2014 Nissan Sentra Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
August 12, 2014

The 2014 Nissan Sentra focuses on comfort, spaciousness and style over driving dynamics in an attempt to push this economy car up-market.

There's an odd tangle in the current small-car market between cost-cutting and higher expectations, and the 2014 Nissan Sentra couldn't be more caught up in it. For the most part, the current cohort of small-car shoppers is no longer only concerned about keeping costs low; they now also want a nimble, sporty compact that looks and feels different than the larger cars on the road; and those that want a small car to emulate larger cars in comfort, space and features, but with a lower cost of entry.

The 2014 Nissan Sentra is built for the latter set. With some of the larger Altima's design language, the Sentra has a little more maturity, and some Infiniti-esque sheetmetal, conspiring (at least from a distance) to become something sexier than Sentras past ever were. It's not quite as delightful inside, though, as the Sentra is a little more like the Versa than the Altima. There's no convincing shoppers that this is anything close to a premium or luxury car inside, even though it's spacious and easy to use.

What you will find here is performance that's confident enough for everyday-driver, commuter-style needs. What's missing here (and what you'll find in many other competing models like the Ford Focus or Mazda 3) is anything close to zippy performance. At the same time, you won't find the refined, tactile reassurance of refined compacts like the Chevy Cruze or VW Jetta. With a 130-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and an Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the Sentra puts its best foot forward in typical commuting conditions (at up to 40 mpg highway, it's economical, too). The CVT doesn't include much driver appeal; ask for a quick burst of power, and you'll catch the system flat-footed almost every time. There's a six-speed manual transmission available, too, but it's only offered on the base Sentra S and it feels a bit like an afterthought.

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For an extra $400, you can specify a FE+ (fuel economy) package on the Sentra that adds a rear spoiler and low-rolling-resistance tires, as well as a few other aerodynamic improvements, so as to obtain the better 40-mpg highway rating.

The Sentra won't win any awards for its handling; the setup, with a torsion-beam rear axle and rear drum brakes—plus standard steel wheels—again treads the base line for cars in this segment. But the nicely weighted, confident steering is a bright spot; it's speed-sensitive and much like what's used in the Altima. Ride quality is pretty good too. No matter which model or trim level you get, all 2014 Nissan Sentra models include Normal, Eco, and Sport modes that affect throttle response and transmission tuning, while Eco mode also reduces air-conditioning draw.

The 2014 Sentra is sized in a range that might have been considered mid-size—or close to it—not so long ago. At 182.1 inches long, about two inches longer than the current car, with a wheelbase 0.6 longer, at 106.3 inches, plus an inch of additional width, the new Sentra has a longer, wider cabin. Dimensionally, the Sentra has its rivals beat in the numbers; it has the best official front headroom, front legroom, and rear legroom than other models in this class (including Cruze, Focus, Civic, and Corolla). Overall passenger room, by official measurements, is also more than any of these competing models. In all, the Sentra feels accommodating, but its seating design and seating comfort feel subpar. Flat and unsupportive seats are the biggest letdown; and while we thought by the look of them we’d get a little lateral support, it’s there in appearance alone. The Sentra does have one of the roomiest trunks in this class, and in back you can flip the the seatbacks forward (not flat) to an expanded area.

Cabin materials are merely average. Nissan lined up the armrests of the door with the top of the center console, and the contact points are a soft-touch material. We also like the base cloth seats and would probably be happier with them over the plasticky leather (it looks much better in pictures) that’s available. It's a relatively quiet cabin at high speeds, too—by budget small-car standards.

In safety, the 2014 Sentra is a bit below par when you add up its scores. Although it does achieve top 'good' ratings in most categories from the IIHS (like most cars in its class), it gets a worrisome 'poor' rating for small overlap frontal impact; add in four-star NHTSA overall ratings and a four-star frontal test from that federal agency--as well as some feature gaps like optional Bluetooth--and it's no safety leader.

