Story and photos by Jim Robinson,
Metroland Media/WheelsTalk.com -
NAPA, Ca.: Always a stable seller, Nissan’s Sentra has trailed the likes of Civic, Mazda3 and Corolla but that’s about to change.
Nissan is currently in the midst of launching a whole slew of new products starting with the Pathfinder reviewed on these pages and now the seventh-generation, 2013 Sentra.
Nissan makes it easy for buyers to choose, with one engine, two transmissions and four trim levels.
The power plant is Nissan’s familiar 1.8-litre inline four-cylinder driving the front wheels producing 130 hp and 128 lb/ft of torque through a six-speed manual (on the base S and SV) or “next generation” Xtronic CVT.
Pricing on the four trims starts with the entry-level S M6/CVT at $14,848/$17,548, the SV M6/CVT at $17,548/$18,848, the SR CVT at $19,948 and topping out with the SL CVT at $22,998.
Nissan was one of the early adopters of CVTs and remains the leading proponent of the system.
The CVT used on the Sentra is equipped with a sub-planetary gear that contributes to improved fuel efficiency at high speeds and better response at lower speeds.
Fuel economy with the CVT is rated at 6.6 L/100 km city, 4.9L/100 km highway and a claimed class-leading 5.8L/100 km combined, all on regular.
The manual is rated at 7.5/5.5L/100 km city/highway. Note the CVT is better on gas than the manual, which Nissan points to as proof they are on the right track with the CVT.
Nissan starting phasing out automatics 20 years ago and to date has installed more than nine million CVTs in their vehicles.
Another factor is weight, which is reduced by 150 lb over the outgoing model plus a rather slippery 0.29 drag coefficient, which is surprising due to its large size for a compact.
With the CVT you can select either “Eco” or “Sport” or just leave it in “Normal” using rocker switches on the dash to the left of the steering wheel.
Select Eco and it changes the valve timing and transmission mapping for improved fuel economy. Go to Sport and the reverse is true with a noticeable pickup in power.
Like the 2013 Pathfinder reviewed on these pages, I was lucky enough to have a Sentra to myself for a day with no restriction on where to go.
I grabbed a SV CVT (which will probably be the volume model) and headed west towards the coast from my hotel at the north end of Napa Valley in California.
On the high-speed Highway 101, I went to Sport to get on the freeway and the engine responded well and without the “rubber banding” that so dogged early CVTs.
On the highway at the posted 65 mph limit, I pushed the Eco button and the engine immediately dropped 300 rpm like I had put on the brakes slightly. Throttle response was sluggish compared to Sport but the tach proved less fuel was being consumed.
Over more than 300 miles and some five hours of driving my average fuel consumption in a US-spec car was (US) 39.7 mpg or 5.9L/100 km.
Now I did most of the driving in Eco on roads that were primarily 35-55 mph but the fuel number, considering this was real world, impressed me.
The 2013 Sentra is slightly longer and lower than the 2012 model, but looks bigger. It has been restyled with the twin arrow grille treatment now being used by both Nissan and Infiniti, and overall it is a pleasant design but not bold.
Inside it’s another story with available leather and maple wood trim, but it’s the instruments that stand out for their clarity and simplicity.
The main gauges are Nissan’s Fine Vision electroluminescent design that are backlit even in daylight, providing a high-quality look that is also easy to read thanks also to the large numbers for aging eyes.
But it is in the back seat where the Sentra shines, with legroom of 949.96 mm and that’s with the front seats all the way back. The rear seat is a standard 60/40 split folding design, offering versatile access to the 428 litres (15.1 cu ft) of trunk space, which is 57 litres larger than the 2012 Sentra.
The SV model I drove was fitted with the NissanConnect system with Navigation that includes a Hands-Free Text Messaging Assistant. It not only reads incoming text messages and allows drivers to reply without taking their hands off of the steering wheel, but also gives real-time fuel prices, flight times and weather updates. It also allows Streaming Audio via Bluetooth and a largish 5.8-inch touch-screen monitor.
I never text anytime to anybody, but I did use the Navi system extensively. I know the highways and byways of Napa/Sonoma pretty well and this was a chance to go down a number of roads I’d seen before but was afraid of getting lost on, as the rolling hills in this area look relatively the same in all directions.
Acquisition in real time between where I was on the road and where it showed I was on the screen is almost instantaneous, which shows just how far these systems have progressed even on economy cars.
At one point I got turned around in the Town of Petaluma, home of the World Arm-Wresting Championship, which put it on the map. Zooming in and out with the system, I found the right road out of town as simple as that.
With a cloudless sky and temperatures at 73 degrees F, there was no need to try the available dual zone air conditioning which is still a rarity in this segment.
At the end of the day, I came away impressed by not just the mileage but the ease of handling on a wide range of road surfaces and speed limits.
Like the transformed Pathfinder CUV, the 2013 Sentra shows Nissan is getting its compact contender back in high gear.
Nissan Sentra 2013 as a glance
BODY STYLE: Compact sedan.
DRIVE METHOD: front-engine, front-wheel-drive.
ENGINE: 1.8-litre, DOHC inline four-cylinder (130 hp, 128 lb/ft)
FUEL ECONOMY: (Regular) CVT, 6.6/4.9/5.8L/100 km city/highway/combined.
CARGO: 428 litres (15.1 cu ft)
TOW RATING: Not recommended
PRICE: S, M6/CVT, $14,848/$17,548; SV M6/CVT, $17,548/$18,848; SR CVT, $19,948; SL CVT, $22,998