With the addition of the Versa as Nissan's smallest car, the once tiny Sentra moves up the line to nearly mid-size status. Anchoring the largely carryover 2009 lineup are 2.0, 2.0 S and 2.0 SL models, while high-performance SE-R and SE-R Spec V variants (reviewed separately) provide enthusiast appeal. This front-drive four-door boasts sophisticated styling, competent ride and handling, excellent fuel efficiency and a long list of standard and available creature comforts – traits that serve it well in dealing with market challenges from the likes of the Chevrolet Cobalt, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Spectra, Mazda MAZDA3 and Toyota Corolla.
YOU'LL LIKE THIS CAR IF...
When interior space and serenity really matter, the Sentra delivers in a big way. Those facing long, tortuous commutes will also appreciate the practical charms of its Xtronic Continuously Variable Automatic Transmission (CVT). Standard on the 2.0 and 2.0 SL and available on the 2.0 S, it earns even better EPA mileage numbers than the six-speed manual.
YOU MAY NOT LIKE THIS CAR IF...
Those who prefer crisp handling response or brisk acceleration are likely to be disappointed, although moving up to the SE-R or SE-R Spec V models would dramatically change both elements of the overall performance equation. Stability and traction controls are still not available on any variant.
WHAT'S SIGNIFICANT ABOUT THIS CAR
New for 2009 are speed-sensitive locks, new cloth seat trims, a new rear trunk lid, MP3 playback (S and SL trims) and three new colors.
With SE-R and Spec V variants to please the enthusiast crowd, Nissan tuned the suspension of its mainstream Sentras to deliver the kind of ride comfort that core buyers clearly prefer. As a result, all three display a fair amount of body roll during aggressive cornering maneuvers and prominent nose-dipping under hard stops with their capable front disc and rear drum anti-lock brakes. However, this more polished personality also delivers smooth, relaxed in-town commutes and effortless freeway cruising with cabin noise levels that remain commendably low regardless of vehicle speed. Although engine power is hardly overwhelming, it's still somewhat surprising to see that neither traction nor stability control are available on any 2009 Sentra model.
OUR FAVORITE FEATURES
Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)
While it lacks the "sport mode" found on several other Xtronic applications, this seamless automatic is a good match for the Sentra engine and offers EPA fuel economy ratings that are superior to those of the six-speed manual gearbox that's standard on the 2.0 S.
Included as part of the 2.0 SL package, this premium interior trim item adds a definite upscale flavor to the top-line Sentra model.
Designed for U.S. buyers, the 2009 Nissan Sentra's nicely finished and well-appointed cabin comes in either beige, charcoal or saddle tones with aluminum-look or faux-wood accents. Large doors simplify entry and exit for all seats, and the Sentra offers more space for both people and their carry-ons than most of its competitors – including a laptop-sized locking glovebox and a 13.1 cubic-foot trunk. Control layouts are good and main gauges easy to read, but the charcoal-and-orange LCD displays for the fuel and temperature indicators and audio and air conditioning readouts suffer legibility problems. Well-contoured front seats are matched with a 60/40 split-folding rear bench that's fit for two average-size adults or three medium-size kids.
Sharing the edgy design flair that characterizes all current Nissan products, the Sentra's literally high-profile bodywork features a sloping nose and short decklid separated by a tallish roofline and large glass area that ensures good outward visibility. A relatively long 105.7-inch wheelbase results in fairly short front and rear overhangs while prominent shoulder lines transition into softer front and rear contours set off by large, wraparound head and tail lamps. Inside pronounced fender flares, the 2.0 has 205/60 tires on 15-inch steel rims while the 2.0 S and 2.0 SL move up to 205/55 tires on larger 16-inch wheels, steel on the former and alloy on the top-line offering.
NOTABLE STANDARD EQUIPMENT
The base Sentra includes a CVT automatic transmission, front, front-side and side-curtain airbags, power windows and door locks, air conditioning, trip computer and an AM/FM/CD audio system. The 2.0 S – offered with either the CVT or a six-speed manual gearbox – adds anti-lock brakes, larger wheels with lower-profile tires, remote keyless entry and steering wheel-mounted audio controls, while the 2.0 SL has leather upholstery, keyless start, alloy wheels, XM Satellite Radio and Bluetooth wireless connectivity.
2009 Nissan Sentra extras are largely model specific, with anti-lock brakes, a decklid spoiler and some trim bits heading the 2.0's options list. For the 2.0 S, XM Satellite Radio, Intelligent Key remote locking/starting (automatic only), a Convenience Package with Bluetooth connectivity, Rockford Fosgate premium audio system with six-disc changer and MP3 capability, Moonroof Package and the Divide-N-Hide Trunk System are available. Those latter three items represent the prime upgrades for the already comprehensively equipped 2.0 SL.
UNDER THE HOOD
All 2009 Nissan 2.0 Sentras share an identical 140-horsepower version of Nissan's 2.0-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder engine that was co-developed with parent-company Renault. The 2.0-liter makes an impressive 147 pound-feet of torque, and features variable timing on the intake valves that helps enhance its mid-range punch. Acceleration with either transmission is decent if not exhilarating, with a zero-to-60 mile-per-hour sprint requiring about nine seconds. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that EPA fuel economy figures with the Xtronic CVT actually surpass those of the six-speed manual gearbox, in both city and highway mode. Due to different emissions regulations, the 2.0-liter's output in California is rated at 135 horsepower and 142 pounds-feet of torque.
2.0-liter in-line 4
140 horsepower @ 5100 rpm
135 Horsepower @ 5100 rpm (California)
147 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4800 rpm
142 lb.-ft. of torque @4800 rpm (California)
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 21/29 (manual), 24/30 (automatic)
Although an entry-level 2.0 with a manual transmission is no longer part of the Sentra lineup, the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for a 2.0 with CVT automatic still starts just under $17,500, while the 2.0 S with the six-speed manual gearbox cost only a few hundred dollars more. The CVT version is about $800 more and the SL starts just over the $20,000 mark. The good news is that all Sentras continue to do an excellent job of holding value over time. While still falling behind benchmark residual values of the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, they handily outpoint virtually all other segment competitors, domestic or import.