2008 Nissan Sentra
Time has been kind to the Nissan Sentra
. After all, it has been around for over 25 years and looks better than ever thanks to various nips and tucks and maybe a little bit of Botox under the hood. The eighties, not particularly easy on the eyes in any respect, gave birth to five different Sentra body styles, all boxy and flavorless. During the nineties, the exterior was rounded from nose to tail lights and the sporty SE-R trim was debuted – giving the Sentra power equal to what the base model puts out today. From 2000-2006, our previously subcompact car made the leap to compact car, bumping the Altima to mid-size status. Now this hardy sedan has been prettied up thanks to a dynamic new body design, interior features, a larger 2.0-liter engine and standard features galore. Looks like 25 is the new…well, 25.
What's to Like
Power delivery is solid and the Sentra feels more enthusiastic than many in its class. A reasonable starting price makes it a good choice for buyers on a budget. Those needing a few more horses under the hood can find them in the Sentra SE-R, a beefed up version of the compact sedan, starting at $19,970.
What's Not to Like
Interior styling is lacking. Orange backlit gauges trend to the gaudy side of things, and a huge, digital heads-up display in the center console looks old school, in the uncool kind of way. Like many Nissans, the Sentra’s price tends to rise quickly with added options.
DriverSide Driving Impressions
With Nissan’s rich history of cars like the Z
and Skyline sports cars and Datsun’s classic 510 and B210 models, we would have hoped that the Sentra would retain more of that sporty heritage. The Sentra offers acceleration that feels powerful off the line, but diminishes at higher speeds. The generally solid handling may feel slightly numb as it transmits less feedback than some others in the class. Around corners, the Sentra grips nicely with just minor body roll, and cabin noise is kept to a minimum with the only irritations coming from the engine when the throttle is stamped and slight wind noise on highways. The automatic transmission, Nissan’s CVT, lacks the traditional fixed gears found in most automatics and produces smooth shifts and better fuel economy, making it the winning choice for most consumers.
Engine and Drivetrain
Equipped with a 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine, the Sentra produces 140 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque. This matches or bests most in its class. In the base and SL trims, the front-wheel drive sedan comes standard with a CVT, Nissan’s prized automatic transmission. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard on the S trim.
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
This Sentra provides just the basic facts, ma’am: power windows and doors, air conditioning, an AUX input jack and a tilting steering wheel. With the S trim, you get more bang for your buck as overhead lights (!?), cruise control, a trip computer, steering wheel mounted controls, keyless entry and speed sensitive volume control become standard. Available packages will add XM satellite radio, a moonroof or an upgraded audio system to the Sentra, making the sticker price rise sharply. Our test model priced out at $19,660, putting it within $100 of the Altima’s
starting price. Good grief.
Key Technology Evaluation
On economy cars, technology is generally bypassed for affordability. The Sentra is no exception, but it does have some features like Bluetooth capability and keyless entry that are rarely seen on budget vehicles. A Rockford Fosgate audio system with six speakers and two subwoofers will satisfy the music fiends.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
As gas prices trend upward, the Sentra’s 24 mpg city and 31 mpg highway for the manual and 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway with the CVT are a welcome sight. This is right on par with cars like the Hyundai Elantra
. The Sentra’s large-for-its-class 14.5-gallon fuel tank means long road trips will be a breeze. The Sentra earns a ULEV-II emissions rating.
A Closer Look: Vehicle Details
Interior elegance isn’t the Sentra’s strong point. It looks cheaper than others in its class with its hard plastics, flimsy adjustable cup holders and unflattering orange gauges. Still, there’s a large amount storage capacity, and headroom has been slightly increased from the previous generation to give you even more space. The rear seats have a pass through for those needing to transport skis or the seats can fold down in a 60/40 split. Leather is available in the SL trim.
Styling has much improved from the 2006 model’s forgettable looks. The Sentra now has a bigger and bolder presence reminiscent of the Altima, with an aggressive grille and sharp lines cutting along the body. A 5.9-inch longer wheelbase and a 2.3-inch overall increase in length makes the Sentra’s size actually rival a number of compact SUVs’, including the Honda CR-V
Market Segment and Pricing
A $16,040 starting price puts the Sentra up against some very worthy adversaries: the Honda Civic
, Toyota Corolla
, Hyundai Elantra
, Mazda 3
, Ford Focus
, Saturn Astra
, Kia Spectra
and Suzuki SX4
. The sticker increases to $16,270 and $18,970 for the S and SL trims, respectively. In a class this thick, buyers will be swayed by options and styling more than anything, since price and standard features are very similar throughout the crowd.
What We Think
The Sentra is undoubtedly the budget Altima, resembling it in exterior design and carrying some of its tech features, like the keyless ignition. The cabin won’t be for everyone, but comfortable seats and a peppy drive make this fresh looking five-seater a continually welcome presence in this entry-level economy class.