Driven: 2009 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V Page 2

July 9, 2009

2009 Nissan SE-R Spec V

At a time when there are all-wheel-drive choices like the WRX or Ralliart, the 2009 Nissan Spec V does just fine with front-wheel drive. Our test car had the optional helical front limited-slip differential, which basically makes the Spec V feel secure and planted until you get to the tightest switchback with a broken surface; there, where the inside wheel would have come loose without the diff, when we got back on the power we had a slight issue with the steering wheel pulling a little bit off course—but there's nowhere close to the torque steer we've experienced on some V-6 vehicles.

There's a feeling that prevails in the driving experience, if you're driving enthusiastically: There's more fore-and-aft motion than expected—especially a feeling of front-end lift on hard acceleration—which translate to a lot of roll in back when going downhill on switchbacks. It's a car that will require you to be especially smooth on the throttle and brakes when driving it near the limit.

Nissan made some good choices for the 2009 Sentra SE-R Spec V to accommodate how people will drive it most of the time—in daily driving, and on the commute. The suspension doesn't have the sort of impact harshness nearly every entry in this class but the WRX. And there's none of the engine-noise boom that we've noticed in both other tuner cars and in Nissan's Versa and Cube, though there is a noticeably wind-noise swoosh around the front cowl area at 70 mph and up.

Outside of the wind noise and a creaky clutch pedal, this reviewer's only other complaint pertains to the seats, which though they look like sport seats have soft foam, aren't very supportive, and lack the hip-and-thigh support that we'd expect.

There is one sore spot in the feature list: no electronic stability control. It's not even offered, and seems like a glaring omission in a performance car that's going to have its limits tested. Parents beware.

The 2009 Spec V is otherwise well equipped, with air conditioning, power accessories, and a six-speaker sound system all standard. Ours had the optional moonroof, helical limited-slip front diff, and the awesome-sounding 340-watt Rockford Fosgate sound-system upgrade.

The test car slotted right between the EPA ratings of 21 mpg city, 29 highway, with 25 mpg altogether in about 100 miles of around-town driving, some of it quite aggressive. Premium fuel is recommended though.

The 2009 Nissan Spec V is a strong value, costing several thousand dollars less than the least expensive rally machines like the Ralliart and WRX, but what's especially surprising that it costs less than the Dodge Caliber SRT4 or Chevrolet Cobalt SS—both turbocharged but less refined.

If the newest Mazdaspeed3 is anything like the last one, it still trumps the Spec V, but versus just about any other hotted-up small car. The last-gen '09 Speed3 had somewhat peaky powertrain response, but its suspension tuning was excellent—much like the Spec V, but with a more buttoned-down feel to the motions.

Stay tuned for our driving impressions of the Mazdaspeed3 as we get an advance drive next month.

High Gear Media drove a manufacturer-provided vehicle to produce this hands-on road test.

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