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First Drive Review: 2013 Nissan Sentra

by Jeff Glucker
October 31, 2012
6 min. Reading Time

Cars like the 370Z and GT-R may get all the glory, but Nissan knows that it can pin the success of the company on its halo vehicles. Instead, it takes machines like Altima, Sentra, and Versa to keep people shuffling in and out of their local dealerships. Recently, the Altima received a fresh redesign which sees it competing head-to-head with the best that the segment has to offer. Soon, the Versa will get a similar treatment but for now it's time to focus on an all-new 2013 Nissan Sentra.

Now in its seventh generation, the Sentra remains a strong selling machine that appeals to entry-level shoppers. Over 4.3 million have been sold to date, and studies show that one in every three car buyers will be searching for a compact car in the year 2015.

To make sure those car buyers are thinking about the Sentra, Nissan went to work on the inside, outside, and under the skin of the new Sentra. The result is a stylish four door that puts forth a strong value proposition and returns great fuel economy.

Pricing and Trim Levels: 2013 Nissan Sentra

Nissan has priced the 2013 Sentra quite competitvely while also managing to keep all trims comfortably equipped. The base S model starts at $15,990, which is $440 less than the 2012 Sentra it replaces. Moving up the trim ladder brings us to the $17,970 Sentra SV, while spending $400 more over either the S or SV turns the Sentra into the highly efficient FE+ version. For those desiring a sporty look, the SR version straps on larger wheels and exterior aero bits, and pushes the starting price to $18,870. Finally, the top-of-the-line SL will run you $19,760 and its available with a large 5.8-inch touch screen nav system, a rear-view monitor, BlueTooth and Pandora streaming audio, and a Bose eight-speaker audio system.


Competition: 2013 Nissan Sentra

It may not be as raucous as what's going on in the mid-size segment, but the compact world keeps improving just the same. Nissan has some stiff competition it's facing thanks to the likes of the Ford Focus, Dodge Dart, Hyundai Elantra, and the Honda Civic. Those are strong choices in a clearly strong category, but the Sentra has a few tricks up its sleeve.

Sliding inside, you'll quickly find that the Sentra offers up class-leading interior space including a nearly gargantuan-for-the-class 37.4 inches of rear seat legroom. On top of that, the 111.0 cubic feet of total interior volume (including the trunk) is an amount of space the others can only wish to achieve.

Nissan has worked hard to ensure that occupants feel they're riding in a car that's a class above. Interior matierals have been refined, the audio system has been improved, and the roominess makes it feel like you're riding in a larger vehicle.

On the flip side, the engine is a bit under powered compared to what else is available in the segment. With just 130 horsepower on tap, the Sentra makes do and runs down the road towards solid fuel economy figures, but it's certainly not sporty.


Exterior: 2013 Nissan Sentra

Nissan clearly loves its family dearly, because the lineage is handed down by way of design throughout the lineup. The latest to receive the familiar character sweeps is, of course, the all-new Sentra. A wonderful shoulder line picks up from the LED-accented headlamps and runs down the length of the body before joining up with the full LED tail lamps. This swooshing stroke is mimicked in the shape of the side windows, and the result is an attractive profile that helps tie the Sentra in with the rest of the Nissan family.

Some of the design language was clearly plucked from the 370Z, while the rest of the car helps remind one of the Infiniti M... if you squint real hard. That's actually a great thing, because the M is one heck of a stunner, and the Sentra should look like it aspires to be one when it grows up.

All of the upgraded exterior penmanship has resulted in a new Sentra with an improved coefficent of drag. The outgoing car registered 0.34 Cd, and the 2013 version drops to 0.29 Cd. That certainly helps with improving the fuel efficiency of the Sentra.


Interior: 2013 Nissan Sentra

Just as the outside has been upgraded with a premium feel, the interior gets the same attention to detail. Available trim is either a maple wood-look plastic or a simple silver, yet we say go with the silver because the plastic wood looks more faux sheen than mother nature's handy work. Still, other areas actually do lend the 2013 Sentra the class-above sense that Nissan is attempting to hit upon here.

Behind the steering wheel sit a set of brilliantly bright white gauges, which are an easy read both night and day. Additionally, the material on the instrument cluster is soft, and the overall fit and finish of the Sentra is improved compared to the version the new car replaces.

