A strong showing from Nissan’s levelheaded compact four-door

U.S. auto sales continue to march forward, and while growth is strongest in the SUV/crossover segment, the sedan remains steadfast as a core passenger vehicle platform. Simply put, the appeal of the sedan is enduring and undeniable, combining versatility and a sleek body style with high fuel efficiency and an affordable price point. Nissan knows this, and has deemed 2016 “The Year Of The Sedan,” first ushering in the new Maxima, followed by the updated Altima. Now, it’s the Sentra’s turn, and as such, the compact four-door arrives with fresh exterior styling, a variety of new technology for safety and comfort, and a few tweaks to the ride and handling.

Nissan claims 20 percent of the Sentra is new for 2016, and while not necessarily revolutionary, the update is definitely a breath of fresh air, bringing the compact inline with its competitors without outgrowing its original affordable positioning.

I got a chance to test the new car in Southern California, and overall, I was pleased with what it brought to the table. That said, the Sentra is still up against some very heavy-hitting competition, so how does it stack up? Read on to find out.

Continue reading to learn more about the 2016 Nissan Sentra.

  • 2016 Nissan Sentra – Driving Impression And Review
  • Year:
    2016
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    130
  • MPG(Cty):
    29
  • MPG(Hwy):
    38
  • Torque @ RPM:
    128
  • Displacement:
    1.8 L
  • 0-60 time:
    9.2 sec.
  • Layout:
    Front engine, FWD
  • Price:
    16780
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Model History And Background

2016 Nissan Sentra – Driving Impression And Review High Resolution Exterior
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The Sentra nameplate brings 34 years of history along for the ride, first hitting the market in 1982. Since then, the Sentra has grown from a sub-compact to a compact, and has seen action in a variety of markets across the globe. The current seventh generation, also known as the B17, first dropped cover in 2012, with the latest mid-cycle refresh debuting at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show. More than 4 million Sentras have been sold in the U.S. alone, and according to Nissan, over 93 percent of Sentras sold in the last decade are still on the road today.

Exterior

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2016 Nissan Sentra – Driving Impression And Review Exterior
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Take a quick walk through the Sentra’s model history, and aesthetically speaking, the sedan is less than impressive. Like most entries in this segment, uninspired shapes and styling pervade throughout, but Nissan hopes to change that for 2016 with the integration of its new “Energetic Flow” design language.

First introduced on the Nissan Murano, Energetic Flow found its way onto the new Maxima and refreshed Altima, and now, the Sentra adopts it as well, tying the Nissan sedan stable together with one cohesive look.

2016 Nissan Sentra – Driving Impression And Review Exterior
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The new styling is most obvious in the front, where Nissan updated the fascia, hood and fenders. A large strip of chrome dominates the new “V-Motion” grille, while the headlights are restructured with a boomerang-style shape.

LEDs are used for the low beams and daytime running lights on higher trim levels, and halogen units are used on the more basic models. All trim levels benefit from an automatic on/off feature for the headlights and windshield wipers.

The rear fascia was revised as well, with the taillights adopting a similar boomerang shape. More chrome can be found across the trunk lid, as well as on the door handles and window accents, all of which looks great and upscale for the segment. The exterior mirrors can be had with a heating function and integrated turn signals. Fog lights with a chrome surround are available as well.

Broadly speaking, I see Nissan’s new design language as a marked improvement for the Sentra.

Broadly speaking, I see Nissan’s new design language as a marked improvement for the Sentra. The frontend in particular does a good job shucking the old model’s rental-esque appearance, and walking around the car, the changes are much more effective than still images may suggest. The rear end is still a little bland at certain angles, and not everyone will find the total package to their liking, but overall, Nissan seems to be moving in the right direction.

The SR trim level sets itself apart as the most striking of the lineup, offering unique 17-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels, side sill extensions, a chrome exhaust tip, and a rear spoiler. The SR is also the only model to offer the Red Alert exterior paint option.

2016 Nissan Sentra – Driving Impression And Review Exterior
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Additional wheel sizes and materials include 16-inch steel, 16-inch aluminum, and alternative 17-inch aluminum designs. Nissan added a new Deep Blue Pearl exterior paint option for 2016, which joins Brilliant Silver, Super Black, Aspen White, Gun Metallic, Graphite Blue, Titanium, Fresh Powder, Cayenne Red, and the SR’s Red Alert for 10 total shades to choose between.

