Those aren’t very strong USPs of course, so Nissan considerately did a little more to this latest generation Sentra to make it stand out in a segment littered with Corollas, Honda Citys, Kia Ceratos and Hyundai Elantras — yes, a star-studded cast, that.
So here’s what Nissan did with the new Sentra: priced it in the middle of the Sunny and Altima, but gave it interior roominess and cargo capacity of the latter, found enough leeway in the accountants’ ledger for an automatic dual-zone AC and a rear-view camera, dropped in a nice 1.8-litre engine, and the worst transmission. They’ll probably omit that last one from the marketing pitch…
Nissan calls the design ‘seductive’. I drove the car for a week and at no point did I feel seduced. I can sum up the styling by confirming that I never once lost the car in a parking lot. It’s a three-box design with a wavy profile signature crease going on, and a completely unnecessary twist treatment to the headlights. The grille has slats in it, and openings, and lets in air. The wheels are round. There is no arguing with the fact, however, that the new
Sentra looks literally a million times better than the Sunny.
In any case, people shopping in this segment base their decisions on the length of the equipment list, and the figure right at the bottom. The Sentra knocks it out of the park with its amenities, featuring electric windows and mirrors, some LEDs at the back, multifunctional steering wheel with ergonomically correct controls, front and rear air-conditioning vents, a trip computer with very approving economy readings, a decent sound system, rear parking sensors, a big-enough infotainment display, and even a ‘Sport’ button on the gear lever that does, well, I have no idea what. After all, the transmission in this car is Nissan’s latest generation CVT.
If you’re easy on the 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine (a 1.6-litre is also available), the car pulls ahead just fine and gets to highway speeds without fuss, even if its weight is nothing to brag about — it’s no lighter than its key rivals, and in fact it’s slightly heavier that the Corolla. The engine makes 130bhp and 174Nm of torque from 3,600rpm, which is right around where you should keep the tacho needle at.
Tread over that and the transmission ensures that engine wails in desperation with a horrendous noise. It actually hurts to put your foot down in this car. Everywhere else the motor is smooth and comes mounted on engine and transmission mounts sturdy enough for the bays of diesel trucks. So there’s no vibration from the powertrain, and wind and tyre roar is kept to a minimum.
Our Sentras are built in Thailand (they also make them in the US, Mexico, China and Japan) and they’re clearly productive chaps over there. The Sentra’s build quality is at or above the class average, losing some points in the quality of materials but then winning some in fit and finish. The ride is very composed, and what do you know, the steering wheel makes the car turn. Handling? No.
Why Nissan really should be attracting more customers into its own showrooms over the competition’s, is because the Sentra manages to provide the setting of a low-spec Altima in the footprint of a small saloon. The interior is massive, proving that the cavernous little Sunny wasn’t just a fluke. Nissan obviously knows how to maximise occupancy space, and both the front and rear seats offer class-leading legroom, while the boot will take 510 litres of whatever you’ve got. Throw in real-world economy figures of 7.0 litres-per-100km or less and the generous equipment list, and you’ve got the buyers’ attention. But then their eyes scan the spec page at the dealership and inevitably drop down to the price figure.
While the Sentra does start from Dh66,100, a fully kitted-out car is overpriced at Dh84K. The Koreans are a good 10 thousand less, and if you’re keen on a Kia you can even look at the bigger Optima, as well as the more comparable Cerato. Although you’d be missing out on some lovely carpet.