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2017 Nissan Sentra: New Car Review

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author photo by Autotrader January 2017

Fresh from a major makeover last year, the 2017 Nissan Sentra continues to improve by adding a new turbocharged engine option and a sporty NISMO edition. In a segment quickly filling with newer competitors, Nissan has decided to play to the Sentra's strengths, those being its comfortable ride, affordable price and huge interior. In fact, the compact Nissan Sentra is so roomy the EPA actually categorizes it as a midsize sedan. The Sentra is also impressively fuel efficient, yielding an estimated 29 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. Of course, competitors such as the new Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze and Toyota Corolla are also growing in size, efficiency and power, giving consumers a lot to think about.

One potential drawback is that the Sentra's standard 1.8-liter engine is less powerful than almost everything else in its class. That might not mean much to those who care more about fuel economy than power -- until the need to overtake slower-moving traffic or merge onto a busy freeway arises, in which case the turbo model should be given serious consideration.

What's New for 2017?

For 2017, the Sentra gains a new 1.6-liter turbocharged engine offered in two new trims: SR Turbo and NISMO. Both cars feature enhancements to the suspension, brakes and steering, as well as a choice between a 6-speed manual or uniquely tuned CVT automatic transmission.

What We Like

Spacious interior; strong fuel economy; agreeable ride; attractively priced; user-friendly navigation and instruments; high-tech safety and infotainment features; sporty new NISMO trim

What We Don't

Non-turbo models not particularly quick; no 5-door hatchback model; lacks some flashier color options offered on other makes

How Much?

$17,855-$28,000

Fuel Economy

The Sentra S, SV, SR and SL are all powered by a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 124 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque. That's about all the Corolla gets out of its 1.8-liter 4-cylinder, but almost every other engine in this class has more juice. Still, the Sentra barely weighs 2,800 pounds, so it generally keeps up with traffic well enough. A turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine with 188 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque is offered in the SR Turbo and NISMO models.

With the exception of the base S model, which comes with a 6-speed manual transmission, all models with the 1.8-liter engine employ a gearless continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The Sentra SR Turbo and NISMO also come with a 6-speed manual transmission and offer a uniquely tuned CVT transmission with manual shift mode as an option.

Fuel economy estimates for SV, SL and SR models with the CVT are very good, at 29 mpg city/37 mpg hwy. The S with the 6-speed manual returns a slightly lower 27 mpg city and 35 mpg hwy. In the turbo models, the 6-speed manual earns 26 mpg city/32 mpg hwy, while the CVT ups those figures to 27 mpg city/33 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The 2017 Nissan Sentra is offered in six trims: S, SV, SR, SR Turbo, NISMO and SL. Only the S, SR Turbo and NISMO trims offer a manual transmission; all others employ a CVT.

The Sentra ($17,855) includes a 6-speed manual transmission, 16-inch steel wheels with plastic covers, LED headlight and taillight accents, power windows and door locks, air conditioning, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, Bluetooth, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver's seat and a 4-speaker audio system with a USB and auxiliary audio jack.

The Sentra SV ($19,655) features a 6-speaker touchscreen audio system, illuminated steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, Intelligent Key with push-button start, a 5-in driver information screen, a rearview camera, NissanConnect, Siri Eyes Free (requires an Apple smartphone), a security system and upgraded cloth trim.

The Sentra SR ($20,855) includes unique 17-in alloy wheels, more aggressive front and rear fascias, side-sill extensions, a rear spoiler, fog lights, LED low-beam headlights, rear disc brakes, a chrome exhaust tip, and heated front seats and side mirrors, plus unique sport cloth upholstery.

The Sentra SR Turbo ($22,855) builds on the the SR's features with stiffer springs and dampers, revised electronic steering settings and larger brakes. A power sunroof is standard.

The Sentra SL ($22,365) is stocked with different 17-in alloys, automatic headlights, heated exterior mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, keyless entry with push-button start, a leather steering-wheel and shift-knob trim, a 6-way power driver's seat with 2-way power lumbar support, heated front seats, leather seating surfaces, Piano Black interior accents, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 5.8-in color touchscreen with SiriusXM radio (subscription sold separately) and USB/Bluetooth connectivity. Also standard is a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert and NissanConnect with navigation and mobile apps.