Depending on the trim level, curb weight is 2,857 pounds at the bottom and 2,943 pounds at the top. The new styling brings a drag coefficient of 0.29 for most models, while the more economical FE+ S trim level adds a new rear decklid spoiler and aero deflectors for the rear tires and underbody, bringing the figure down to 0.27.

Exterior Dimensions

Wheelbase 106.3 Inches
Length 182.1 Inches/182.5 Inches (SR only)
Height 58.9 Inches
Width 69.3 Inches
Ground Clearance (front/rear) 6.4 Inches/6.5 Inches

Interior

2016 Nissan Sentra – Driving Impression And Review Interior
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2016 Nissan Sentra – Driving Impression And Review Interior
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2016 Nissan Sentra – Driving Impression And Review Interior
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Getting in and out of the 2016 Sentra is made simple thanks to a remote keyless entry system as standard across the line. Key fob functions include door locks, trunk release, and a panic alarm. A lock request button is located on the front door handles, which means you won’t have to dig through your pockets or purse every time you enter or exit the vehicle.

The cabin layout is more or less carried over from the outgoing model, but Nissan did implement a few significant changes for the gauge cluster, center console, and shift knob.

Infotainment begins with a four-speaker stereo, AM/FM/CD head unit, speed-sensitive volume control, an auxiliary input jack, and a USB interface. Head up the trim level ladder and you’ll get satellite radio and a six-speaker stereo, while an optional eight-speaker Bose stereo sits at the top.

2016 Nissan Sentra – Driving Impression And Review Interior
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Higher trim levels are also equipped with a 5.0-inch color infotainment touchscreen mounted to the center console. A 5.8-inch option is available. Step up to the SV, SR, or SL grade and you’ll get a 5.0-inch TFT LCD Advanced Drive Assist Display mounted behind the steering wheel. Located between Fine Vision electroluminescent gauges, the TFT display offers quick access to basic info like the time, temperature, odometer, fuel economy, average speed, and compass, as well as a point of control for the stereo, driver’s aides, and system settings. Several NissanConnect technology suites top off all the infotainment offerings (check out the Prices section for more information).

During my test drive, I got a chance to test out the 5.8-inch touchscreen, and I found it to be basic in its operation, but quite good for the segment. What’s more, it classes up the Sentra’s interior quite a bit, and should easily fulfill most expectations.

2016 Nissan Sentra – Driving Impression And Review Interior
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Nissan also revamped the upholstery options for 2016, with premium cloth and leather available depending on the trim level. There’s also blue-accented stitching “sport cloth” for the SR. Piano black trim can be found throughout the lineup. Finally, a premium soft touch material adorns the door panels, instrument panel, and central storage bin, and I was happy with the way it looked and felt. Interior color schemes include a choice between Marble Gray and Charcoal.

Higher trim levels benefit from a new six-way power adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar support, while the rest of the line gets a six-way manually adjustable driver’s seat. Front passengers get a four-way manual driver’s seat across the line.

During my test drive, I found the seats to be supportive, but a little on the firm side to fit my tastes.

During my test drive, I found the seats to be supportive, but a little on the firm side to fit my tastes. The leather was also a little sticky as ambient temperatures rose in the afternoon, but that was to be expected without a ventilation feature. Some buyers will undoubtedly go for the leather upholstery no matter what, but given the choice, the cloth options are more than acceptable in my opinion.

Drivers will find a new steering wheel for 2016, which takes its cues from the 370Z for a sportier shape. A manual tilt and telescoping feature is standard, while leather wrapping comes with higher trim levels. A variety of buttons are readily available at thumb-length, including audio volume, driver’s display system navigation, voice control, and cruise control. These come in handsome brushed-metal look plates, and the position is intuitive and easy to reach.

2016 Nissan Sentra – Driving Impression And Review Interior
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Additional options include an illuminated vanity mirror with side extenders, a moonroof, dual-zone climate control, and push-button ignition.

