends all of his or her time. Except for a headliner that looks like it is constructed of recycled cardboard boxes, the Sentra’s cabin is modern, clean, and simple. Aside from the headliner material, the sole example of ill-advised cost reduction is the choice to employ hard plastic trim on the upper portion of the door panels, where people are most likely to rest an elbow.2013 Nissan Sentra Road Test and Review: Front Seats
- Midsize interior space in a compact car
- Trunk is 15% bigger than previous Sentra
If the new 2013 Sentra excels in any given area, it is with regard to comfort and cargo. Both of the front seats sit tall off of the floor, providing excellent support and high hip points that ease entry and exit. All Sentras offer a tilt/telescopic steering wheel and a height-adjustable driver’s seat to improve the driving position. The only comfort detriments: the aforementioned hard plastic upper door panel trim, and a center console armrest that doesn’t slide forward.
If the front seats represent a pleasant surprise, the back seat is an absolute revelation. With the driver’s seat adjusted for my six-foot frame, I could sit in the back seat in total comfort, with enough front seatback clearance to easily cross my legs. Better yet, with child safety seats installed, my 2-year-old could not kick the driver’s seatback while underway. Bliss.
The new Sentra’s trunk measures 15.1 cu.-ft., which is on a par with midsize sedans. Combine this generous cargo space with the Sentra’s roomy rear quarters and comfortable seats for every occupant, and this new car represents an excellent argument against buying a bigger, more expensive, and less fuel-efficient midsize sedan.2013 Nissan Sentra Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- Optional NissanConnect navigation and infotainment system
- Optional dual-zone automatic climate control system
With clean, clear, electroluminscent gauges and a simple, logical control layout, the 2013 Nissan Sentra provides little reason to complain about its features and controls. The only suggestion I have for improvement pertains to the location of the transmission’s “Eco” and “Sport” driving mode buttons, which are located on the lower left portion of the dashboard, tucked out of sight and angled in a way that I found difficult to operate. They ought to be located, oh, say, by the transmission selector.
My test car the optional Navigation Package and, at just $650, the NissanConnect technology makes a strong argument in favor of itself. The 5.8-inch color touchscreen display offers simple graphics and resists glare. The system includes Bluetooth streaming audio capability, Pandora Internet radio streaming, and a hands-free text-messaging assistant. As is true of many Bluetooth systems, pairing a device to the Sentra is easy.
Also, like most touchscreen displays, sensitivity to input is hit and miss, and the screen requires more attention to operate than is advisable for a driver. Gratefully, traditional knobs control stereo power, volume, and tuning, and the climate controls are completely separated from NissanConnect.2013 Nissan Sentra Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- New Easy Fill Tire Alert system
Nissan provides a basic package of standard safety features to Sentra buyers: six airbags, traction and stability control, and anti-lock brakes with brake assist. All models except for the base Sentra S can be optioned with a reversing camera, and an Easy Fill Tire Alert system is offered on SV and SR models and standard on SL models.
The Easy Fill Tire Alert system is a simple, yet important, addition to the Sentra. Your car’s tires are what tether your vehicle and your passengers to the planet, and represent one of the most important safety features of any vehicle. Properly maintained tires are critical to braking, to getting around a corner, and to taking evasive measures when trying to avoid an obstacle or a collision. Keeping tires inflated to the proper pressure is one of the most important ways to maintain them – yet few people bother.
Nissan’s Easy Fill Tire Alert system, which debuted on the 2013 Altima and is also offered on the 2013 Quest minivan, makes it easy to inflate tires to the proper pressure. Attach the air hose, inflate, and when the right pressure is reached, the car’s horn will sound. Done. Next.
As this review is written, neither the NHTSA nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has performed crash tests on the redesigned 2013 Sentra.2013 Nissan Sentra Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- New 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine
- Next-generation Xtronic CVT
- Improved fuel economy ratings
The only engine offered in the 2013 Nissan Sentra is a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder making 130 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 128 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,600 rpm. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) with Eco, Normal and Sport driving modes delivers that meager motive force to the Sentra’s front wheels. Hold on to your hats, folks.
