2009 Nissan Sentra Review

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Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
February 12, 2009

The 2009 Nissan Sentra is a worthy contender in the compact segment, but the CVT transmission may turn off some buyers.

To bring you this review that covers all the bases, TheCarConnection.com's editors read reviews from a wide range of sources regarding the new 2009 Nissan Sentra. Experts from TheCarConnection.com also drove several different Sentra models, including the 2.0 L, SL, SE-R, and Spec V, and brought additional observations to help you make the best choice.

The 2009 Nissan Sentra is a compact sedan that slots above the Versa model in size and price. Although it is built on mechanical underpinnings closely related to those of the Versa, the Sentra has a very different appearance and driving feel.

The Nissan Sentra comes in three distinct flavors: mild, spicy, and wild. The mild versions (2.0, 2.0 S and 2.0 SL) feature a 140-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder mated to either a six-speed manual (S) or Nissan’s Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) in the S or SL. The spicy SE-R trim ups the ante with a 177-horsepower motor displacing 2.5 liters from four cylinders matched with the CVT only. The wild and crazy SE-R Spec V has a 200-horsepower version and six-speed manual transmission. All Sentras are front-wheel drive only.

Review continues below

The Sentra gets good fuel economy from its 140-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which is peppy with either transmission, but your driving experience may be dampened if you choose the CVT. The CVT auto isn’t quite as pleasing to drive with Nissan’s four-cylinder engines as it is with its V-6s, and it can bring out the engine’s coarse drone under acceleration. TheCarConnection.com recommends the manual transmission with the Sentra; it’s a little clunkier in feel than the one used in past Sentras, but makes for a more pleasant drive.

Don’t expect sportscar handling either in the non-enthusiast models, and you won’t be disappointed. The ride quality is quite smooth, with a suspension clearly not tuned for high-performance driving. The top SE-R Spec V on the other hand has a performance-tuned suspension that gives up a little bit of ride comfort, but it should still be quite tolerable for commuters in all but the most pothole-ridden places.

Both the performance models feature significant enhancements over lesser Sentra models because the SE-R and Spec V utilize 177- and 200-hp versions of the larger 2.5-liter four-cylinder found in the Nissan Altima sedan and Rogue crossover. Suspensions, brakes, and interiors are also beefed up.

A roomy, quiet interior is what most separates the 2009 Nissan Sentra from its competitors, though its sedan-only body style limits its appeal when compared to the likes of the Honda Civic. The cabin of the 2009 Nissan Sentra feels spacious, seating is comfortable, and appointments are generous even in base 2.0 and 2.0 S models, even if materials feel just appropriate for this price range.

The base Sentra makes a great high-value commuter car given its solid list of standard features, including six airbags, and good fuel economy.  Moving on up to the 2.0 S trim gets you anti-lock brakes as standard, and the high-end 2.0 SL gets you leather and Bluetooth. Unfortunately, going for the full-lux edition limits your transmission choice to the CVT.

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2009 Nissan Sentra

Styling

A somewhat plain exterior design is matched with a functionally stylish interior in the 2009 Nissan Sentra.

The 2009 Nissan Sentra has a very conventional sedan layout with, from some angles, scaled-down attributes from Nissan’s larger Altima.

Motor Trend thinks it’s “like an IKEA appliance, attractive, modern, and perhaps just the furniture for your life”—then adds, “The new Sentra copies some of big-brother Altima's styling, especially its roofline/greenhouse, but by now it also looks like a Saturn Ion or Mazda3.” Cars.com says, “The Sentra is a nice-looking car — young but not especially daring.” They note the sporty Sentra SE-R Spec V has "some very handsome exterior trim that says, but doesn't shout, performance."

Edmunds says the 2009 Nissan Sentra’s "uninspired but modern exterior design" is matched by its "functional interior." Inside, Edmunds adds, “The Nissan Sentra's cabin offers a modern design, well-organized controls and generally agreeable materials quality.”

TheCarConnection.com’s editors have driven the Sentra and the sporty SE-R versions—and found the styling attractive and the interior quality up to par for this segment. Where the Nissan 2009 Sentra suffers is in having one body style. While the Sentra is four-door only, the competition—the Honda Civic, Ford Focus, and Saturn Astra—all are available with fewer doors. The lack of a two-door version may make the Sentra seem less sporty to some reviewers and younger customers.

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2009 Nissan Sentra

Performance

The 2009 Nissan Sentra is good as an economy car but doesn’t quite make the mark with its performance versions.

The 2009 Nissan Sentra is an economy car at heart and drives like one, especially in the base version. The SE-R and Spec V versions up the excitement with more horsepower and tighter suspension tuning. But even those versions don’t live up to the handling promise.

The 2009 Nissan Sentra comes with either a "140-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder" or a "2.5-liter four-cylinder that generates 177 hp." In the Spec V, the same engine “produces 200 hp…due to modified intake and exhaust, a higher compression ratio and a higher redline of 6800 rpm, among other tweaks." Cars.com isn’t wild about the engines in the Sentra, noting that "the power is more than workable, but the car's no rocket, despite horsepower and torque increases over the previous generation."  ConsumerGuide concurs, saying that 2009’s "2.0 models have decent around-town power, but passing punch is lacking." The Spec V version, Edmunds contends, “is particularly entertaining, as its engine combines a generous amount of low-end torque with a free-revving personality.”

Most 2009 Nissan Sentra sedans come with a CVT that helps fuel economy but saps energy from the drivetrain. Cars.com notes that in this Nissan, 2009 “sees the end of the base Sentra with the six-speed manual transmission." The six-speed manual offered in the SE-R Spec V is not great either. ConsumerGuide says, "the manual suffers from imprecise shifter and clutch action," and Edmunds agrees: “unfortunately, the manual gearbox is awkward and unsatisfying to shift."