On the road, the Sentra is quiet and composed.

On the road, the Sentra is quiet and composed. Road noise and wind noise is remarkably low thanks to new sound deadening material added for this model year. I got the chance to drive the new Altima back in November, and the same was true for that car as well. Even when cruising at a good clip down the less-than-ideal southern California freeways, the Sentra did a great job keeping decibel levels to a minimum.

There’s seating for up to five passengers, and the rear doesn’t feel cramped. At 6’1”, I was totally comfortable sitting in back, with ample head and legroom. Squeezing three onto the rear bench might be more of a challenge, but overall, the Sentra should be recognized as one of the roomier compacts out there.

2016 Nissan Sentra – Driving Impression And Review Interior
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The same can be said for cargo space, with trunk capacity rated at 15.1 cubic feet, which is competitive for the segment. More space can be had thanks to a 60/40 split for the rear bench.

Interior Dimensions

Headroom (front/rear) 39.4 Inches/36.7 Inches
Legroom (front/rear) 42.5 Inches/37.4 Inches
Shoulder Room (front/rear) 54.7 Inches/53.6 Inches
Hip Room (front/rear) 50.9 Inches/50.1 Inches
Cargo Volume 15.1 cu ft
Passenger Volume 95.9 cu ft

Drivetrain

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2016 Nissan Sentra – Driving Impression And Review Interior
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2016 Nissan Sentra – Driving Impression And Review Drivetrain
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Unfortunately, anyone who remembers the supremely excellent Sentra SE-R will be sorely disappointed this go around, as the drivetrain is one of the least inspiring aspects of the new car.

Each trim level is equipped with a 1.8-liter, double overhead cam, 16-valve, transverse inline four-cylinder engine. Made from cast aluminum, the engine uses sequential multi-point injection, plus a twin Continuously Variable Timing Control (CVTC) system that alters the intake and exhaust valve timing. Nissan says the valve springs are shaped like “beehives” to reduce inertial weight.

Bolstered by a strong tailwind, 0-to-60 mph still takes more than 9 seconds.

Here’s the kicker – total output is rated at just 130 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 128 pound-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm. Redline is 6,400 rpm. Bolstered by a strong tailwind, 0-to-60 mph still takes more than 9 seconds.

That’s slow. Agonizingly slow. In fact, it’s one of the slowest acceleration figures in the segment.

Making things worse is the Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is installed on all but the barebones Sentra S (the S gets a six-speed manual). From the outset, you should know I’m not a CVT fan. My ideal transmission comes with three pedals, but given the choice, I’d take a traditional automatic over a CVT any day of the week.

Thankfully, the Sentra’s new Xtronic CVT is updated with something called “D-mode step shift,” which mimics the shifting pattern of a normal auto box to reduce engine droning at higher engine rpm. While I must admit the new Xtronic unit is indeed one of the better CVTs out there, it’s still a long way from winning me over. Dig deep into the throttle, and the engine buzzes near redline for far longer than it should.

Maybe I’m being a little harsh on the new Sentra here. Odds are the vast majority of Sentra buyers out there won’t drive this car with the same… persistence as us auto journalists.

Still – low horsepower and a CVT makes for pretty decent fuel economy.

Maybe I’m just bitter Nissan isn’t willing to put the Sentra Nismo Concept into production. Maybe this is my not-so-subtle way of declaring the world needs a new Sentra SE-R. Fair enough. Even so, anyone looking for smile-inducing performance need not apply for 2016.

Still – low horsepower and a CVT makes for pretty decent fuel economy. Most models get 29 mpg city, 38 mpg highway, and 32 mpg combined. The more economical FE+ S improves on those numbers with 30 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, and 34 mpg combined, while the manual-equipped base model S gets 27 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, and 30 mpg combined.

Each model burns regular unleaded fuel and is equipped with a 13.2-gallon capacity fuel tank.

Chassis And Handling

Underneath the new body panels, Nissan updated the Sentra’s suspension with a 10-percent increase in spring and damper rates. Body rigidity is also higher thanks to a new front tunnel stay. In front is an independent strut setup with coil springs and 22 mm stabilizer bar, while the rear uses a torsion beam with a 24.6 mm stabilizer bar. The electric power steering was also tweaked.

