2010 Nissan Sentra
Base price: $15,420 – $17,760
As tested: $18,560
MPG: 26 city/34 highway
- Roomy interior
- Sporty design
- Lots of cargo room
- Impressive tech features for the price
- Continuously Variable
- Transmission (CVT)
- Doesn’t outclass competition
By Rebecca Antioco
First introduced to the North American market in 1981 as a 1982 model-year vehicle, the sixth-generation Nissan Sentra debuted in the 2007 model year, and for 2010 has undergone a number of enhancements designed to move it closer to the top of the compact-car heap.
Sentra is no longer the entry-level Nissan, having been displaced by the Versa. Most of the changes for the model year are cosmetic, with all Sentras getting a new headlight and taillight treatment, and three models receiving a new front grille and fascia. It still falls in line, lookswise, with the rest of the Nissan family, appearing like a smaller version of the Maxima and Altima. The look certainly won’t make a fashion statement, but it’s pleasant and not at all polarizing.
The front-wheel drive Sentra comes in a choice of four standard trims (2.0, 2.0 S, 2.0 SR and 2.0 SL) and two high-performance models (SE-R and SE-R Spec V).
Standard equipment on all models includes air conditioning, power windows/door locks and steering, and AM/FM/CD audio system with auxiliary audio input. The S model addspower mirrors, styled steel wheels, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, and keyless entry. SL adds 16-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, cruise control, keyless ignition, and Bluetooth. Options for the S or SL include a sunroof, heated seats, rear spoiler and an eight-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system. All options are grouped into packages, and most of the SL’s standard features are available as option packages on the S.
The base Sentras are powered by a 2.0-liter 140-horsepower four-cylinder engine paired with an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) (or a six-speed manual on the S).
The SE-R performance editions are powered by a larger 2.5-liter 177-horsepower four-cylinder and CVT with manual shift control. The SE-R features a firmer suspension, deeply bolstered sport bucket seats, aluminum trimmed pedals, gauges, exterior badging and upgraded wheels and tires. The SE-R Spec V has 200 horsepower and a six-speed manual transmission, sportier interior trim and high-performance tires.
The interior is impressively large and will accommodate four adults in relative comfort. It’s also attractive, with Nissan’s signature orange backlighting lending a sporty look. Interior materials are up to snuff, plastics look good, overall build quality, fit and finish are up to par, dash is stylish, gauges and controls functional and easy to use. The dashboard sits a tad high, and that, combined with a higher beltline and non-telescoping steering made it necessary for me to fidget around before finding a suitable driving position that accomplished both comfort and visibility.
New this model year is the addition of a navigation package, reasonably priced at $400, and including a five-inch touch-screen display. The system is not as sophisticated as others we’ve used, and required some tinkering to figure out. But considering that most manufacturers’ vehicle-navigation packages start at $1000 or more, we still consider this a good deal. Also included in my SL was a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, keyless entry and ignition, power accessories, USB interface for an iPod or other device, and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls — all impressive features for a vehicle that totals out below $20,000.
Also impressive was the amount of cargo space. During our weeklong test drive in rural Texas, we were able to fit two large suitcases and various forms of carry-on luggage for four people into the trunk, without a problem. The rear seat is split 60/40 and folds flat to open space into the trunk, a nice feature for transporting long objects like a bike or stroller.
Driving the Sentra won’t convince you it’s an “enthusiast” car by any means. But it handles decently, doesn’t seem overly tippy in sharp cornering or curves and returns a mostly quiet ride, with some road noise intruding into the cabin.
We’ve never been huge fans of the CVT, which are smooth revving, meaning they hold the same engine rpm for runs up to highway speeds without hearing or feeling the transmission shift like traditional automatics. Likewise you don’t feel passing gears kick in under full throttle. But this is the best CVT we’ve driven and isn’t nearly as annoying as those we’ve driven in other products.
Safety gear includes standard dual-stage front airbags, front side airbags, full-length curtain air bags and active front seat headrests. We were disappointed that anti-lock brakes are optional on the base model, but they are standard on all other trims. SE-R models come equipped with four-wheel disc brakes. New for this model year, stability and traction control are standard on the SL and optional on all other models.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded Sentra the highest five-star crash-test rating for driver and passenger protection in front impacts; it received the highest rating (Good) from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The Sentra, while not perfect, as a daily driver will please most owners. We don’t think there’s enough evidence to call it a clear leader among rivals like the Honda Civic, Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla or Subaru Impreza, but it’s pretty impressive nonetheless.