The 2009 Nissan Sentra is a compact sedan that slots above the Versa model in size and price. Although it is built on mechanical underpinnings closely related to those of the Versa, the Sentra has a very different appearance and driving feel.
The Nissan Sentra comes in three distinct flavors: mild, spicy, and wild. The mild versions (2.0, 2.0 S and 2.0 SL) feature a 140-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder mated to either a six-speed manual (S) or Nissan's Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) in the S or SL. The spicy SE-R trim ups the ante with a 177-horsepower motor displacing 2.5 liters from four cylinders matched with the CVT only. The wild and crazy SE-R Spec V has a 200-horsepower version and six-speed manual transmission. All Sentras are front-wheel drive only.
The Sentra gets good fuel economy from its 140-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which is peppy with either transmission, but your driving experience may be dampened if you choose the CVT. The CVT auto isn't quite as pleasing to drive with Nissan's four-cylinder engines as it is with its V-6s, and it can bring out the engine's coarse drone under acceleration. TheCarConnection.com recommends the manual transmission with the Sentra; it's a little clunkier in feel than the one used in past Sentras, but makes for a more pleasant drive.
Don't expect sportscar handling either in the non-enthusiast models, and you won't be disappointed. The ride quality is quite smooth, with a suspension clearly not tuned for high-performance driving. The top SE-R Spec V on the other hand has a performance-tuned suspension that gives up a little bit of ride comfort, but it should still be quite tolerable for commuters in all but the most pothole-ridden places.
Both the performance models feature significant enhancements over lesser Sentra models because the SE-R and Spec V utilize 177- and 200-hp versions of the larger 2.5-liter four-cylinder found in the Nissan Altima sedan and Rogue crossover. Suspensions, brakes, and interiors are also beefed up.
A roomy, quiet interior is what most separates the 2009 Nissan Sentra from its competitors, though its sedan-only body style limits its appeal when compared to the likes of the Honda Civic. The cabin of the 2009 Nissan Sentra feels spacious, seating is comfortable, and appointments are generous even in base 2.0 and 2.0 S models, even if materials feel just appropriate for this price range.
The base Sentra makes a great high-value commuter car given its solid list of standard features, including six airbags, and good fuel economy. Moving on up to the 2.0 S trim gets you anti-lock brakes as standard, and the high-end 2.0 SL gets you leather and Bluetooth. Unfortunately, going for the full-lux edition limits your transmission choice to the CVT.
The Bottom Line:
The 2009 Nissan Sentra is a worthy contender in the compact segment, but the CVT transmission may turn off some buyers.