- Rear seat legroom
- Capacious trunk
- Solid gas mileage
- Disappointing interior trims
- Sluggish CVT performance
- Uncomfortable front seat
- Mediocre safety ratings
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.
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.