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2016 Nissan Sentra: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Mark Elias February 2016

The 2016 Nissan Sentra returns just in time for what Nissan is calling the year of the sedan. But wait just a second: Aren't SUVs holding sway now? Perhaps, but Nissan's not throwing in the towel, especially when this legacy vehicle is responsible for a huge portion of the brand's domestic sales and 25 percent of its growth in the United States.

With so much weighing heavily on this 4-door compact, it's clearly not a vehicle to be trifled with. Autotrader went to find out if Nissan was attempting to mess with success.

Get in Line

The 2016 Sentra has undergone a mild refresh that brings this 5-passenger 4-door sedan more in line with its bigger Altima and Maxima brothers. Starting with the V-Motion grille and swoopy front fenders, its lineage is clear. Nissan claims the Sentra sports more than 20 percent in the way of new parts and features over last year's model, including new consumer-electronics-related apps, which customers have said they want to see in their vehicles, as well.

On this 2016 Sentra, Nissan's Energetic Flow design language is seen all around, starting with a new fascia, hood, fenders and signature boomerang headlamps and taillights. The look extends all the way to new 16- and 17-inch alloy wheels for SV and SR/SL models, respectively.

Stylistically, the Sentra's new exterior is not groundbreaking, and that could be a good thing. We think so for this reason: It's a look that won't grow old prematurely. Nissan terms the look and character as professional and more upscale than some of its competition that it goes head-to-head with. That competition includes such stalwarts as the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Ford Focus, Mazda3, Toyota Corolla and Chevrolet Cruze.

The 2016 Nissan Sentra will be available in five grades, ranging from S ($16,780), FE+S ($18,030), SV ($18,550) and SR ($20,410) to the premium SL ($22,170) trim level. Variations on those themes exist with different styling and transmission packages and do not include the $835 destination fee.

Motivating Forces

All Sentra models receive power from Nissan's 1.8-liter multiport injected 4-cylinder engine, producing 130 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 128 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm. Special attention has been paid to smoothness via the engine mounts, which combine fluid-filled, solid and rubber examples for improved NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) on nearly all surfaces.

Two choices of transmission are available, starting with a standard 6-speed manual in the base S and FE+S models. That 6-speed can be subbed out for the available XTRONIC continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which itself is standard in the SV, SR and SL models.

Together, the engine-and-transmission combo are responsible for Environmental Protection Agency mileage estimates of 29 miles per gallon in the city, 38 mpg on the highway and 32 mpg combined.

A well-sorted electric-power-assisted and speed-sensitive steering system helps to point the way for the Sentra, while good road feel is accomplished through the MacPherson strut coil-spring front and rear torsion-beam suspension. Additionally, SV, SR and SL models come standard with Active Understeer Control, which uses brake actuators to lightly brake the inside front wheels in a turn, pulling the car in the direction you turn the wheel. It's similar to a brake-based torque vectoring system.

An Inside Look

Our SR and SL samplers featured revised content that included new 5-in between-gauge thin-film-transistor (TFT) instrumentation and a new center cluster with a revised console.

The interior of the 2016 Sentra was accented with loads of soft-touch material and black leather throughout, as well as a steering wheel that appears to have been lifted from the Nissan 370Z and Juke parts bin. A 6-way power seat made for easily adjustable driver positioning, although we were put off by what seemed to be the limited range of the telescoping steering column. Because of these limitations, we needed to move our seat closer to the wheel, which was nearer, and less comfortable, than our legs were used to.

Rear-seat legroom, on the other hand, was as plentiful as what's found in many class-above (read: midsized) cars. Credit goes to the 106.3-in-long wheelbase and its 15.1 cu ft. of cargo space, which is augmented by the 60/40-split folding rear seats.

Though three varying grades of AM/FM/CD systems are available, our SL and SR testers were equipped with a Bose 8-speaker premium audio system with a 5.8-in color touchscreen display and NissanConnect apps, including iHeartRadio, Pandora, Facebook, Twitter, TripAdvisor, SiriusXM radio (with SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link), and Nissan's voice-recognition system. Finally, an optional NissanConnect Services powered by SiriusXM was included; this subscription offering allows owners or parents to set speed, curfew and boundary notifications. It is part of the SR- and SL-grade Technology package groups. But wait, there's more! Apple's Siri Eyes Free system is available to make and receive calls, texts and emails, as well as to listen to music from the operator's personal iPhone. The system is standard on SV, SR and SL models.

And just so readers won't think the 2016 Sentra is all fun and games, the company has made available many safety features, including forward emergency braking, intelligent cruise control, a blind spot monitoring system and rear-cross traffic alert.

Behind the Wheel

This newest Sentra offers a great driving feel with well-weighted steering control. We'll go out on a limb and say that acceleration was rather lackluster, with 0-to-60 times in the 10.5-second range. While some CVT transmissions can deliver an odd feel, Nissan has ironed out past issues and now has one of the best CVTs around.

Inside, we found an amazingly quiet ride while underway thanks to the laminated acoustic windshield and extensive use of sound-deadening material throughout. That was until we found a need to squeeze the skinny pedal to slide into oncoming interstate traffic; at that point, there's a significant level of engine noise. It's easy to blame the transmission here, but Nissan's own Murano uses a CVT and sounds and feels refined. Regardless, the Sentra's steering feel and vehicle response made it easier to place the vehicle on the road and through turns thanks to the Active Understeer Control torque vectoring system.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Nissan Sentra: First Drive Review - Autotrader