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2003 Nissan Sentra Sedan

4dr Sdn SE-R Manual

Starting at | Starting at 24 MPG City - 29 MPG Highway

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  • $16,199 original MSRP
Printable Version

2003 Nissan Sentra Sedan

Printable Version

2003 Nissan Sentra Sedan


2003 Nissan Sentra

Source: New Car Test Drive


The Nissan Sentra is practical and frugal, roomy and comfortable. It looks handsome and solid. The sporty SE-R models are terrific cars, fun to drive, with responsive suspensions and a bigger engine that's strong and smooth.

With prices starting at just $11,799 for the XE, the Sentra is a good value. Perhaps a better value is the GXE model, which comes loaded with popular equipment for just $13,749.

For 2003, the Sentra GXE is available with the SE-R's bigger, more powerful engine. For its part, the 2003 SE-R gets bolder styling in front. There's a killer stereo available, making these cars a great choice for people who want more than basic transportation in their lives.

Model Lineup

The Nissan Sentra comes in a range of trim levels: the basic Sentra XE ($11,799); the more luxurious GXE ($13,749); the sporty SE-R ($15,999); and the track-tuned SE-R Spec V ($16,999). New for 2003 is the Sentra 2.5 Limited Edition.

XE comes with a 126-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and a short list of standard equipment that nonetheless includes power front disc brakes, a rear window defroster, dual remote-control mirrors, front air bags, power steering, a tilt steering column, 14-inch tires and intermittent windshield wipers. Options offered on other models are not necessarily available on the XE.

GXE adds air conditioning, power windows and locks with remote keyless entry, AM/FM stereo with four speakers and CD player, an eight-way adjustable driver's seat, a 60/40 split fold-down rear seat, rear heater ducts, and a digital clock. Fog lights and a rear spoiler are optional.

An automatic transmission ($800) is available. Side-impact air bags and antilock brakes come as an optional package ($749). Nissan scores an A for creativity in naming option packages for the GXE: The Road Hugging Package ($499) adds 15-inch aluminum wheels, 195/60HR15 tires and fog lights. The Road Trip Package ($359) adds cruise control, a 180-watt CD stereo with seven speakers, map lights and an overhead sunglasses bin. The Synergy Package ($999) combines the Road Trip and Road Hugging packages and adds a rear spoiler, illuminated vanity mirrors, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

SE-R brings a sporty personality into the Sentra. It offers great handling and there's lots of power available from the 2.5-liter engine. Rated at 165 horsepower, the engine uses compact balancers keep the power delivery smooth. The SE-R also comes with 16-inch alloy wheels with 195/55 performance tires, special body trim, a rear spoiler, special cloth seats with eight-way power for the driver, cruise control, a 180-watt audio system, sports suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and titanium-colored gauges that glow orange at night.

The SE-R Spec V uses low-restriction exhaust to boost output to 175 horsepower. To this, it adds a six-speed manual transmission, a helical limited-slip differential, 17-inch wheels with 215/45 Z-rated high-performance tires. The Spec V comes with a hot lava-red interior featuring sport seats and black and silver accents.

SE-R and SE-R Spec V options include the Audio Fanatic Package with a 300-watt nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system ($549), an in-dash 6-disc CD player ($399), and a power sunroof ($699). An automatic transmission is offered for the SE-R, but not in the Spec V.

New for 2003 is the 2.5 Limited Edition, essentially a GXE model powered by the SE-R's 165-horsepower engine, and stopped by four-wheel-disc brakes. Automatic transmission, ABS, and side-impact air bags are standard. Think of it as a high-performance luxury model.

All Sentras are four-door sedans with front-wheel drive. For 2003, all California-certified 1.8-liter Sentras meet SULEV (super low-emission vehicle) and zero-evaporative emission standards.


The Nissan Sentra was designed by Nissan's California styling studio, the same group that penned the exciting Xterra sport-utility and the aggressive Frontier compact pickup truck. The goal for the current-generation model was to eliminate the entry-level look, to design a car with its own character that happens to be in the right price range for a lot of people. The result is robust, rounded. We think it's sassy. (That's "sass-eee.")

Nissan learned from its previous-generation (1995-99) Sentra that refined and nimble economy cars don't sell too well if they're boring. Economy cars face a lot of competition these days from bigger used cars, which are now off-lease and selling at attractive discounts. But many folks still prefer new, reasonably priced sedans with full warranties.

The term compact is relative, as all of these cars seem to grow over time. The Sentra pushes the boundaries of its industry classification. It is longer than other four-door compact sedans, and looks it.

The SE-R features an aggressive look all its own, with side-sill extensions, a rear spoiler, and chrome exhaust tips. New for 2003 is a bolder front fascia with large, integrated fog lights and a mesh grille, modeled after Nissan's legendary home-market Skyline sport coupe. The SE-R is particularly striking in Sunburst, a bright yellow that's also new for 2003.

