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Slotting just above the very cheap, frugal Versa, in both size and price, the 2011 Nissan Sentra appeals to small families and commuters who want an impressive feature set without going to a mid-size car like the Altima.
Many of the Sentra's cues, like the flared-outward headlamps and prominent flanks at the top of the rear fenders, are borrowed from the larger Altima and Maxima—although it does look a lot like the long-ago-discontinued Saturn Ion from the outside. In SE-R and SE-R Spec.V trim, the Sentra gets a slightly dressier appearance that some might prefer, however. Inside, the look isn't particularly inspired, but it feels modern and straightforward. The instrument-panel 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.
The front-wheel-drive 2011 Nissan Sentra comes with three different engines, and manual or continuously variable (CVT) transmissions, along with suspension tuning that's very different between trims. So the Sentra spans several quite different personalities. And, from our editors' driving experience with the various models of the Sentra, the basic 2.0, 2.0 S, and 2.0 SL versions are the most successful. They each come with a 140-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, with either a six-speed manual (S only) or the Xtronic CVT (S or SL), and are adequate but not particularly spirited with either shift method. 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. On any of these models, fuel economy ratings are somewhat disappointing.
Compared to most other models of its size and price, the 2011 Nissan Sentra has a delightful level of refinement. And that observation extends to seating ride quality, and interior noise. 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—strictly budget-grade, but tasteful—while all the examples our editors have seen have been very well put together. And thanks to the rather high roofline in the Sentra, this small sedan's interior feels very spacious. While the seats themselves are flat and unsupportive, with padding that just won't work for long trips, most will be happy with the space and the driving position. The back seat, too, is a place good enough for adults for a trip across town.
Side and side-curtain airbags are standard, as are active head restraints. In past years, Nissan has been a step behind some other automakers in safety features, but for 2011, a year before it's required by the federal government, the automaker has made electronic stability control standard on all Sentra models, along with anti-lock brakes. Side and side-curtain bags remain standard as well. The Sentra has a mix of good and mediocre safety ratings, however.
In its base 2.0 form, the 2011 Nissan 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. You get quite a few more conveniences if you move up to the 2.0 S or 2.0 SR trim—like a center console, keyless entry, and a trip computer, while the high-end 2.0 SL adds leather and Bluetooth—but both of these models are considerably more expensive and 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. Top desirables include Rockford Fosgate audio system, and a navigation system with five-inch screen, SD card reader, and XM Satellite Radio. Intelligent Key keyless entry and start is among other extras, and full leather seating is available on the SE-R models.
- Seating space
- Quiet, smooth ride
- Fuel efficiency
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- Dowdy styling
- Only offered as a sedan
- Bluetooth requires CVT