It has been quite a while since I have written one of these things. Since buying a newer car, it is much more difficult for me to pull off the “I am looking for a new car in the next 6-12 months” thing that let me test drive cars previously. I probably should replace “test drove” with rented.

Full Disclosure: Nissan wanted me to test drive their Sentra so badly that they sold it to Avis to allow anyone over the age of 25 to drive. Budget liked Avis so much that they bought the company. They were so anxious to get me in the car that they struck a deal with Priceline to have the car at a reasonable rate on their website.

Also I forgot to take pictures of the car outside of the scratches and dents already on it; so here are so pictures I stole from a dealer.

The Nissan Sentra has long been the representive of the compact sedan for the company. Then Nissan built the Versa which is basically the same car, but smaller and worse. The Sentra is the most purchased new vehicle by people with credit issues that need something larger than a Toyota iA.

Here are some basic stats about the Sentra...

  • Engine: Naturally aspirated 4 banger with untold amount of horsepower - I am going to guess at most 87.
  • Transmission: A cordless drill with about 18% battery life left
  • Environment: Northern California, no not that part, the boring rural part south of that
  • Why do all the signs in California look so weird? They use a different font.

As always my review structure is very subjective, your personal experience may vary. Every area is scored on a scale from 0 to 4 as follows:

0 - I hate it

1 - I don’t particularly care for this

2 - Eh

3 - I like this

4 - I very much like this

There are 52 points possible in the 13 categories.

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Exterior - 2

The Nissan Sentra is a decent looking car. Although it is pretty much the epitome of generic compact sedan, the Sentra does not look hideous.

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Interior - 1

Everything in the interior just seemed to fall short. It is perfectly adequate, but they could have done better. Some buttons were in weird places. Accessing steering wheel controls was not ergonomic. Hard plastic was the name of the game. The seats were not that comfortable but good enough for a basic car. Overall quality was to be desired. I feel that the engineers and designers could have put some more effort into it.

Acceleration - 0

The naturally aspirated 4 banger coupled with the CVT fake shifting transmission gave me low expectations. Those were still too high... Some may remember from my 2013 Jetta S review how woeful the acceleration was. This one was just as bad. Put the pedal to the floor in sport mode and it was anemic. Trying to accelerate in front of a semi that you could easily do in an Altima was a wheel clinging experience. It took at least 1/4 of a mile to get from 35 to 70 mph.

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Braking - 2

Generic car has generic brakes. It is pretty hard to score less than a 2 in this category. To truly score less than 2, a car must cause me to freak out repeatedly when braking or actually hit something.

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Ride - 2

The ride of the car wasn’t bad. Cars like the Camry and Corolla ride better. You definitely can feel the 10 inch wheels and 2 inch wide tires the car has.

Handling - 2

The car handles decently. It is not an invigorating driving experience, but it handles well enough that anyone can drive it easily. You certainly won’t get any enjoyment out of sharp corners, but average city driving and the occasional evasive maneuver will not be an issue.

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Gearbox - 0

The cordless drill that is the CVT transmission is awful. The fact that it pumps in fake shifting sounds and feel is awful. You bought a CVT it is 1 gear, there is nothing wrong, just get use to it and don’t try to break it with things it is not meant to do. One quirk about this transmission is that you can deselect overdrive. Why is that an option? To kick the CVT into it’s final gear? CVT gearing is supposedly ideal so that it is always in the optimal ratio. Wouldn’t it do that anyways? What benefit does turning of O/D in a CVT have?

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Audio/Toys - 2

The car has a radio and sound system. It is the type of sound system that you compare to your friends Jetta and conclude that their’s is better.

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Sound (Engine) - 2

Like the transmission and acceleration, the sound of the engine is pretty pathetic. It sounds like it is trying very hard to get to normal in town speeds. That being said, I do love when you punch the throttle and the engine makes lots of noise attempting to reach 60 mph. This averages the score to a 2.

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Dash/Infotainment - 1

The dash tells you everything you don’t want to know in the most inefficient way possible. The digital screen is pretty useless and doesn’t give you any information that you actually need. The LCD radio stack is pretty useless in a car that did not have navigation. I don’t know why the large screen is necessary. You can’t really use it for anything.

Visibility - 3

With the era of high belt lines, backup cameras, blind spot monitoring, and Camaro caves, the one thing the Sentra has going for it is that you can actually see out of it. I like being able to see out of the car. I find it useful so that I can avoid hitting things like trash cans, people, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

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Utility Value - 2

Budget/Avis classified the Sentra as a compact. Maybe I am misinformed, but to me the Mirage, iA, Sonic, and other similar sized 4 door sedans are compacts. The Sentra feels larger. I probably would not want to be in the back seat of one for a long period of time, but unlike the other cars mentioned, I can actually fit in back seat. Trunk space was very good for the car’s small size with plenty of room for baggage. It was a pleasant surprise.

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Value - 1

A new Nissan Sentra is about $20k. I feel that is far too expensive. For around that price point you can get a low end Camry, Malibu, or Buick Encore. Those cars are larger, have better features, and offer more practicality.

Total: 20/52 - 38%

In the first few minutes of driving the Sentra I couldn’t imagine why anyone would buy one. It is cheaply made, slow, and not exciting to drive. That being said, and several more hours and miles later, I warmed up to it. It is not a bad car. Sure it has the same rating as the box truck I drove, you can’t thrash around tight canyon roads (like a box truck), and you question if it can do basic driving tasks (sort of like a fully loaded box truck), but it fulfills the role of basic transportation (definitely unlike a box truck). I think the Sentra needs to be cheaper to be more appealing. If they can target the Sentra in the $14k to $18k range, it would be much more reasonable. At its current price point, there are better new car offerings on the market, and most certainly better cars on the used market (even CPO). The Sentra is a perfectly adequate car. It fulfills the needs that most people have; however, it is marred by the build quality of a Mitsubishi Mirage at Toyota Corolla prices.