Interior Features

The Sentra interiors are well-designed and everything seems to fit well. The interior is roomy, both for people and cargo. The rear seats can accommodate grownups, and all seating positions provide good breathing room. All three rear-seat positions have three-point belts, though three back there is a crowd. The four outboard belts are equipped with automatic pretensioners, an important safety feature for an economy car. This is equipment that many bigger sedans didn't have just five years ago.

At first glance the Sentra's front seats look like normal economy car perches, but once you're in them they feel much roomier than they look. In the GXE, the seats adjust for height with dual lifters.

The seats in the SE-R are supportive, with big side bolsters. They hold you firmly, but comfortably, in place. One knob on the side adjusts the front half of the seat bottom; another knob adjusts the rear half. Leather covers the SE-R's steering wheel and gearshift knob. New fabric upholstery for the SE-R Spec V features silver accents.

The trunk is big, with 11.6 cubic feet of cargo space. The 60/40 split folding rear seatback can be unlatched from the trunk (difficult to figure out without help), making the Sentra a versatile cargo hauler. The available Fosgate subwoofer looks like it could get in the way here, however.

Red markings on black gauges are difficult to read on bright days with sunglasses on (there's a surprise), but they look cool at night. Stereo controls are positioned high on the center console, making them easy to adjust, and the metallic trim of the faceplate matches the latest in trendy Continental design. Other controls are straightforward and easy to use. A compartment on top of the dash is useful for storing a wallet or sunglasses. The cup holders work well for standard-size cans and cups.

The optional Fosgate stereo sounds fantastic with crisp bass and clear highs and no clipping at high volumes, but the controls are on the small side.

Driving Impressions

The Sentra is a terrific car and we love the sporty SE-R and Spec V models. They offer lots of power and great handling. We instantly felt comfortable in them, feeling like we could drive them right to the limit the first time we climbed in. The SE-R and SE-R Spec V rekindle memories of the famed Datsun 510, and of the original SE-R that appeared in Nissan's lineup from 1991-94.

Throttle response is immediate, and strong torque propels the SE-R quickly. Based on the architecture of Nissan's V6 engines, the SE-R's 2.5-liter inline-4 features variable valve timing, silent-chain cam drive and a compact balance system to reduce vibration. The power band is very linear.

The Spec V adds to the fun with even more power and it sounds really cool with the low-restriction exhaust. Weighing in at 2,708 pounds, the Spec V weighs only 15.5 pounds per horsepower, compared to 16.4 for the standard SE-R. Nissan claims the Spec V will squirt from 0 to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds.

Handling is even more impressive than acceleration. It's easy to rotate the SE-R in corners using the throttle, making it a lot of fun to drive. Tossable is the word that comes to mind. The rack-and-pinion steering provides quick and direct control. Handling is aided by larger front and rear stabilizer bars and front suspension tower bracing.

Big disc brakes slow the SE-R quickly. Whether we were lapping Laguna Seca Raceway or blasting along the cliffs on Pacific Coast Highway, we found the brakes easy to modulate. The SE-R's front rotors measure a full 11 inches, larger than in many so-called sporting machines. A four-channel, four-sensor anti-lock braking system is also available. While the Spec V gets the most immediate attention, many enthusiasts will opt for the standard SE-R with a five-speed manual, and will use it as a base for their own aftermarket modifications.

Spec V builds upon the SE-R's handling capabilities, with tighter shock tuning and spring rates 15 percent stiffer in front, 16 percent stiffer in back. High-performance 215/45ZR17 tires on special 17-inch wheels complete the suspension package and give Sentra a tough, sport-compact look.

Thanks to its torque-sensitive limited-slip differential, the Spec V is much more fun on an autocross course or a twisting mountain road than it is in a straight quarter-mile. This special differential allows the front wheels to rotate at different rates without slipping, greatly reducing understeer in hard cornering. This lets the driver get back on the power much sooner, and improves the Spec V's balance when accelerating out corners.

The six-speed manual shifter tends to be notchy. Fifth gear can be almost hard to find, but the gearbox isn't nearly as balky in second, third, and fourth; and that's where this car is the most fun to drive.

Sentra XE and GXE models run smoothly and quietly. We blazed through the desert at 100 mph in a GXE, its 1.8-liter engine turning a relatively calm 4500 rpm. The GXE felt stable at this speed, and wind and tire noise were low. At the legal limit of 70 mph, the engine turns just 3100 rpm in fifth gear when equipped with the five-speed manual. With the automatic it revs even lower at this speed. The EPA rates the 1.8-liter Sentra at 28/35 mpg city/highway with an automatic transmission, and 28/36 with a five-speed manual. For longer life with less maintenance, the Sentra engine uses a timing chain instead of a cheaper, but quieter, timing belt. You don't notice the extra noise generated by the timing chain, however.