Looking at the equipment list and pricing, there's a lot of value for the money in the 2014 Nissan Sentra, and it's about in line with other models in this class, even adding a few features normally reserved for larger, more expensive models—like dual-zone automatic climate control and Bose audio on some models. But there are also some frustrating equipment choices. For instance, rear disc brakes are available only on the top-of-the-line SL or the sporty SR, while a Bluetooth hands-free interface is optional on much of the lineup and not even offered on the base S. Even at around $23k for a fully optioned SL, it's a lavishly equipped, frugal small car--again, for those who don't value the driving experience all that much.

7

2014 Nissan Sentra

Styling

The 2014 Nissan Sentra latches onto some of the larger Altima's sophistication; but its interior remains econo-car territory.

In the compact-sedan class, which includes the 2014 Nissan Sentra, styling and design tends to go one of two different ways: Either it breaks away from the look of the brand's larger cars, with a sportier tack, or it tends to mimic the look—and many of the styling cues and features—of the larger cars. The Sentra definitely takes the latter approach, emulating some of its look and design statement from the larger Altima.

The Sentra was completely redesigned last model year, inheriting some of the larger Altima's design language; in short, the look is more mature, with some curvier, more nuanced, Infiniti-esque sheetmetal. And we suspect it conspires to become something sexier than Sentras of the past ever were.

We'll leave it to you to decide how sexy the look is [hint: we're not all that convinced]. From the front, the Sentra has nearly the same look as the Altima, with a chrome-framed grille that widens upward, flowing into contour lines that stream outward over the hood to the A-pillar. Alongside, just as in the Altima, there's an interesting crease that starts just over the front wheels and flows organically into the rear deck. The Sentra's tail is more squared off, but it does have the same sort of taillight design that tapers at the trunklid and flares outward, going forward around the back corners.

A near-level beltline hunkers the profile back and gives it just a little more swagger—and the side sculpting helps here—but the brightwork at the door handles and windowlines could be a bit much 'faux-premium.' Nissan uses finely detailed “calm but impressive” halogen headlight units that are designed to be a focal point, with integrated turn signals, framed by LED accent lights. 

It's not quite as delightful inside, though, as the Sentra is a little more like the Versa than the Altima. There's no convincing shoppers that this is anything close to a premium or luxury car inside, even though it's spacious and easy to use.

Sentra SR models get a suitably sportier look that’s easy to spot from the outside—especially in their exclusive shade of blue. Improvements include different, more aggressive-looking front and rear fascias, lower-body sill extensions, a rear spoiler, chrome exhaust tip, fog lamps, and V-rated tires on 17-inch forked five-spoke alloys.

If only the new Sentra were anywhere near as interesting and tastefully restrained on the inside as it is on the outside. Here, the Sentra bears more in common with the Versa than it does with the Altima—and much of it is due to the materials and trims. According to Nissan, the interior is designed to have the quality feel of a car one class higher, while the straightforward, functional layout “conveys a sense of reliability,” but in truth this is one of the least distinctive interior designs in a compact car.

From a functionality standpoint; there's little to complain about as the Sentra follows tradition in offering a rather upright layout and straightforward controls. The dash is gently curved and flows across in a two-tier arrangement, tapering at the sides in a way that maximizes space. Trims are a contrasting mix of darker matte surfaces and glossier-surfaced metallic-look plastics. Upper trims get leather and faux-Maple trim, and SR models do get a series of interior upgrades including a ‘sport silver’ trim.

The overarching issue with the cabin is that while things might look great from a few paces away, it's woefully lacking in the details up close. Metallic trim looks plasticky and feels thin framing the center stack, and materials that seem like they should match in grain and color don't quite carry.

6

2014 Nissan Sentra

Performance

The 2014 Nissan Sentra isn't as much fun to drive than most small sedans—although it's an adequate performer in every way.

The 2014 Nissan Sentra performs adequately in all respects, but offers very little to entice anyone who craves behind-the-wheel excitement—or even charm.

What's missing here (and what you'll find in many other competing models like the Ford Focus or Mazda 3) is anything close to zippy performance. You won't find the refined, tactile reassurance of refined compacts like the Chevy Cruze or VW Jetta, either, and overall, the Sentra's driving experience might prove too small-car retro for some shoppers.

