|1. 2.0-liter Four-cylinder provides 140hp and a generous 147 ft-lbs of torque through a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
2. Mileage is rated at 25/35 mpg (city/highway) but out tester did that or better.
3. Performance oriented SE-R models come with a 177hp and the SE-R Spec V gets 200hp!
Who says that an everyday, economical commuter car has to be a dull Spartan econobox? Certainly not Nissan. Over the years, the Sentra has forged a reputation as a well built, stylish, compact sedan with room for four and a sporty feel. The SL version of the 2009 Sentra builds upon that reputation and transforms the Sentra into a versatile “near-luxury” commuter that one wouldn’t mind driving across the country.
PLENTY OF PEP FROM 140-HORSE 2.0-LITER 4-CYL
The 2.0-liter four cylinder engine puts out 140 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque, and provides plenty of pep when scooting away from a stop light, or merging into highway traffic. The engine is mated to Nissan’s Xtronic CVT (Constant Variable Transmission) and puts the power down smoothly, and without any jerkiness or shift pauses that regular transmissions usually exhibit, especially with small four cylinder engines. Granted, there is a bit more engine noise than I’d like to hear inside the cabin under hard acceleration, but it isn’t intrusive, and things quiet down once cruising speed is achieved. After that, the quiet and almost luxury ride quality is quite surprising.
COMFY SUSPENSION, GOOD HANDLING WITH SOME UNDERSTEER
Only the most severe potholes will resonate into the cabin, otherwise the suspension soaks up most pavement irregularities with aplomb. Some of that can be attributed to the generous 105.7”wheelbase, independent front strut suspension (torsion beam rear) and the SL’s 16” aluminum alloy wheels versus the 15-inchers on the standard model. The Sentra handles corners well, and only when pushed hard will you notice excessive body lean and hear the protest from the understeering tires. But if cornering performance is your priority, you’ll have to move up to the more powerful SE-R models with beefier and more taut suspension bits. The ABS brakes have a good feel and are more than adequate.
ATTRACTIVE NISSAN STYLING
The Sentra’s styling is attractive and distinctive from the more bland offerings from the competition like the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, and Honda Civic. It also bears the family resemblance to the other cars in the Nissan line-up like the larger Altima and Maxima.
The Sentra SL’s cabin really shines in both creature and convenience comforts and visual appeal. The vinyl dash and door coverings are more expensive looking than expected for a car in this price range. The SL ads leather seats, the 16-inch alloys, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD RDS audio system with MP3 playback capability (the test car was upgraded to an outstanding symphony-sounding eight-speaker Rockford Fosgate system) hands-free Bluetooth Phone system, which worked really well, and an overhead CD storage system built into the drivers sunshade. Also in the package are for lights, ABS brakes, cruise control, a Vehicle Security System, and an Intelligent Key-O Keyless Entry System that allows you to enter and drive away with the key fob in your pocket.
The driver’s gauges are large and easy to read, and the center dash controls for the climate and radio were easy to use. The glove box is cavernous, and the center console stores a lot of the items you want close to you. Two cup holders located between the seats are adjustable for various size drink containers. The steering wheel has full controls for the radio and hands free phone, as well as the cruise controls. Another nice feature of the SL is the in-dash vehicle information display monitor that provides trip information and calculates fuel mileage, distance to empty, average speed, etc, along with the radio station information and outside temperature.
The seats are quite comfortable, and have a wide range of adjustability, albeit manually. Even though it’s a compact car, the driver sits up fairly tall in the seat for a good command of the road, and yet there is still plenty of headroom. And two adults can sit quite comfortably in the rear seats, with enough head and knee room to make a long commute easy.
The rear seats are split 60/40, and both fold into the cabin to allow for long items such as skis. The trunk itself holds a generous 13.1 cu.-ft., and has a very handy feature called Divide-N-Hide. There is a removable divider wall that can be left flat on the trunk floor when not in use, or can be raised to a vertical position to create a hidden compartment that is about 12-inches deep, by the full height of the trunk. It is carpeted like the rest of the trunk, so the uninitiated wouldn’t notice it for anything other than the back of the trunk. Quite clever.
BETTER THAN ADVERTISED MILEAGE
These days getting good gas mileage is a must, especially for a car in this class. Nissan’s fuel economy ratings are 25/35 mpg city/highway. While real world numbers are usually less than the manufacturer states, that was not the case with this car. I had cause to make two identical 120 mile round trips in the same week; 60 miles of expressway, and 55 miles of rural two-lane roads. Traveling at my normal pace of about 75 miles per hour on the highway, and 60 on the two-laners, I averaged 34 miles per gallon. On the second trip I didn’t go over 60 miles per hour on the highway, or over 55 on the two-laners, and I clocked 39 miles per gallon on that excursion. That was impressive. And my normal around town suburban driving consistently got me 26 miles per gallon.
The base Sentra 2.0 starts at $16,730 with the CVT transmission. The 2.0 S with the CVT, which adds some packaged options, is $17,760. The 2.0SL starts at $19,660. For those looking for a sportier ride, Nissan makes an SE-R model with a 177 hp motor for $20,660, and the SE-R Spec V model boasting a 200 hp motor and 6-speed manual transmission goes for $21,160.
The Sentra 2.0SL provides the owner with comfortable, capable, economical transportation which can also be an enjoyable sporty car when the road gets interesting. And there are enough creature comforts and amenities for the owner to feel pampered at the same time.
Outstanding fuel economy Near-luxury cabin appointments and amenities Plush ride quality
Engine noise under hard acceleration A bit too much body lean under hard cornering