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.