2013 Nissan Sentra

2013 Nissan Sentra Review

We drive Nissan's restyled compact sedan.

By: Tim Healey

Web2Carz Contributing Writer

Published: October 27th, 2012

When involved in an arms race, it's best to bring your best. No use bringing a knife to a gunfight, to paraphrase one of Sean Connery's best lines.

So it's somewhat surprising to us that even though Nissan's last Sentra trailed behind its rivals in the compact-car arms race, this new one still hasn't quite caught up. It's better than the last car in almost all respects--and class-competitive in some very important ones--but it still has some work to do, as we discovered while hustling through the hills north of San Francisco.

  • Performance

    With 130 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque motivating the Sentra, it struggles somewhat when going uphill or digging deep for passing reserves. We spent time with both the six-speed manual (only available on base-model cars) and continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT) versions. Shifting for ourselves did give the car a bit more verve, but even then we had to goose the throttle fairly hard to get the Sentra up to speed.

    The CVT got a bit whiny and noisy at higher RPMS, but it faded dutifully into the background at around-town speeds. We wish the manual would be available in all trims, it gives the car that much more spirit.

    Both transmissions have "Sport" and "Eco" modes, but other than some subtle changes to throttle response, using either one of these modes didn't alter the car's behavior perceptibly.

    Handling is what the Sentra does best, although it still lags behind Ford's Focus or Mazda's 3. The steering felt a bit numb on center, but was firm and tight off center, and the car tracked well through corners. Understeer showed up when we pushed too hard, but it was easily reigned in. Body roll was mostly muted. The car didn't take a lot of joy in cornering, but it did handle with a confident competence.

    Nissan isn't building a sporty SE-R trim for 2013, and that's too bad, because that would go a long way towards increased performance (there is an SR "sport" trim, but that's more about "show" than "go"). The ride was generally pleasant, although our drive was restricted to California's smooth pavement. It was firm, but never harsh.

    Shifting the manual wasn't a great joy--the throws are long and the clutch has too-light take-up. Still, we'd prefer it to the CVT. Nissan may have two decades of experience building CVTs, but we think that transmission fits better in larger cars like the Altima.

  • Exterior

    The Sentra follows in the footsteps of the larger Altima, with similar flowing lines converging towards the grille and chrome accents on the door handles. It's a conservative look, but it works, giving the car a bit of an upscale appearance at a downscale price.

  • Interior

    During our time in the base car, we were dismayed by material quality and design. We acknowledge most base models will be sold to rental fleets, but we still expected better. Fortunately, those who spring for higher trims will be rewarded with much better materials and nicer features (including wood trim on top-line SL trim cars), although some features that we'd expect to be standard (at least in higher-trim models) are available only as part of option packages. For example, if you want Bluetooth and a USB port, be prepared to pony up $1,000 for the Driver's Package.

    Rear-seat room is more than adequate, even for taller drivers, and we had no complaints about space up front, although the seats were somewhat tiring during our longer drives. Curiously, we liked the low-rent foam door-mounted elbow rests in the base car better than the leather soft-touch pieces in the higher trim cars.

    Stay away from the base model, and you'll find the interior to be highlight of the car. That's just what the doctor ordered, when compared to the cabin of the outgoing model.

  • Fuel Economy & Safety

    The Sentra offers the standard complement of airbags along with traction control, ABS, and an antiskid system.

    Fuel economy is rated at 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway for manual-transmission cars and 30/39 with the CVT.

  • Final Thoughts

    The good news for Nissan is that the new Sentra is worlds better than one it replaces. The bad news is that it still lags behind the Focus, the Chevy Cruze, the Dodge Dart, the Hyundai Elantra, and the Mazda 3 in terms of the overall package. Nissan does have an opportunity to attack the Honda Civic, which has regressed, and the aging Toyota Corolla (at least until that car gets a full redesign), and we think the new Sentra is good enough to score points there.

    Compact-car buyers are a weird lot. Some shop by fun-to-drive factor, some shop fuel economy, some shop price, some shop value, and some shop by overall package. The Sentra won't tick the fun-to-drive check boxes, and the value proposition suffers some when factoring in the extra money needed for features like Bluetooth. But the interior is classy and spacious, fuel-economy is class-competitive, and so is price.

    For the average commuter, the Sentra makes a lot of sense. But it still hasn't caught up in the arms race.

  • Specs, Features, Pricing

    Engine: 1.8-liter four-cylinder

    Transmission: Six-speed manual or CVT automatic

    Drive Wheels: Front

    Base Price: $15,990 (excludes $780 destination fee)

    Available Trim Levels: S, SV, SR, SL (FE+ fuel-economy package available on S and SV trims)

    Available Features: Navigation, push-button start, rearview camera, satellite radio, Bluetooth, USB port, hands-free text messaging, Pandora internet radio streaming, premium audio system, Easy Fill Tire Alert system (uses audible signal to alert drivers when tire pressure is set correctly).

Shopping for a used
Nissan Sentra?

• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2013 Nissan Sentra, click here: 2013 Nissan Sentra.