The 1.8-liter engine in the GXE and XE races easily to its 6500 rpm redline, but it was designed to deliver its power relatively low in the rev range, where most Americans shift. (Torque peaks at 129 pounds-feet at a low 2400 rpm.) Most U.S. buyers opt for the automatic transmission, anyway, making the five-speed gearbox a rare item on the GXE. Low-rpm torque and carefully mapped gearing allow automatic XE and GXE models to accelerate quickly from intersections, yet cruise the highway in a relaxed manner. Big motor mounts isolate the engine, deadening noise and vibration.


Sure, you can buy a Honda Civic, but we think the Nissan Sentra is a more interesting choice. The 2003 Sentra drives like it's worth more than its price.

The mid-range GXE provides peaceful and comfortable highway cruising, while the new 2.5 Limited Edition promises to add performance and safety to the experience. The racy SE-R and SE-R Spec V deliver sports car performance on an economy car budget.

Our sense is that Nissan is in the position that Volkswagen occupied a decade ago, building very good cars that few people notice or purchase. So if you're in the market for an affordable sedan that's easy to look at and fun to drive, consider the Nissan Sentra. You may just start a trend.


Model Line Overview

Model lineup: XE ($11,799); GXE ($13,749); 2.5 Limited Edition ($NA); SE-R ($15,999); SE-R Spec V ($16,999)
Engines: 126-hp, 1.8-liter 16-valve dohc inline-4; 165-hp, 2.5-liter 16-valve dohc inline-4; 175-hp, 1.5-liter 16-valve inline-4
Transmissions: 5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic, 6-speed manual
Safety equipment (standard): driver and passenger front air bags, 3-point seat belts in all positions, child safety rear door locks, child-seat latches, emergency inside trunk release
Safety equipment (optional): ABS, front side-impact airbags
Basic warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in: Aguascalientes, Mexico

Specifications As Tested

Model tested (MSRP): SE-R Spec V ($16,999)
Standard equipment: 17-inch alloy wheels with 215/45 Z-rated tires, Skyline-style front sport bucket seats, red, black, and silver interior, 6-speed manual transmission, Helical limited-slip differential, sport-tuned suspension, increased flow muffler, four-wheel disc brakes, remote keyless entry, 8-way adjustable driver's seat, tilt steering wheel, variable intermittent wipers, overhead console with map lights, day/night rearview mirror, air conditioning, cruise control, power mirrors/doors/windows, 180-watt audio system with CD player
Options as tested (MSRP): N/A
Destination charge: ($540)
Gas guzzler tax: N/A
Price as tested (MSRP): $17,539
Layout: front-wheel drive
Engine: 2.5-iter 16-valve dohc inline-4
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 175 @ 6000
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): 180 @ 4000
Transmission: 6-speed manual
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: 23/29 mpg
Wheelbase: 99.8 in.
Length/width/height: 177.5/67.3/55.5 in.
Track, f/r: 57.7/56.9 in.
Turning circle: 38.4 ft.
Seating capacity: 5
Head/hip/leg room, f: 39.9/52.1/41.6 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m: N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r: 37.0/52.3/33.7 in.
Trunk volume: 11.6 cu. ft.
Payload: N/A
Towing capacity: 1000 Lbs.
Suspension, f: independent
Suspension, r: beam axle
Ground clearance: N/A
Curb weight: 2708 lbs.
Tires: P215/45ZR17
Brakes, f/r: disc/disc
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gal.


Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of March 01, 2002.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-335-3592 - www.nissandriven.com

Copyright © 1994-2003 New Car Test Drive, Inc.


Printable Version

2003 Nissan Sentra Sedan

Safety Ratings help

What do the Safety Ratings mean?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) performs independent crash testing of new vehicles and then assigns them a score based on their performance. The overall crash test rating is based on how a vehicle performs in the following tests:

Driver Crash Grade:

Measures the chance of a serious injury to a crash test dummy that is placed in a driver's seat and driven into a fixed barrier at 35 MPH. A five-star rating means there is 10 percent or less chance of injury.

Passenger Crash Grade:

Similar to the driver crash grade, only now the focus is on the passenger.

Rollover Resistance:

Simulates an emergency lane change to measure the likelihood of a vehicle rolling over. A five-star rating means there is 10 percent or less risk of rollover.

Side Impact Crash Test - Front:

Focuses on the front side of a vehicle. It simulates crashes that can occur in intersections by striking a 3,015-pound weight against the side of a vehicle at 38.5 MPH. A five-star rating means there is 5 percent or less chance of injury.

Side Impact Crash Test - Rear:

Similar to the front side impact test only now the focus is on the rear passenger.

