2010 Nissan Sentra Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
November 13, 2009

The 2010 Nissan Sentra looks plain on the outside and is only offered in one body style, but there's a lot to love for shoppers who value a comfortable, well-appointed interior.

For this review that covers the Nissan Sentra along with its sporty SE-R and Spec V variants, TheCarConnection.com has surveyed a wide range of review sources and picked out the most useful information. Plus, experts from TheCarConnection.com have driven most of the models in the Sentra lineup and bring their firsthand observations to this Bottom Line, written to help you make the best purchase choice.

The 2010 Nissan Sentra slots above the especially frugal Versa in size and price, yet offers a lower price and better fuel efficiency than mid-size sedans like the Altima.

With rather tall proportions for a sedan and a broadly arched roofline, the 2010 Nissan Sentra looks like a shorter, smaller car than it really is from a distance. Many of its cues, like the flared-outward headlamps and prominent flanks in at the top of the rear fenders, are borrowed from Nissan's larger Altima and Maxima. Inside, the design is chunky and a bit more angular than you'll find in other new vehicles; a center stack of controls flows downward, housing the shifter, while upright seating affords a good view out.

Several different powertrains are offered on the 2010 Sentra, and each gives this small sedan a very different personality. The 2.0, 2.0 S, and 2.0 SL versions feature a 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, with either a six-speed manual (S) or the Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) in the S or SL. The sporty SE-R trim brings a larger 2.5-liter engine making 177 hp, matched only to the CVT. At the top of the line, the performance-focused SE-R Spec V gets a 200-hp, 2.5-liter four, hooked up to a six-speed manual gearbox.

Review continues below

With either the manual or CVT, acceleration is adequate but not particularly spirited on any of the standard models, though the Sentra has enough responsiveness for everyday driving. In either CVT model, aggressive acceleration prompts a slight lag as the transmission ramps up, followed by a raucous drone from the engine. The CVT, in particular, doesn't fit the sportier character of the SE-R. For those who want a sportier feel, our pick of the bunch is the Spec V, which gets substantial upgrades to the suspension and brakes, along with appearance upgrades inside and out. The SE-R remains front-wheel drive, as does the rest of the Sentra lineup.

The Sentra is delightfully refined compared to most other models of its size and price, with a nice, settled ride and good isolation of road and wind noise. Don’t expect sports car handling in the non-enthusiast models, and you won’t be disappointed. The top SE-R Spec V has a performance-tuned suspension that’s firmer but still quite pliable and reasonably comfortable. While other compact models are offered as coupes or hatchbacks, the Sentra is only offered as a sedan; it's a very well-designed cabin, though, with generous appointments even in base 2.0 and 2.0 S models. Materials feel about right for this price range, while all the examples TheCarConnection.com has seen have been very well put together.

The Sentra gets top "good" ratings in frontal offset, side, and rear tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and nearly all top ratings from the federal government, with only one four-star result for rear passenger side-impact protection. Side and side-curtain airbags are standard. But Nissan is a step behind some other automakers in safety features. For 2010, Nissan now offers electronic stability control as an option across the more affordable models, but it's standard on 2.0 SL, SE-R, and Spec V models. However, anti-lock brakes remain optional, not standard, on the base 2.0 models. Toyota, for instance, includes ABS and stability control on its Corolla and much-less-expensive Yaris models.

In its base 2.0 form, the Sentra makes a good commuter car, with a strong list of standard features like power windows and locks, air conditioning, tilt steering, split-folding backseats, and a 160-watt CD sound system. Moving on up to the 2.0 S or 2.0 SR trim gets you more conveniences, like a center console, keyless entry, and a trip computer, while the high-end 2.0 SL adds leather and Bluetooth. However, the SL can only be had with the CVT. At the top of the range, the SE-R gets a sport-tuned suspension, big 17-inch alloy wheels, special badging, sport seats, and a number of other extras. The Spec V takes the performance package another step, with extra bracing, upgraded brakes, summer performance tires, driving lamps, and exclusive lower bodywork. The audio system offered on both top models includes a color display screen with USB interface. Newly optional is a navigation system with five-inch screen; other top desirables include Rockford Fosgate audio, satellite radio, and Intelligent Key keyless entry and start.

7

2010 Nissan Sentra

Styling

The 2010 Nissan Sentra isn't a standout for styling, but few if any will say that it's unattractive.

With rather tall proportions for a sedan and a broadly arched roofline, the 2010 Nissan Sentra looks like a shorter, smaller car than it really is from a distance. Many of its cues, like the flared-outward headlamps and prominent flanks in at the top of the rear fenders, are borrowed from Nissan's larger Altima and Maxima.

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." 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.”

Inside, the design is chunky and a bit more angular than you'll find in other new vehicles; a center stack of controls flows downward, housing the shifter, while upright seating affords a good view out. Edmunds notes the Sentra’s "uninspired but modern exterior design" is matched by its "functional interior."

7

2010 Nissan Sentra

Performance

The 2010 Nissan Sentra is agreeable as a basic commuting device, but top SE-R and Spec V performance models fail to deliver the thrills.

