- Capacious trunk
- Rear seat legroom
- Solid gas mileage
- Mediocre safety ratings
- Uncomfortable front seat
- Sluggish CVT performance
- Disappointing interior trims
The 2015 Nissan Sentra isn't at all the performer of the segment, but it's certainly a comfortable, spacious car for the money.
Nissan has taken aim right at the middle of the compact-sedan market with the current Sentra. It's a competitive landscape where pricing is important and competition is tough. And up until now, this generation of the Sentra has tackled it with what matters to a lot of shoppers: spaciousness and value.
Nissan is working on sweetening the deal, though. With many of the Sentra's rivals now offering new technologies and features that were only available on luxury cars a few years ago, the Sentra gets what we'd call a realignment for 2015, with its features and options a bit reshuffled.
The 2015 Nissan Sentra, which is only offered as a sedan, with no hatchback counterpart, attempts to emulate the dynamics of larger, more comfortable sedans, rather than going for the small and sporty side of the spectrum. It wears a design language that we've seen from the Altima and even some Infinitis in recent years, making the Sentra look significantly sexier than it has in the past. However, its interior feels more economical than upscale, so it won't fool anyone into believing that it's more luxurious than it actually is.
The 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.
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 or an engaging driving experience. There's also no refined, tactile reassurance, as you'll find in the more comfort-oriented 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 turns out acceptable flat-out acceleration numbers, but ask for a quick burst of power, and you'll catch the system flat-footed almost every time; the setup feels very sluggish in real-world commuting conditions. 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 2015 Nissan Sentra models include Normal, Eco, and Sport modes that affect throttle response and transmission tuning, while Eco mode also reduces air-conditioning draw.
In safety, the Sentra has improved to mid-pack or better for 2015, with some structural improvements in front and a much-better 'good' score from the IIHS. But with some safety-feature gaps, it's no safety leader.
Looking at the equipment list and pricing, there's a lot of value for the money in the 2015 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.