Several different powertrains are offered on the 2010 Sentra, and each gives this small sedan a very different personality. The 2.0, 2.0 S, and 2.0 SL versions feature a 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, with either a six-speed manual (S) or the Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) in the S or SL. 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.
Cars.com isn’t wild about the engines in the Sentra, noting that "the power is more than workable, but the car's no rocket, despite horsepower and torque increases over the previous generation." ConsumerGuide concurs, saying that 2009’s "2.0 models have decent around-town power, but passing punch is lacking." Edmunds contends that the 200-hp version in the Spec V “is particularly entertaining, as its engine combines a generous amount of low-end torque with a free-revving personality.”
The CVT, in particular, doesn't fit the sportier character of the SE-R. For those who want a sportier feel, our pick of the bunch is the Spec V, which gets substantial upgrades to the suspension and brakes, along with appearance upgrades inside and out. The SE-R remains front-wheel drive, as does the rest of the Sentra lineup.
TheCarConnection.com prefers the manual transmission to the CVT in the Sentra, as the engine becomes somewhat noisy and the rubber-band-like response is worse here than in other vehicles. But the manual isn't much loved either. ConsumerGuide says, "the manual suffers from imprecise shifter and clutch action," and Edmunds agrees: “unfortunately, the manual gearbox is awkward and unsatisfying to shift."
The SE-R and Spec V get firmer suspension calibrations, along with other performance improvements. But Motor Trend isn't tremendously impressed, pointing to a "firm ride over road imperfections, but with moderate body roll in the corners, and the tires squeal for their lives when the car is pushed.”
The 2010 Nissan Sentra handles quite well, but not enthusiastically. Motor Trend says, “Electric power steering is quick, with so-so feel.” Cars.com reports that the “electric power steering works well, with plenty of boost for parking but a firmer feel once you get moving.”