When it comes to ride and handling, the 2009 Nissan Sentra looks good on paper but suffers from a less-than-perfect execution.  Cars.com feels the “electric power steering works well, with plenty of boost for parking but a firmer feel once you get moving.” Motor Trend says, “Electric power steering is quick, with so-so feel.”

Motor Trend notes that a firm ride and decent body control don’t coax a sportscar out of this Sentra. It has stiff damping that “makes for a firm ride over road imperfections, but with moderate body roll in the corners, and the tires squeal for their lives when the car is pushed.”

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2009 Nissan Sentra

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Nissan Sentra excels in space utilization, but the use of materials inside is a bit disappointing.



The 2009 Nissan Sentra may not be a sportscar, but it certainly delivers on interior roominess.

ConsumerGuide says the 2009 Nissan Sentra is a “competent compact sedan with a number of upscale features." Cars.com likes that "the Sentra stands taller than conventional compacts" and notes that this is "a trend that improves forward visibility as well as entry and exit by increasing the minimum seat height."

Not all reviewer comments are positive, however. ConsumerGuide critiques the Sentra, saying Nissan’s "cabin makes good use of textured surfaces, but most plastics throughout the cabin are hard and unyielding." Further, "the few padded surfaces are either wafer thin or too hard to be comfortable for extended periods of time." MyRide agrees: "The interior [is] comfortable and quiet but not excellent or very innovative."

ConsumerGuide sums it up by saying of the 2009 Nissan Sentra, "Its cramped rear seat, budget-grade interior materials, and in 2.0 models, lackluster acceleration and handling, make Sentra less appealing than the Honda Civic or Nissan's own Versa."

Edmunds praises the seats in the Nissan; 2009 Sentras have "very spacious seating front and rear, [and the] straightforward control layout" and goes on to say, "all the controls are exactly where you'd expect them to be and storage areas are abundant in number and variety." Cars.com concurs, observing the "dashboard seems low and far forward, which gives the cabin an open, roomy feel."

Ride comfort is something that reviewers seem to differ on, although most point out the Sentra's soft ride. Cars.com likes “ride quality that's more comfortable than most compact cars'.” ConsumerGuide warns that "large bumps and rippled pavement bring about sloppy wheel patter and other unwanted motions." But MyRide says the ride is “soft and boring."

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2009 Nissan Sentra

Safety

The 2009 Nissan Sentra rates well for safety, but more standard safety features could lend even more peace of mind.



The 2009 Nissan Sentra scores well in federal crash tests, but some safety features remain unavailable.

The Sentra obtained top five-star ratings in the federal government’s frontal crash tests, and a mix of four- and five-star ratings in side-impact protection.

Side airbags are standard on the Sentra, but other safety features are lacking. Stability control isn’t offered on the 2009 Nissan Sentra, multiple sources report, and anti-lock brakes aren’t standard on the base 2.0 model.

Motor Trend reports that the 2009 Nissan Sentra has "Dynamic Head Restraint" and "Rear Seat Head Restraint," along with "Child Seat Lower Anchorage."

Cars.com notes the standard equipment in this Nissan; 2009 Sentras "include standard a tire pressure monitoring system, side-impact airbags and active head restraints for the front seats." It also has "side curtain airbags [to] cover all the side windows," and "for 2009, anti-lock brakes become standard on the 2.0 S and the SL trim level, but remain optional on the Sentra 2.0."

8

2009 Nissan Sentra

Features

The Nissan 2009 Sentra offers a comprehensive feature set.

Experts at TheCarConnection.com are pleased with the long feature list for the 2009 Nissan Sentra—even on the least expensive models in the lineup.

Edmunds reveals that the Nissan 2009 Sentra "comes in five trim levels: 2.0, 2.0 S, 2.0 SL, SE-R and SE-R Spec V." The S trim comes with "keyless entry, cruise control, power mirrors, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a trip computer." The SL trim offers "leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, keyless start, satellite radio, Bluetooth and an overhead CD storage container." In addition, Nissan offers "a sunroof, a Rockford Fosgate sound system, a spoiler and a trunk divider" as options for both the above models.

Cars.com also points out that "all of the regular Sentra trim levels now have brightly illuminated instruments, day and night, as standard equipment" and "XM Satellite Radio is standard on 2.0 SL models."

Edmunds finishes by mentioning that "ABS, cruise control and a security system become standard fare on 2.0 S" and the "luggage capacity is a respectable 13.1 cubic feet." One feature exclusive to the Spec V trim of the Nissan 2009 Sentra are "red front seatbelts" to match the red seatbelts of the SE-R models.

For the sportier enthusiast, the Nissan 2009 Sentra SE-R trim offers "firmer suspension tuning, larger brakes, a lower body kit, cloth-upholstered sport seats, aluminum-trimmed pedals, and oil pressure and G-force gauges," according to Edmunds. Finally, the Spec V trim has "an even firmer and lowered suspension, even larger front brakes and additional interior enhancements," with a "sunroof and Rockford Fosgate stereo...optional on both SE-R models."

Changes for the 2009 model year include a refreshed rear trunk lid, new seat cloth trims, standard automatic door locks, MP3 playback capability (2.0 S and 2.0 SL), a new 2.0 SL Premium Package, and three new exterior colors. SE-R and SE-R Spec V get the trunk lid update, MP3 playback capability, and a new Premium Audio Package. SE-R models receive a new optional SE-R Upgrade Package. Two more exterior paint colors (five total) are also offered for 2009: Metallic Blue and Midnight Sky.

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7.6
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Expert Rating
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Styling 7.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
Safety 8.0
Features 8.0
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