Several different powertrains are offered on the 2010 Sentra, and each gives this small sedan a very different personality. The 2.0, 2.0 S, and 2.0 SL versions feature a 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, with either a six-speed manual (S) or the Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) in the S or SL. The sporty SE-R trim brings a larger 2.5-liter engine making 177 hp, matched only to the CVT. Then at the top of the line, the performance-focused SE-R Spec V gets a 200-hp, 2.5-liter four, hooked up to a six-speed manual gearbox.

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." Edmunds contends that the 200-hp version in the Spec V “is particularly entertaining, as its engine combines a generous amount of low-end torque with a free-revving personality.”

The CVT, in particular, doesn't fit the sportier character of the SE-R. For those who want a sportier feel, our pick of the bunch is the Spec V, which gets substantial upgrades to the suspension and brakes, along with appearance upgrades inside and out. The SE-R remains front-wheel drive, as does the rest of the Sentra lineup.

TheCarConnection.com prefers the manual transmission to the CVT in the Sentra, as the engine becomes somewhat noisy and the rubber-band-like response is worse here than in other vehicles. But the manual isn't much loved 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."

The SE-R and Spec V get firmer suspension calibrations, along with other performance improvements. But Motor Trend isn't tremendously impressed, pointing to 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.”

The 2010 Nissan Sentra handles quite well, but not enthusiastically. Motor Trend says, “Electric power steering is quick, with so-so feel.” Cars.com reports that the “electric power steering works well, with plenty of boost for parking but a firmer feel once you get moving.”

8

2010 Nissan Sentra

Comfort & Quality

Opinions are split on interior space, materials, and ride comfort, but the 2010 Nissan Sentra has a quieter cabin than most cars in its class.

The Sentra is delightfully refined compared to most other models of its size and price, with a roomy interior, a nice, settled ride, and good isolation of road and wind noise. Don’t expect sports car handling in the non-enthusiast models, and you won’t be disappointed.

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." Edmunds points out the "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 also appreciates how the "dashboard seems low and far forward, which gives the cabin an open, roomy feel." Backseat space seems about the same as most vehicles in this class according to TheCarConnection.com's editors, but ConsumerGuide cites the "cramped rear seat."

Materials feel about right for this price range, and all the examples TheCarConnection.com has seen have been very well put together. Not everyone agrees; ConsumerGuide compliments the textured surfaces but notes the "budget-grade interior materials" in the cabin "are hard and unyielding." Further, the reviewer says, "the few padded surfaces are either wafer thin or too hard to be comfortable for extended periods of time." Edmunds, however, notes the "well-organized controls and generally agreeable materials quality.”

While the 2010 Nissan Sentra definitely has a more compliant ride than most vehicles in this class, reviewers differ on how comfortable it is. Cars.com says that the ride is "more comfortable than most compact cars,” but ConsumerGuide warns that "large bumps and rippled pavement bring about sloppy wheel patter and other unwanted motions."

8

2010 Nissan Sentra

Safety

The 2010 Nissan Sentra promises good occupant protection, but some accident-avoidance features aren't as widely offered as they could be.

The Sentra gets top "good" ratings in frontal offset, side, and rear tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and nearly all top ratings from the federal government, with only one four-star result for rear passenger side-impact protection.

Side and side-curtain airbags are standard, as are active head restraints. But Nissan is a step behind some other automakers in safety features. For 2010, Nissan now offers electronic stability control as an option across the more affordable models, but it's standard on 2.0 SL, SE-R, and Spec V models. However, anti-lock brakes remain optional, not standard, on the base 2.0 models. Toyota, for instance, includes ABS and stability control on its Corolla and much-less-expensive Yaris models.

That said, the Sentra's safety equipment has seen some significant updates since it was last redesigned, and TheCarConnection.com couldn't find any relevant reviews that comment on its current level of safety.

8

2010 Nissan Sentra

Features

The 2010 Nissan Sentra offers a good list of standard features and a respectable list of options that now includes a nav system.

In its base 2.0 form, the Sentra makes a good commuter car, with a strong list of standard features like power windows and locks, air conditioning, tilt steering, split-folding backseats, and a 160-watt CD sound system. Moving on up to the 2.0 S or 2.0 SR trim gets you more conveniences, like a center console, keyless entry, and a trip computer, while the high-end 2.0 SL adds leather and Bluetooth. However, the SL can only be had with the CVT.

ConsumerGuide reports that the Sentra offers "a number of upscale features." Cars.com also mentions 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 points to "a sunroof, a Rockford Fosgate sound system, a spoiler and a trunk divider" as options.

At the top of the range, the SE-R gets a sport-tuned suspension, big 17-inch alloy wheels, special badging, sport seats, and a number of other extras. The Spec V takes the performance package another step, with extra bracing, upgraded brakes, summer performance tires, driving lamps, and exclusive lower bodywork. The audio system offered on both top models includes a color display screen with USB interface. Newly optional is a navigation system with five-inch screen; other top desirables include Rockford Fosgate audio, satellite radio, and Intelligent Key keyless entry and start.

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7.6
Overall
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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