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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.
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.