All of the upgraded sense of style and refinement is easily enjoyed because the cabin space is comfortably sized, especially for a compact sedan. In fact, even rear seat passengers will be comfortable because of the class-leading legroom afforded to those relegated to the back seats.


Powertrain and Fuel Economy: 2013 Nissan Sentra

Fuel economy has become the name of the game with regards to the world of the compact sedan. The 2013 Nissan Sentra is no exception, and it's stepping up to the plate with a brand-new 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder engine. It's not packing a serious power punch with just 130 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque, but Nissan put the new Sentra on a diet and it lost 150 pounds along the way. That helps keep the car somewhat sprightly while also pushing fuel economy in the right direction.

The Sentra can be paired with either a six-speed manual gearbox on the S trim, while the second generation CVT is an option. All other trims only come with the Xtronic CVT because there's no fuel economy bump to offer the manual gearbox, and 90 percent of customers don't want to shift gears on their own.

Thanks to that efficient CVT, the 2013 Sentra is rated to hit 39 miles per gallon on the highway. In combined driving you can expect to achieve about 34 miles per gallon, and you'll get 30 miles per gallon in the city. Spend a few extra bucks for the FE+ package available on the S or SV trims, and highway fuel economy climbs to 40 miles per gallon thanks to a few subtle aero tweaks.


Driving Impressions: 2013 Nissan Sentra

You know coming in, that the average compact sedan isn't designed to be a road devouring, corner monster that pins you into your seat. Your heart won't be racing. Your blood won't be rushing to your brain. You will not be pining for empty stretches of sinewy blacktop. That doesn't mean such machines can't be fun though, as examples from the likes of Mazda and Chevrolet has shown us. The Mazda3 is a blast, and the Sonic is a bit of a shocker in how much fun it can be.

The 2013 Nissan Sentra... isn't like either of those two.

Nissan has focused on style, premium feel, and fuel economy, and the automaker can check all three of those its list with a mission accomplished pat on the back. That said, there's very little to get excited about when behind the wheel. The steering is a bit dull, the engine is underwhelming, and the ride is alright. It's very clear that, although the rest of the car can be considered a class above (as Nissan likes to say), that the driving experience is still very much a class contained.

This isn't a car for enthusiasts though, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's an affordable compact with above class looks and interior features that can also boast about its passenger volume. Looks will get people in the door, the amenties will have them smiling, and the fuel economy will save them money at the pump.

None of them, however, will look forward to a brisk drive down an empty two-lane road.


Safety: 2013 Nissan Sentra

It's pretty much impossible to find a new car sold in America that isn't laden with top-notch safety features these days. The Nissan Sentra is no exception, as its filled with airbags, utilizes high-strength steel in areas, and is available with power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes. The 2013 Sentra is also fitted with traction control and stability control as well.

To take it a step further, Nissan has fitted the Sentra with a tire pressure monitoring system. That doesn't sound too interesting, but the system is also available with the new Nissan Tire Fill Alert. Instead of trying to figure out the correct tire pressure, filling, and eyeing a tire gauge. You simply go to the gas station, start filling up the tires, and the car will honk its horn when you've reached the correct pressure. Simple, easy, and rather smart.


Final Thoughts: 2013 Nissan Sentra

In addition to the rest of its family, Nissan is looking to round out its lineup with a strong selection of sub-compact, compact, and mid-size offerings. The automaker has already churned out a great product with the new Altima, we're waiting to see what it has in store for the next Versa, and it's just launched an all-new Sentra for the 2013 model year. We believe that this compact four-door will help bolster an already strong lineup of vehicles.

There's something for (almost) everyone when it comes to the 2013 Sentra. The exterior styling will appeal to many, while the interior provides a vibe that makes the car feel like it should cost more than it does. Tech fans will love the upgraded Bost audio system with its touch screen display and Pandora-streaming ability. Those concerned with achieving the best fuel economy they can will rave about blowing past gas stations on their way to 39 and 40 mile per gallon runs down the highway. The only one left in the cold is the automotive enthusiast looking for a sporty, affordable rig. Still, those folks (sadly) make up just a tiny fraction of the car-buying public, which means Nissan should have a compact hit on its hands.

-All-new 1.8-liter engine returns strong fuel economy figures. -Exterior styling is brought in line with the rest of the family... and it's a good looking crew. -Interior boasts class above fit and finish as well as material quality.

-Driving experience is dull. -Manual gearbox only offered on base model.


Test vehicle provided by Nissan.



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