2015 Nissan Sentra Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
May 8, 2015

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.

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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.

7

2015 Nissan Sentra

Styling

The Sentra shares some of the Altima's suave curves, but the interior's strictly econocar.

The 2015 Nissan Sentra takes many of its design cues from its larger Altima sedan, which gives the Sentra a handsome–rather than exciting–look for the segment.

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.

The Sentra was completely redesigned in 2013, 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. 

6

2015 Nissan Sentra

Performance

'Adequate' adequately describes the Sentra's performance.

The 2015 Nissan Sentra gets the job done–and with relative ease–but it's simply not much of a joy to drive.

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.

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.

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.

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.

8

2015 Nissan Sentra

Comfort & Quality

Refinement and seat comfort fall shy of the best, but the 2015 Nissan Sentra won't let you down for interior space.

The 2015 Nissan Sentra is nearly as large as what we would've considered a mid-size sedan in, even recent history, and its size and weight make it a functional, roomy, comfortable vehicle to ride in. We're just not terrible impressed with the interior materials.

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. 

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.

7

2015 Nissan Sentra

Safety

The Sentra's crash-test scores have improved on one important point for 2015, but they're still mid-pack and it's missing any active-safety possibilities.

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.

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. 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.

The Sentra achieves top 'good' ratings in all categories from the IIHS (like most cars in its class). NHTSA overall ratings have rolled in at four stars in previous model years, but those might improve with this year's structural improvements if the federal government gets around to a retest.

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2015 Nissan Sentra

Features

Bluetooth is standard on most 2015 Sentra models, and a new smartphone connectivity and navigation system is an inexpensive option.

Packaging is the big story for the 2015 Nissan Sentra, which has standardized several previously-optional features, depending on which trim you choose.

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. SV, SR, and SL models all receive standard Bluetooth connectivity this year, which remains optional for base S models.

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.

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.

This year, SV models gain an optional appearance package, which adds 16-inch wheels, a rear spoiler, a power moonroof, and dual-illuminated vanity mirrors to the Sentra. SL models now receive standard leather seating. The previously-optional SV and SR Drivers Packages are now standard on their respective models.

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.

The top SL gets Bluetooth phone connectivity plus automatic headlamps, dual-zone climate control (a Sentra first), heated side mirrors, and the Intelligent Key, which is also now standard on SV and SR models.

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2015 Nissan Sentra

Fuel Economy

With the FE+ package, the Sentra's fuel economy hits all the right numbers.

The 2015 Nissan Sentra does pretty well in the fuel economy department, where most trim levels are rated up to 39 mpg on the highway and 30 mpg in the city. The FE+ model stretches for a full 40 mpg on the highway.

(Fuel economy numbers haven't been published by the EPA for 2015, but the carry-over Sentra has seen no powertrain changes.)

The entire 2015 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 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—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 2, 2016
2015 Nissan Sentra 4-Door Sedan I4 CVT SR

Excellent Gas Mileage, Comfortable With Lots Of Room

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There were many attributes this car offered that utimately sold me. The two biggest were the ample space in the back seat and the cavernous truck. No other compact in the market offers as much space. In fact... + More »
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August 1, 2015
2015 Nissan Sentra 4-Door Sedan I4 CVT S

Fits My Needs

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This car checked all my boxes: price, size, mileage and safety. If performance and features are what you're looking for, this isn't the car for you. But, if you want great value, Nissan Sentra fits the bill.
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June 4, 2015
2015 Nissan Sentra 4-Door Sedan I4 CVT SL

Great commuter vehicle

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I bought this for two reasons, fuel economy and reliability. After 1200 miles, I am averaging 32.4 MPG. I have had zero problems with the vehicle, everything works perfectly. There are two problems than that... + More »
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