Just like that, the Nissan Sentra went from being one of the worst cars in its segment to one of the best. And this isn’t even a new-generation model: The Sentra just underwent a mid-cycle refresh, but it feels like an entirely different car.
Engine: 1.8L four-cylinder
Power: 130 hp, 128 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: CVT or 6-speed manual
EPA Fuel Economy: 30 mpg city, 40 mpg hwy, 35 combined
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 8.0 city, 6.1 hwy, 7.2 combined
US Price: Starts at $16,780, Top trim $22,170
CAN Price: Starts at $15,898, Top trim $25,998
Last year, I drove the pre-refresh Nissan Sentra, and it was abysmal. I tried to pass it off on my colleagues so I wouldn’t have to drive it any more. It was dated, it just wasn’t competitive, and because it barely had any redeeming qualities, it was just downright depressing to drive. I had more fun in my dentist’s waiting room before my root canal, and they hadn’t even given me drugs yet.
But the refreshed 2016 Nissan Sentra has changed my mind entirely. This compact has a lot going for it and it is packed with features and technology once only found on expensive luxury cars. The Sentra represents a solid pick in the compact segment and has a lot of value. Just like the award-winning Honda Civic brought back the thunder to Honda and is so good that it’s giving the Accord some anxiety, the Sentra has nearly surpassed its Altima bigger brother in quality and value, and is more like a baby Maxima.
Same Reliable Nissan, but Better
Here’s an interesting fact: 93% of the Nissan Sentras sold in the past 10 years are still on the road. Nissan fed me M&Ms with this fact printed on them, so they literally shoved this message down my throat. What a tasty message.
Edible facts pic.twitter.com/9fyk1Z6obK
— Jodi Lai (@DrivingMissJodi) January 29, 2016
In the past, “reliability” was often synonymous with “boring,” but this Sentra does a lot to fix that misconception. Starting with a new style, the Sentra even looks more exciting, and it has the goods to back it up.
Huge Improvement to Driving Dynamics
A 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 130 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque paired to a CVT doesn’t sound so hot, but compared to the previous Sentra, the improvements in driving dynamics are drastic. I would like to have a turbo or more power, but where the old Sentra was mushy and uninspiring, other Nissans like the 370Z wouldn’t be embarrassed to have this refreshed Sentra as a little brother.
The Sentra’s steering wheel even looks and feels like it was lifted right from a 370Z or a Juke Nismo. The new heavy, well-weighted steering is surprisingly responsive and tight, displaying absolutely no twitchiness on the highway. I wish the steering wheel would snap back to center a bit quicker, but the previous setup was entirely numb, so I’ll take this heavier, more responsive steering any day.
Suspension-wise, it feels stiffer and more stable in cornering, yet it still manages to ride over rough pavement well and it doesn’t beat up passengers.
The Sentra is down on power compared to most of its competition, but still feels decent off the line and even a bit jumpy. There is a lot of racket under full acceleration, and the Sentra definitely isn’t fast, but it doesn’t need to be fast; it needs to get the job done with little drama. Mid-range passing power is not blazing, but it’s adequate, and I never felt overly nervous getting up to highway speeds or passing slower cars.
Part of this is because Nissan tweaked the tuning for the CVT to make it feel more natural and responsive. It also has fake “shift points,” and it doesn’t have that rubber band feeling that so many CVTs have. Unfortunately, no changes have been made to the six-speed manual, which was awful in the last Sentra. The old manual has just been carried over because less than 2 percent of Sentra buyers will opt to change their own gears. But the CVT is quite good, so it’s not a total loss.
One interesting feature new to the Sentra is Active Understeer Control, which reads the cornering situation and will brake the appropriate wheel to make sure you stay on track and steer through your turn with less drama. It works well. Pushed pretty hard through some on-ramps and a few corners, the Sentra kept its line remarkably well.
Driving around town and on the interstate, the Nissan Sentra was remarkably quiet inside, unless, of course, you are under full acceleration. New sound deadening material has been added in the doors and the glass is now coated with even more sound insulators to keep the cabin serene.
Legroom and headroom in the front and back is also pretty decent, but the driver’s seating position is a bit too high.
Filled with Fancy Tech
The Sentra is now filled with some impressive technology that a lot of its competition doesn’t have. Forward emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross traffic alert are all available and, making sure they’re accessible to the average Sentra driver, Nissan doesn’t charge a lot of money for them. Fully loaded, a Sentra SL will go for $22,170, and the SR that also comes with this tech can be had for $20,410 in the U.S.
The automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control system can bring you to a complete halt, but the driver will have to take over eventually because the car won’t start going again on its own. Still, this one one of the rare cars in its segment and at this price point that can do this.
This technology makes the Sentra an IIHS Top Safety Pick. The system isn’t one of those overly sensitive ones that beep at everything. The warning beeps are also gentle and not jarring, a small detail that is much appreciated for not inducing panic attacks.
The Sentra is also available with Nissan Connect, a telematics system that works with an app to give you remote access to your car and works a lot like GM’s OnStar where it can sense if a collision happens or even beam navigation instructions into your car so you don’t have to fumble around with the touchscreen while you’re driving.
Apple CarPlay and Android auto are obvious omissions in the Sentra, but it does have Siri Eyes Free.
The Verdict: 2016 Nissan Sentra Review
This Nissan Sentra is actually a mid-cycle refresh, but it feels almost like an entirely new car. Loaded with all this technology, the Sentra is an affordable compact sedan that has a lot of value. Combined with the better drivings dynamics, the refreshed 2016 Nissan Sentra has been catapulted to the forefront of its segment. Is it as good as a Honda Civic, Mazda3, Volkswagen Golf or Hyundai Elantra? Probably not, but it also costs a lot less money and offers almost as many features.
If you want an Altima or even a Maxima but can’t afford it, the Nissan Sentra does a pretty convincing impression of both of its bigger brothers.
Discuss this story on our Nissan Sentra Forum
Also, this. Don’t ask:
— Jodi Lai (@DrivingMissJodi) January 28, 2016