2013 Nissan Sentra: Sidelined sedan steps into spotlight
SAN FRANCISCO – The current Nissan Sentra, now closing out its fifth year, has been on the sidelines for so long it has bench sores.
The poor thing has watched a parade of new compact sedans come to market, and while a competent car in its own right, the Sentra has pretty much slipped off shoppers’ radar. In such a high-growth and hotly-contested segment, this is not where a maker of compact sedans wants to be.
With this all-new 2013 model, it is now the Sentra’s turn to take the limelight. This is a high-stake vehicle and Nissan knows it had better have all its ducks in a row.
There was much to like about the outgoing Sentra. It was roomy, quiet, comfortable and easy driving. And if you appreciated its angular styling, there was that too. Demerits included lack of content, plain interior and poorer fuel economy relative to the newcomers.
The 2013 Sentra may have lost that edgy look, but this sixth-generation remake keeps much of what was good about the old car and brings the expected gains in feature content, value, interior quality and fuel economy.
So yes, the new Sentra still goes down the road in that calm, fully predictable fashion, you still sit upright and visibility remains a strong point. But thanks to a new engine, the new 68 kg-lighter platform and a host of other fuel saving tweaks, the 2013 Sentra now brags best-in-class fuel economy when fitted with the CVT (continuously variable transmission).
Transport Canada figures are 6.6 L/100 km city, 4.9 L/100 highway and 5.8 L/100 km combined, which just squeaks past the Hyundai Elantra at 5.9 L/100, the Chevy Cruze Eco at 6.0 L/100 km and the Ford Focus SFE at 6.1 L/100 km.
What’s interesting is Nissan accomplished this without going to direct fuel injection. The all-new long-stroke 1.8L four makes 130 hp and 128 lb.-ft. at 3,600 r.p.m. Sentra-savvy readers will know the outgoing model had a 2.0 L four generating 140 hp and 147 lb.-ft., which was all ready behind the 160 hp Focus and 148 hp Elantra.
Indeed, the 2013 Sentra is down on power when looking at its competitors. Is it a slug on the road? It certainly won’t set your heart racing, but this latest generation Xtronic CVT (lighter with less internal friction) makes the most of the smooth engine, and under normal driving conditions the Sentra is just fine. Step off is brisk, it’s peppy around town and on the highway the tachometer shows a relaxed 2100 r.p.m. at 120 km/h.
Those seeking more sport in their compact sedan will look to the Ford Focus, Mazda3 and Dodge Dart MultiAir.
As with all CVT-equipped cars, calling for brisk acceleration sends the engine’s revs soaring while the car plays catch up. It’s the nature of the fuel-saving beast. That said, Nissan has been doing CVTs for twenty years and these units are much more livable than most (Subaru Impreza and Scion iQ take a bow).
The new body gets standard LED headlight accents, LED tail lights, the corporate Nissan trapezoid chrome grill and it cleaves the air with a drag coefficient of 0.29 (down from 0.34). It’s not as tall as the old model, and while the track remains the same the wheelbase is slightly stretched, liberating more rear legroom — up on all competitors save the VW Jetta and Dodge Dart. Good sized trunk too.
The driving position is fine for most, although I found the seat cushion too high for my tallish frame. The manual-tilt leather-wrapped wheel in my tester was a quality piece — in fact the whole interior feels a class up from most competitors. It has an elegant, flowing design with soft touch surfaces everywhere. And I can’t say enough about the “fine vision” major gauges that are a model of clarity.
The base 2013 Sentra with six-speed manual transmission and no air conditioning starts at $14,848 (down $630 from 2012). Nissan expects the volume seller to be the $18,848 SV CVT which gets air, multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel, 16-inch steel wheels with covers, heated mirrors, premium cloth, proximity key with push button start and Bluetooth.
While this is $1,330 less than a comparable 2012 model, most buyers will likely go for the $2,000 Luxury Package that dumps the low-rent steelies for some 16-inch alloys and adds the all-important seat heaters along with a moon roof, illuminated vanity mirrors and 8-speaker Bose audio.
A sportier CVT-only SR model with 17-inch alloys, rear disc brakes, special body bits and interior trim runs $19,948.
If you want to bring your 2013 Sentra up to junior-Infiniti status, the SL at $22,998 adds such niceties as leather, wood (like) trim, navigation with Google send-to-car functions, 5.8-inch touchscreen, backup camera, dual-zone climate control, Bose audio and hands-free Nissan Connect that will read your text messages.
And bad news for those who shelled out for a fully loaded 2012 Sentra SL, this slicker 2013 version is $2,280 cheaper.
So the Nissan Sentra is now off the bench and back in the game, with price and fuel economy playing in its favour. Picking your compact sedan from the current bumper crop just got that much harder.
2013 Nissan Sentra
BASE PRICE/AS TESTED: $14,848 /$22,998
ENGINE: 1.8L inline-four
FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km: 6.6 city, 4.9 hwy (CVT); 7.5 city, 5.5 hwy (6MT)
POWER/TORQUE: 130 hp; 128 lb.-ft.
COMPETITION: Subaru Impreza, Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus, Mazda3, Dodge Dart, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mitsubishi Lancer
WHAT’S BEST: fuel economy, interior, quiet and comfortable
WHAT’S WORST: looks a bit dull, engine drone when booting it
WHAT’S INTERESTING: Canadian Sentra SVs are available with the manual transmission, not in U.S.
Travel for freelance writer Peter Bleakney was provided by the manufacturer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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