With a 130-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and an Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the Sentra puts its best foot forward in typical commuting conditions (at up to 40 mpg highway, it's economical, too). And while that might seem like a low power number, it's just fine as Nissan dropped 150 pounds of curb weight this past year.

The CVT doesn't include much driver appeal; ask for a quick burst of power—especially at city-traffic speeds—and you'll catch the system flat-footed almost every time, seemingly requiring a second or two to realize that you need a much lower ratio than what it's allowing. Push the accelerator to the floor and the revs rise rather raucously and dramatically into the engine’s upper ranges, with the Sentra not at all pinning you back in your seat but definitely moving brisk enough. This shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for most drivers who commute on mostly level ground—and you can work around it sometimes by keeping the shift lever in ‘L,’ which keeps revs higher to begin with.

There's a six-speed manual transmission available, too, but it's only offered on the base Sentra S and it feels a bit like an afterthought, with a notchy, loose, and imprecise linkage [Nissan engineers, you need to go drive a '90s Sentra five-speed]. The manual also serves to show that despite the variable valve timing, this isn’t an engine that makes much of its torque below 2,500 rpm (peak torque of 128 pound-feet comes at 3,600 rpm).

For an extra $400, you can specify a FE+ (fuel economy) package on the Sentra that adds a rear spoiler and low-rolling-resistance tires, as well as a few other aerodynamic improvements, so as to obtain the better 40-mpg highway rating.

The Sentra gets no kudos for its handling, but again, it's enough for everyday-driver, commuter-style needs. The setup, with a torsion-beam rear axle and rear drum brakes—plus standard steel wheels—again treads the base line for cars in this segment. Push it a little too hard and the body leans excessively, with the suspension then unloading in a rather sudden way that would interrupt a smooth line through tight esses.

The nicely weighted, confident steering is a bright spot; it's speed-sensitive and much like what's used in the Altima. Ride quality is pretty good too.

As in most budget-minded compacts, you'll find that rear disc brakes are available only on the SL or the SR, and they may provide stronger braking in higher-demand conditions like on mountain roads, but the rear drum system on the rest of the lineup stopped well enough—albeit with lots of nosedive and body motion. Ride isn't significantly different whether you go for the base wheels or the low-profile 17-inch tires that do improve responsiveness somewhat.

One further note: No matter which model or trim level you get, all Sentra models include Normal, Eco, and Sport modes, through small buttons that are located in the lower dash, out of the driver’s line of sight (the assumption is that you’ll pick a mode and stick with it). They affect throttle response and transmission tuning, while Eco mode also reduces air-conditioning draw. On fast-moving back roads we actually preferred Eco mode, as it had the transmission running the engine in a less-raucous rev range, while we were able to move nearly as quick.

8

2014 Nissan Sentra

Comfort & Quality

You'll find nearly as much space as mid-size sedans in the 2014 Nissan Sentra, although comfort and refinement are lacking.

Look at the exterior size of the 2014 Nissan Sentra, and it's right in a range that would have been considered mid-size not too long ago. You'll find a roomy interior, and a comfortable ride in the Sentra, although cabin materials and trims—as well as actual seating comfort—are nothing to impress.

At 182.1 inches long, about two inches longer than the current car, with a wheelbase 0.6 longer, at 106.3 inches, plus an inch of additional width, the Sentra has a longer, wider cabin than before. Dimensionally, the Sentra has its rivals beat in the numbers; it has the best official front headroom, front legroom, and rear legroom than other models in this class (including Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, and Toyota Corolla).

Overall passenger room, by official measurements, is also more than any of these competing models, too. In all, the Sentra feels accommodating, but its seating design and seating comfort feel subpar. Flat and unsupportive seats are the biggest letdown; and while we thought by the look of them we’d get a little lateral support, it’s there in appearance alone.

