Considering the advanced state of automotive engineering these days, there is a solid argument to be made that there are no bad cars anymore. Indeed, the automotive world has weeded out most of the truly lousy performers. But that doesn't mean that there aren't any current models that would be pretty bad choices, given the clear superiority of other options. Which brings us to the Nissan Sentra.
The Sentra looks good on paper, but it ultimately fails to live up to expectations. Competing with compact sedan stalwarts such as the Honda Civic, Mazda3, and Toyota Corolla, the Nissan simply doesn't shine. Overall, the Sentra is underwhelming to drive and feels cheap—problematic in a class that is growing ever more refined.
Look at a spec sheet and the Sentra has some advantages. Probably its best quality is that it has a roomy rear seat, one that would shame some midsized sedans costing $10,000 more.
Another plus is that the Sentra offers some desirable features for not much money. For example, it’s easy to get a mid-trim SV with a alloy wheels, a navigation system, push-button start, and automatic headlights for just a hair over $21,000. Other strong points include a slightly elevated driving position that affords a commanding view of the road, and relatively easy access to the cabin.
However, the driving experience is as ho-hum as they come. While the best cars in this class are reasonably quick, agile, and quiet, there is no joy in driving the Sentra. The 124-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission make for a strained and unpleasant powertrain. Getting the Sentra to sprint from 0-60 mph takes a rather long 10.4 seconds, putting it among the slowest in its class. Fuel economy is commendable at 31 mpg overall.
The Sentra's handling feels mushy and vague, lacking any trace of driving enjoyment. At least it remains secure when pushed to its limits at our track. And braking is very competent.
Take a quick spin in the Sentra and the ride seems pliant. But this is merely superficial; the suspension lacks the resilience to effectively absorb sharp bumps. Road noise is well suppressed for a compact sedan. But engine howl becomes intrusive, particularly when accelerating on the highway or climbing a hill, and it is exacerbated by the CVT.
Inside the tall and narrow cabin the furnishings are quite drab. Unsupportive front seats may be tolerable for short errands but your body will protest any long trips. Simple controls are another plus, but we were dismayed that many phone functions can only be done using voice controls, instead of being able to use the car's audio screen and controls.
Forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking is standard on most models. Blind-spot monitoring is available.