Overall, I found the ride a little stiff for a commuter special, but the car tracks confidently through the corners nonetheless. Like the drivetrain, the chassis and suspension aren’t really made for fun, but do the job of A-to-B without too much fuss.

In the corners you’ll also find power-assisted vented disc brakes in front and drums in the rear, although four-wheel discs are available as well.

Safety And Convenience

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The Sentra is offered with a fresh range of technology for 2016, bringing it up to speed with its competitors in terms of safety and convenience features.

I particularly liked the blind spot monitor, which uses a large orange warning light in the cabin as opposed to the side view mirror.

You’ll find options for things like forward emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitor, and a rear cross-traffic alert. I got a chance to try out most of these features during my test drive, and they all performed well and without issue. I particularly liked the blind spot monitor, which uses a large orange warning light in the cabin as opposed to the side view mirror, making it easy to recognize when another car is in your blind spot.

Complementing the new tech is a Top Safety Pick accolade from the IIHS, with the 2016 Sentra receiving a top “Good” rating in every crash test category.

There’s also the available NissanConnect Services, which adds emergency preparedness, remote feature access, and custom alerts for speed, curfew, and boundary lines. Siri Eyes Free Voice Recognition is also new, and comes standard on higher trim levels.

One of the more annoying features is the automatic door locking. While it undoubtedly adds an extra layer of safety, I found that it got in the way as I frequently exited and entered the car during my photo shoot. However, that’s a problem few folks will duplicate.

Finally, under the mat in the back is a temporary spare wheel.

Prices

2016 Nissan Sentra – Driving Impression And Review Exterior
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The 2016 Nissan Sentra is on sale now, and is offered in six trim levels. Listed below are major features for each trim level and package (listed features are in addition to, or replacements of, previous trim level features).

S/S Xtronic

The entry-level Sentra S is equipped with a six-speed manual transmission and starts at $16,780. The S Xtronic adds the Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) and starts at $17,630. Both models receive a three-spoke urethane steering wheel, 16-inch steel wheels, halogen headlights, cloth upholstery, four-speaker stereo with AM/FM/CD head unit, iPod interface, cruise control with steering wheel switch, power windows with one-touch up/down driver’s side, power locks with automatic locking, remote keyless entry with trunk release, 12-volt outlet, dual LED overhead front map lights, Bluetooth phone system, and piano black trim interior.

FE+ S

Adds the Xtronic CVT, low rolling resistance tires, and FE+ S-exclusive aero (rear decklid spoiler, rear tire and underbody deflectors).

Pricing starts at $18,030.

SV

Adds a three-spoke leather steering wheel, optional 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, all-season tires, tire pressure monitoring system with easy-fill tire alert, optional heated side-view mirrors, optional moonroof, premium cloth upholstery, optional heated front seats, six-speaker stereo with AM/FM/CD/satellite radio head unit and USB interface, 5.0-inch color display, optional 5.8-inch display, standard SiriusXM (subscription required), streaming Bluetooth audio, NissanConnect with Mobile Apps, optional NissanConnect with Navigation (adds 5.8-inch color touchscreen, NissanConnect Apps, SiriusXM Traffic, SiriusXM Travel Link, Nissan voice recognition, hands-free text messaging), Siri Eyes Free voice recognition, 5.0-inch Advanced Drive–Assist Display, Nissan Intelligent Key with push button ignition, optional illuminated vanity mirror, rearview monitor, optional blind-spot warning, optional rear cross-traffic alert, and a vehicle security system.

Pricing starts at $18,550.

SR

Adds unique 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, projector LED low beam headlights with LED daytime running lights, side-view mirrors with integrated LED turn signals and standard heating function, fog lights, SR-exclusive body pieces (extended side skirts, rear spoiler, chrome exhaust tip), premium sport cloth upholstery, optional leather upholstery, optional six-way adjustable power driver’s seat, optional two-way power lumbar support, standard heated front seats, optional Bose eight-speaker stereo, optional NissanConnect Services, optional HomeLink universal transceiver, optional adaptive cruise control, and optional forward emergency braking.

Pricing starts at $20,410.