Driver Crash Grade

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Passenger Crash Grade

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Rollover Resistance

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Side Impact Crash Test - Front n/a
Side Impact Crash Test - Rear n/a

Safety Features & Equipment

Braking & Traction

4-Wheel ABS Opt

Passenger Restraint

Driver Air Bag Std
Passenger Air Bag Std
Side Air Bag Opt
Child Safety Locks Std

Road Visibility

Fog Lamps Std
Intermittent Wipers Std
Variable Inter. Wipers Std
Printable Version

2003 Nissan Sentra Sedan

Original Warranty  help
Original Warranty
An original warranty is the warranty associated with a vehicle when it is brand new. In addition to the original warranty, select items, like tires, are typically covered by respective manufacturers. Also, an act of Federal law sometimes provides protection for certain components, like emissions equipment.
The original warranty is often broken down into multiple sections, including:
Basic Warranty:
Typically covers everything except for parts that wear out through normal use of the vehicle. Examples of non-covered items are brake pads, wiper blades and filters.
Drivetrain Warranty:
This warranty covers items the basic warranty does not protect. Wear and tear items such as hoses will not be covered, but key items like the engine, transmission, drive axles and driveshaft often will be.
Roadside Assistance:
The level of service differs greatly with this warranty, but many manufacturers offer a toll-free number that helps provide assistance in case you run out of gas, get a flat tire or lock your keys in the car.
Corrosion Warranty:
This warranty focuses on protecting you from holes caused by rust or corrosion in your vehicle's sheet metal.
Please check the owner's manual, visit a local dealership or look at the manufacturer's website to learn more about the specifics of the warranties that apply to a vehicle.

Basic 3 Years/36,000 Miles
Drivetrain 5 Years/60,000 Miles
Corrosion 5 Years/Unlimited Miles

Nissan Certified Pre-Owned Warranty  help
Certified Pre-Owned Warranty
To be eligible for Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) status, vehicles generally must be recent models with relatively low mileage. CPO vehicles must also pass a detailed inspection, outlined by the manufacturer, which is measured by the number of inspected points.
Warranty coverage can vary from one manufacturer to the next. While most certified pre-owned programs transfer and extend the existing new car warranty terms, others offer a warranty that simply represents an additional year and mileage value. Always check with the manufacturer for the specific warranties they offer.
Common features and benefits of Certified Pre-Owned warranties include:
Age/Mileage Eligibility
To even be considered for certification, a car must be a recent model year and have limited mileage. The exact requirements are established by individual manufacturers.
Lease Term Certified
Some manufacturers offer certified pre-owned cars for lease. The length of the lease is often shorter than a new car lease, but it will cost you less.
Point Inspection
These inspections entail a comprehensive vehicle test to ensure that all parts are in excellent working order. The point inspection list is simply a numbered list of exactly what parts of the car are examined. While many inspections range from a 70- to 150-point checklist, most are very similar and are performed using strict guidelines. Ask your local dealer about specific details.
Return/Exchange Program
Some manufacturers offer a very limited return or exchange period. Find out if you will get the sales tax and licensing/registration fees back should you return or exchange the car.
Roadside Assistance
Most certified pre-owned programs offer free roadside service in case your car breaks down while still under warranty.
Special Financing
Reduced-rate loans are available through many certified pre-owned programs. Manufacturer-backed inspections and warranties help eliminate the risks involved with buying pre-owned, so buyers who qualify can take advantage of the great offers.
Transferable Warranty
When a new car warranty transfers with the certification of the car and remains eligible for the next owner, it is known as a transferable warranty. Once the original transferable warranty expires, an extended warranty takes effect.
Warranty Deductible
This is the amount for which you are responsible when repair work is performed under the warranty. Some manufacturers require a deductible while others don't, so always ask.

7-year/100,000 mile limited warranty. Only Nissan models less than 6 years old and under 80,000 miles qualify for the Nissan Certified Pre-Owned program. The CARFAX® Vehicle History Report ensures your vehicle has a clean title history.
Age/Mileage Eligibility 6 model years or newer & less than 80,000 miles.
Lease Term Certified Yes
Point Inspection 167 point comprehensive Certified Pre-Owned Inspection and reconditioning. Inspection includes OEM service bulletins and recalls, diagnostic trouble codes, powertrain/chassis, body frame, road test, interior and body exterior.
Return/Exchange Program No
Roadside Assistance Yes for the duration of the 7 year/100,000 mile limited warranty from the original in-service date of the vehicle.
Special Financing Yes
Transferrable Warranty No/Yes with the purchase of the CPO Wrap Coverage at time of sale. Fee to transfer is estimated to be $50
Warranty Deductible $50 per claim

Learn more about certified pre-owned vehicles

Printable Version

2003 Nissan Sentra Sedan

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