When a close friend came to me recently and asked what compact car he should buy, I gave him the usual suspects: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Chevy Cruze. I also thought the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, and Subaru Impreza would be good choices. But, then he asked about the Nissan Sentra. I looked at him and said, “You know, I haven’t driven one recently. Let me get one for a review.” So, here we are with the 2016 Nissan Sentra SR – a car that combines a veneer of sport with deep comfort.
Let’s just be honest; the effort to make the Sentra’s exterior sporty mostly relies on plastic and wheels – aggressive ground affects, chiseled front facia, rear spoiler, 17-inch alloys, and a chrome exhaust tip. Of course, painting it bright red helps. The rest of the car swoops and dips ala the current Altima, Maxima, and Murano. Nissan’s V-Motion grille design goes great with a sculpted hood, Z-notch front fenders, LED low beams, flowing bodylines, and beefy LED taillight housings.
Moving inside, there’s much to like. The flowing dash design goes with the exterior and is mostly padded – not a given. Thick heated leather seats with blue stitching, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and power sunroof add comfort. Designers paid attention to details like the faux carbon fiber around the gear selector and on the doors, as well as metallic-infused piano finish around the touchscreen. Like the smaller Nissan Versa, rear legroom and trunk space are cavernous. Flip seats and a bicycle will fit.
Our SR is also loaded with technology. Bose audio, navigation, Bluetooth audio streaming/hands free calling, and push button ignition are all included. The touchscreen is a little small and quaint, but works well. Safety is enhanced by adaptive cruise (maintains a safe distance), forward emergency braking (automatically applies brakes if it detects imminent disaster), blind spot warning, and rear cross path detection.
You may not be terribly impressed when you lift the hood, but the car has a peppier step than numbers would indicate. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine delivers 130 horsepower to the front wheels through a continuously-variable automatic transmission. I don’t love CVTs because they typically wine and buzz in weird ways, but Nissan’s are among the best and the Sentra’s was relatively smooth and quiet. Sport and Eco modes allow drivers to configure the powertrain to be more aggressive for performance or less aggressive to cuddle fossils. Fuel economy is rated 29/38-MPG city/hwy.
The Sentra SR is no sports car, but it makes an effort. Suspension tuning is firm and the steering is fairly quick. It’s very happy commuting through traffic or taking on miles of Interstate, but can also be enjoyable on an occasional country backroad. Nissan could add a manual transmission and turbo for considerably more fun.
All of the attention to safety paid off. The notoriously-brutal Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the updated Sentra, with optional forward emergency braking like our test car, its “Top Safety Pick Plus” rating.
“Nissan is proud to have another of our core vehicles recognized by IIHS for vehicle safety,” said Michael Bunce, vice president, Product Strategy and Planning, Nissan North America, Inc. “Nissan has the safety and security of Nissan vehicle owners and their passengers as its top priority, so we are glad to see our long-term investment in safety showing results in these latest IIHS tests.”
Put against the cars I recommended to my friend, the Sentra SR would be a good alternative. Its style is much about slapping on red paint and plastic, but that’s worked well for a number of celebrities. The cabin is nearly mid-size and lavishly equipped. All in, a very decent car with enough attitude to rise above the masses. While Sentras start at $16,780, our loaded SR stickers for $25,245.
2016 Nissan Sentra SR
- Five-passenger, FWD sedan
- Powertrain: 130hp 1.8-liter I4, CVT
- Suspension f/r: Ind/Torsion Beam
- Wheels f/r: 17”/17” alloy
- Brakes f/r: disc/disc
- Must-have features: Style, Space
- Fuel economy: 29/38 mpg city/hwy
- Assembly: Aguas, Mexico
- Base/As-tested price: $16,780/$25,245