The Sentra NISMO ($25,855) brings unique NISMO exterior and interior design elements, the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, a stiffer chassis, upgraded brakes and suspension, and 18-in NISMO 10-spoke alloy wheels.

Several options packages are offered on various trims. The SL Premium Technology package adds intelligent cruise control, forward emergency braking, a power sunroof, Bose audio and NissanConnect powered by SiriusXM. The SR Premium Technology package includes all this plus navigation, a 6-way power driver's seat with 2-way power lumbar support, leather seating surfaces, NissanConnect with navigation and mobile apps, a 5.8-in color touchscreen, a blind spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert. The Driver Assist package adds NissanConnect with navigation and mobile apps, a 5.8-in color touchscreen, a blind spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert.

Safety

The 2017 Nissan Sentra comes with anti-lock brakes that use front discs and rear drums. Rear drum brakes, which are cheaper and simpler than disc brakes, are a common feature on entry-level economy cars, but you'll want discs if possible. To that end, note that the Sentra S and SV models come only with rear drums, while the SR, SL and NISMO models feature discs all around.

Every Sentra is outfitted with six airbags -- front, front-side and full-length side-curtain.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2017 Nissan Sentra an overall score of four out of five stars, with four stars awarded in the front and rollover tests and five stars in the side-impact test. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Sentra a Good score in all of its crash tests -- including a Superior score in the crash-avoidance and mitigation tests -- and lists the Sentra as a Top Safety Pick.

Behind the Wheel

Unlike some rivals, the Sentra SL doesn't aspire to be sporty or aggressive on the road. Even the smartly dressed SR is really the same agreeable Sentra underneath. This Nissan just provides comfortable basic transportation highlighted by a relatively quiet, compliant ride. Handling is adequately composed in emergency maneuvers, but the Sentra is all about setting it and forgetting it. If you're simply looking for an affordable sedan that'll get you through the daily commute with minimal fuss, the 2017 Sentra hits most of the right notes.

Move up to the turbocharged SR and NISMO models, however, and the story gets a bit more exciting. The 188 hp adds a nice boost to the Sentra's ability to dart across intersections and pass slower-moving objects. The suspension upgrades are most welcome in sharp curves, giving the Sentra a more sporty feel reminiscent of the old Sentra SE-R. Thicker glass helps keep cabin noise at a respectable level, and even with its stiffer springs and shocks, the SR Turbo's ride remains comfortable on most road surfaces. Although we have yet to drive it, we expect the NISMO version to offer even better handling but a harsher ride.

Other Cars to Consider

2017 Chevrolet Cruze -- The Cruze offers a more playful suspension, but its turbocharged engine isn't as powerful as the Sentra's turbo. Stylistically, the Cruze is much sleeker than the Sentra and offers a 5-door hatchback model. It also costs a bit less.

2017 Honda Civic -- The Civic offers a more modern design inside and out, with a choice of coupe, hatchback or sedan body styles. The Civic gets better fuel economy than the Sentra and offers a wide range of models, including the sporty Si and Type R.

2017 Hyundai Elantra -- A direct rival to the Sentra in terms of both power and fuel economy, the Elantra offers distinctive styling and a more generous feature set. Passenger volume is nearly identical between the two, but the Sentra has greater cargo volume.

Used Nissan Altima -- A 2013-2015 Nissan Altima offers more power, more room and more features -- with the same good looks and Nissan quality.

Autotrader's Advice

As Nissan rightly points out in its marketing materials, the Sentra is a good deal, with even the SL starting at a hair over $22,000. We'd make ours an SV with the Driver Assist, All Weather and Style packages, and we'd still be out the door with an MSRP of just under $21,800. That's refreshing. For those wanting a bit more power, the SR Turbo with the Premium Technology package is a really sweet deal.

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2017 Nissan Sentra: New Car Review - Autotrader