Front seats have plenty of extra headroom without the sunroof, but models with it can be a little tight. The seats themselves are flat and unsupportive (more so for the long-legged, but multiple drivers voiced unhappiness with seating comfort after a few hours of drive time); and while we thought by the look of them we’d get a little lateral support, it’s there in look alone.

Whether or not there’s enough back-seat space also depends on your body type and your needs. This is a back seat that could easily accommodate three pre-teens across, but for adults the position is a little low and the cushions too hard; a little more contouring would have gone a long way. Taller occupants in back will find enough legroom, but headroom will be scarce, and getting in and out requires ducking under the door lip.

Cabin materials are merely average. Nissan lined up the armrests of the door with the top of the center console, and the contact points are a soft-touch material. We also like the base cloth seats and would probably be happier with them over the plasticky leather (it looks much better in pictures) that’s available. It's a relatively quiet cabin at high speeds, too—by budget small-car standards.

Trunk space is better than any other models in this class than the Cruze, and it feels that way. It’s a large, chest-like cargo area that could fit a couple large suitcases or a very large load of groceries. All trims come not only with a folding rear center armrest, but also a split-folding arrangement that lets you flip the seatbacks forward (not flat) to an expanded area.

The Sentra has a relatively soft, absorbent ride, and there’s not much road noise; but as with some shorter-wheelbase vehicles, the Sentra can feel somewhat bouncy or pitchy over rougher surfaces—and there’s a little too much lift (squat) or dive under hard acceleration or braking.

While you still hear the engine’s coarse note plenty when accelerating hard, the interior is rather quiet by budget-priced small-car standards. Nissan says that it’s increased attention to noise and vibration in the Sentra and added 50 percent more noise insulation around the firewall; it's a difference you can feel (and hear) versus the former version of the Sentra. 

6

2014 Nissan Sentra

Safety

Crash-test ratings place the 2014 Nissan Sentra in a lower tier, although safety features include most of what's expected in this class.

In safety, the 2014 Sentra is a bit below par when you add up its scores—even though its safety equipment is good and the new design introduced last year allows good outward visibility.

The Sentra achieves top 'good' ratings in most categories from the IIHS (like most cars in its class), but that's the bright side; it gets a worrisome 'poor' rating for small overlap frontal impact. Factor in four-star NHTSA overall ratings and a four-star frontal test from that federal agency and the Sentra becomes a lower-tier performer by the crash-test results.

Standard safety equipment in the Sentra includes front seat-mounted side-impact airbags, as well as roof-mounted side-curtain bags, plus electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes. And moms will be reassured to know that there are two full LATCH connectors in the Sentra's back seat (and three child-seat upper tether anchors).

Also standard is a new Easy Fill Tire Alert system that sounds the horn when you’re inflating the tires to signal the recommended pressure.

A rearview camera system is included with the available navigation system, but you might not need it all that much because the lower beltline and somewhat higher seating position give you a pretty good outward view.

Yet Bluetooth is a feature that we still consider safety-related, and it's only standard on the top SL model—an odd omission from a car that was just redesigned this past year.

7

2014 Nissan Sentra

Features

The 2014 Nissan Sentra lineup offers a lot of value for the money. But who doesn't want hands-free connectivity?

Looking at the equipment list and pricing, there's a lot of value for the money in the 2014 Nissan Sentra, and it's about in line with other models in this class, even adding a few features normally reserved for larger, more expensive models—like dual-zone automatic climate control and Bose audio on some models.

That said, there are also some frustrating equipment choices. For instance, rear disc brakes are available only on the top-of-the-line SL or the sporty SR, while a Bluetooth hands-free interface is optional on much of the lineup and not even offered on the base S.

Even at around $23k for a fully optioned SL, it's a lavishly equipped, frugal small car--again, for those who don't value the driving experience all that much.

Base S, mid-range SV, sporty SR, and top-of-the-line SL models of the Sentra span about $4,000—and mean the difference between getting seemingly bare-bones commuter equipment and a level of features that won’t feel like any kind of sacrifice.

