Believe it or not, there are still options in the Canadian marketplace for customers seeking a compact sedan with a manual transmission. A type of rig which was once very common on our roads – Cavalier, Focus, Sunfire, et al – these affordable row-yer-own cars (not crossovers, cars
) have now either vanished or lost their manual transmission option.
Nissan holds the course. In fact, the Sentra recently received a makeover, earning a front fascia which drags it in line with the rest of its family, making it appear a lot more expensive than its $20,548 price tag may imply. For that sum, shoppers will find a 2.0L four-banger making 149 horsepower and roughly a like amount of torque. The car is front-wheel drive, of course, but sprouting between its two front seats is a six-speed manual transmission just like nature intended.
The base S trim is only available in three shades – Super Black or Fresh Powder are $0 options while Gun Metallic costs $135 extra. Stick with the noir and save some simoleons. Those are steel wheels with old-school hubcaps, though the 16-inch rubber will keep a lid on replacement costs. Active grille shutters up front do their part for fuel economy (6.2 L/100km highway) and the body-colour power sideview mirrors are heated.
Inside, we hope you like black cloth upholstery because that’s the only choice. That’s not a bad thing, since it lends a sharp appearance to the place, though one should expect a decent amount of dashboard plastic at this price. Air conditioning is standard, along with the likes of power windows and keyless entry. Hooray for economies of scale. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, the driver’s seat moves six ways, and front passengers get heated chairs. In other words, this is not the penalty box of yore.
A small display wedged between its speedometer and rev counter does the trick for showing the driver important messages, while a 7-inch touchscreen does duty for infotainment. The latter may be underwhelming since some smartphones are now approaching that dimension. Still, one cannot argue with the presence of Apple CarPlay / Android Auto in a car priced just over 20 grand, though it surely wouldn’t kill Nissan to place more than a single USB port in this cabin. Cruise control, lane departure warning, and blind spot monitoring round out the safety kit – features for which one must pay extra on some more expensive car.
What We'd Choose
Folks toiling in the Wheels
office enjoy a manual transmission, explaining why we’re pleased Nissan still offers this drivetrain combo in an entry-level trim. Shelling out an extra $4,400 brings the SR trim with a stick, offering no extra power but upping the ante with rear disc brakes and intelligent cruise control. Also on the SR are dual-zone climate control, a heated leather-wrapped wheel, better gauges, and a larger infotainment screen. The SR can also be had in entertaining colours like Electric Blue or Monarch Orange with a black roof, the latter of which makes the Sentra look very much like big-bro Altima.
This is tempting, though adding 20 percent to a car’s bottom line is not to be trifled at this price point. However, keep an eye on interest rates since base trims are sometimes excluded from subvented rates or incentives, making the monthly payment on a more expensive car not much more than an entry-level model even though the total amount financed is higher. As this is written, rates are equal for S and SR on the Sentra, leading us to recommend the S with its healthy level of standard equipment. If good-old-days of 0% ever return on SR, we’d flip that endorsement.
Every week, wheels.ca selects a new vehicle and takes a good look at its entry-level trim. If we find it worthy of your consideration, we'll let you know. If not, we'll recommend one - or the required options - which earns a passing grade.