SL

Adds 17-inch 10-spoke aluminum-alloy wheels, standard leather upholstery, standard six-way adjustable power driver’s seat, standard two-way power lumbar support, standard 5.8-inch display, standard NissanConnect with Navigation (NissanConnect Apps, SiriusXM Traffic, SiriusXM Travel Link, Nissan voice recognition, hands-free text messaging), dual zone automatic climate control, standard HomeLink universal transceiver, standard blind-spot warning, and standard rear cross-traffic alert.

Pricing starts at $22,170.

Driver’s Assist Package

Available on SV and SR. Includes NissanConnect with Navigation and Mobile Apps, 5.8-inch color touchscreen, Nissan Voice Recognition, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic alert.

Style Package

Available on SV. Includes power sliding glass moonroof, LED center dim lamp, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, and 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels.

All Weather Package

Available on SV. Includes heated front seats and heated side-view mirrors.

SR Premium Package

Available on SR. Includes power sliding glass moonroof, LED center dim lamp, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink Universal Transceiver, premium eight-speaker Bose stereo, leather upholstery, six-way power adjustable driver’s seat with two-way power lumbar support, NissanConnect with Navigation and Mobile Apps, 5.8-inch color touchscreen, Nissan Voice Recognition, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic alert.

SL Premium Package

Available on SL. Includes power sliding glass moonroof, LED center dim lamp, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, and premium eight-speaker Bose stereo.

Technology Package

Available on SR and SL. Includes adaptive cruise control, forward emergency braking, and NissanConnect Services.

Competition

Honda Civic

2016 Honda Civic High Resolution Exterior
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Now entering its tenth generation, this leader from Honda really brings the heat. In fact, it’s so good, it almost nabbed my top nomination for car of the year. It brings all the things you could want in this segment, with more power, huge efficiency, and a ton of options for trim levels and equipment. It could be said Honda outpaced Nissan pretty much everywhere with the Civic, expect in one critical area – price. If you’re looking for maximum bang for your buck, the Sentra is probably the better option, but either way, the new Civic deserves consideration.

Read our full review here.

Toyota Corolla

2014 Toyota Corolla - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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You just can’t get away from the Corolla, and for good reason – bulletproof reliability and good value are intrinsic to the nameplate. Unfortunately, the Corolla is also very much the embodiment of the penalty box compact sedan, with lackluster looks and dull performance. Amazingly, the Corolla is one of the few competitors in this segment that’s actually slower than the Sentra. Still, if you want a car that will get you there every time, no matter what, the Corolla might be the answer.

Read our full review here.

Mazda3

2016 - 2018 Mazda3 High Resolution Exterior
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If you look at the Sentra and this list of competitors and utter a resounding “meh,” then give the 3 a drive. It’s without a doubt the most fun compact here, with sleek styling, a driver-oriented interior layout, and an optional 184-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It’ll also handle weekend canyon-carving duties with aplomb, actually encouraging a spirited experience behind the wheel. Of course, all that enjoyment comes with a higher price tag and a more jarring ride, so be wary.

Read our full review here.

Conclusion

2016 Nissan Sentra – Driving Impression And Review Exterior
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Slightly irritating feature characteristics and anemic performance aside, the 2016 Nissan Sentra ticks the right boxes for the segment. It’s roomy, reliable, quiet, safe, and efficient. Most importantly, however, the Sentra represents fantastic value. Compared to last year, prices are up across the line, but considering how much stuff you get for the money, the rise in MSRP is totally justified. The bottom line is this: if you want the equipment without breaking the bank, this is where you need to look first.

I’d suggest getting into an SV with the Driver’s Assistance Package. For less than $20,000, this set-up manages to bring all the goods, like a 5.0-inch Advanced Drive Assist Display, voice recognition, NissanConnect with Mobile Apps, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and SiriusXM Navigation.

Overall, Nissan did a good job evolving the Sentra nameplate from barebones transportation to a higher quality level, and I think buyers will instantly recognize that as soon as they get behind the wheel.

Now, Nissan… about that SE-R…

  • Leave it
    • Underpowered, laborious acceleration
    • Rides a little stiff, seats are a little firm
    • Very strong competition
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