Even at the base S level, the Nissan Sentra models include a six-way-adjustable driver's seat, tilt-and-telescopic steering, air conditioning, power windows, power locks, and keyless entry. SV models add cruise control, more speakers, illuminated steering-wheel audio controls, a security system, and premium upholstery, while the SR adds a sportier look, with 17-inch alloys, sport grille and fascias, lower-body extensions, fog lamps, and a chrome exhaust tip.

The top SL gets Bluetooth phone connectivity plus automatic headlamps, dual-zone climate control (a Sentra first), heated side mirrors, and Intelligent Key. One odd omission is that the sporty SR model has drum brakes; they’re part of the Driver Package.

A Leather Package is offered for $1,030 on the SL and includes heated front seats and, oddly, rear disc brakes (it’s the only way to get them). Meanwhile a $1,200 Premium package combines the moonroof, Bose audio system, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.

At $650 and available on the SV, SR, or SL, the ‘NissanConnect with Navigation system’ is a modern, full-function nav system with traffic rerouting, weather updates, and point-of-interest (POI) information powered by Google. There’s also a Google Send-to-Car function and an Eco Route mode, and a rearview monitor. With this system you also get Pandora radio capability via Bluetooth Streaming Audio and your smarphone's data service.

One odd omission that we have trouble getting over—in this era of worry about texting and talking while driving—is that most of the Sentra lineup doesn’t include Bluetooth connectivity. It's included in the SL, but not at all available on the S. On the others, you either have to get it as a $350 standalone option, or to opt for that Driver Package ($1,000 or $1,080), which also includes an upgraded audio system, Intelligent Key, Smart Auto Headlights, and a leather steering wheel and shift knob.

The Bose premium audio system that’s available in the Sentra is another first. With eight speakers placed around the vehicle, it aims for a rich, balanced sound and actually has different amplifier settings depending on whether the Sentra has cloth or leather seats.

The base audio system has a CD player and four speakers, while a six-speaker system with 4.3-inch color display, USB port, and iPod control is in the middle. SiriusXM satellite radio is available. There's also an available 'NissanConnect with Navigation' connectivity system with a hands-free text messaging assistant, Google points of interest, and a Google Send-to-Car function.

8

2014 Nissan Sentra

Fuel Economy

Efficiency-minded car shoppers will want to opt for the 2014 Nissan Sentra FE+ package.

On that matter, Nissan says that most CVT-equipped versions of the Sentra will return up to 39 mpg on the highway and a best-in-class 34 mpg as an EPA Combined figure—likely placing their EPA City rating at an impressive 30 mpg. A special FE+ model will hit 40 mpg on the highway.

The sleek exterior of the 2013 Nissan Sentra allows a low 0.29 coefficient of drag, and that’s one of the keys to this model’s excellent highway fuel economy. The other is the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which

For an extra $400, you can specify a FE+ (fuel economy) package on the Sentra that adds a rear spoiler and low-rolling-resistance tires, as well as a few other aerodynamic improvements, so as to obtain the better 40-mpg highway rating.

The entire 2014 Sentra lineup includes a smart alternator that decouples from the engine (and its charging duty) during acceleration to help improve fuel efficiency, and reengages at full capacity during braking.

Also, no matter which model or trim level you get, all 2014 Nissan Sentra models include Normal, Eco, and Sport modes that affect throttle response and transmission tuning, while Eco mode also reduces air-conditioning draw—a fine point that's also offered by Honda vehicles but not with the equivalent feature in Kias and Hyundais.

In Eco Mode with the manual transmission, the gauge cluster advises the driver on which gear to be in at the moment for best fuel efficiency.

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February 15, 2016
2014 Nissan Sentra 4-Door Sedan I4 CVT SR

Would never buy another nissan sentra.

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Definitely not a road care, bought new last year drove across country to KY and D.C. while in D.C. a noise develop in the transmission that made me uneasy when it shifted. Took it to two nissan dealers bothe... + More »
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February 16, 2015
For 2014 Nissan Sentra

lovely car wish it was bigger

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This car is not for anyone 6 feet and over, great commute car.
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Styling 7.0
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