The intent here is to maximize fuel economy, not win drag races, and the EPA says my Sentra SV ought to return 30 mpg in the city, 39 mpg on the highway, and 33 mpg in combined driving. My family averaged 30.8 mpg during a week of driving evenly split between city and highway.
When equipped with the FE+ Package, a Sentra’s combined rating rises to 34 mpg thanks to the installation of low rolling-resistance tires, a rear spoiler, and underbody aerodynamic panels.2013 Nissan Sentra Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
The great thing about a CVT is that it makes best use of available power regardless of engine rpm or terrain. I live in a mountainous region of the Los Angeles area, and my test loop varies 1,200 feet in elevation. The route includes the Conejo Grade, a 7% freeway grade that climbs 1,000 feet in three miles.
Thanks to the CVT, the Sentra whipped up that hillside doing 80 mph, no problem. I mean, it was loud inside the car, and it sounded like the powertrain was strained, but given the meager horsepower and torque ratings, the Sentra displayed impressive spunk and maintained velocity.
Later, lost in thought and closing in on home, I came upon a speed trap. It is commonplace for the California Highway Patrol to set up shop in this location, two cars parked on an exit apron, with one officer aiming a radar gun at traffic approaching from around a bend in the freeway.
Instinctively, I lifted off the Sentra’s accelerator pedal, and glanced down at the speedometer. I had been going 85 mph, and I was alone between patches of clumped traffic. Ruh-roh, Shaggy. Miraculously, the cops didn’t so much as glance at my Graphite Blue Sentra SV, with its skinny little 16-inch wheels and plastic wheel covers. So the car has that going for it.
This episode provided the most excitement during a very dull drive in a very dull car. The Sentra’s vehicle speed sensitive electric steering feels heavy and wooden on the highway, the P205/55R16 all-season tires offer modest levels of grip, the body rolls when the car is pitched into a corner, and the CVT’s Sport mode simply serves to make the Sentra less predictable to drive.
There’s clearly nothing of interest here for an enthusiast driver, but neither does the Sentra’s driving character delight in unexpected ways. This is a transportation appliance, a Point A to Point B device engineered to satisfy lowest common denominator metrics. The Sentra supplies just enough acceleration to get out of its own way, a decent ride quality, effective brakes, and easy maneuverability in traffic and parking lots.
If you want something more than that, move along. There’s nothing to see here.2013 Nissan Sentra Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
The 2013 Nissan Sentra strikes me as a textbook example of what happens when car company executives execute a product program solely informed by numbers in spreadsheets and data gathered during focus groups. At its core, the new Sentra is an exceptionally practical and reasonably competent conveyance. For most compact car buyers, every box is checked, making the Sentra an accomplished commuter car and grocery getter.
Still, I can’t help but note that something is missing here.
If this new Sentra isn’t attractively or boldly designed, and if it doesn’t offer an ounce of dynamic engagement (even as an unexpected bonus rather than as a marketing tool to support Nissan's "Shift" advertising tagline), then what it really needs is a compelling left-brain argument in favor of purchase, like the lowest sticker price in its class, or the best fuel economy rating, or the best crash-test ratings, or the best safety features, or the best warranty, or a free maintenance program, or the biggest rebate, or the cheapest lease deal, or the best projected resale value.
Unfortunately for Nissan, the Sentra doesn’t make any of these arguments. Yet. Remember, the car is brand new. Until this Graphite Blue Sentra SV rolled into my driveway, I hadn’t seen one on the road. So there is still time for the Sentra to emerge from the shadows. And that time will certainly tell.2013 Nissan Sentra Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Comfortable seats
- Spacious interior
- Gigantic trunk
- Attractive interior
- Simple technology
- Exterior is virtually invisible to police
- Easy Fill Tire Alert system
- Acceleration? What’s that?
- CVT “Waaaaaaaah”
- Wooden, lifeless steering matches car’s personality
- Hard plastic on upper door panels
- Weak warranty
- No roadside assistance
- No free scheduled maintenance
Nissan supplied the vehicle for this review
2013 Nissan Sentra SV photos by Christian Wardlaw