2011 Nissan Sentra Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 21, 2011

The 2010 Nissan Sentra looks plain on the outside and is only offered in one body style, but there's a lot to love for shoppers who value a comfortable, well-appointed interior.

Slotting just above the very cheap, frugal Versa, in both size and price, the 2011 Nissan Sentra appeals to small families and commuters who want an impressive feature set without going to a mid-size car like the Altima.

Many of the Sentra's cues, like the flared-outward headlamps and prominent flanks at the top of the rear fenders, are borrowed from the larger Altima and Maxima—although it does look a lot like the long-ago-discontinued Saturn Ion from the outside. In SE-R and SE-R Spec.V trim, the Sentra gets a slightly dressier appearance that some might prefer, however. Inside, the look isn't particularly inspired, but it feels modern and straightforward. The instrument-panel design is chunky and a bit more angular than you'll find in other new vehicles; a center stack of controls flows downward, housing the shifter, while upright seating affords a good view out.

The front-wheel-drive 2011 Nissan Sentra comes with three different engines, and manual or continuously variable (CVT) transmissions, along with suspension tuning that's very different between trims. So the Sentra spans several quite different personalities. And, from our editors' driving experience with the various models of the Sentra, the basic 2.0, 2.0 S, and 2.0 SL versions are the most successful. They each come with a 140-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, with either a six-speed manual (S only) or the Xtronic CVT (S or SL), and are adequate but not particularly spirited with either shift method. 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. On any of these models, fuel economy ratings are somewhat disappointing.

Review continues below

Compared to most other models of its size and price, the 2011 Nissan Sentra has a delightful level of refinement. And that observation extends to seating ride quality, and interior noise. While other compact models are offered as coupes or hatchbacks, the Sentra is only offered as a sedan; it's a very well-designed cabin, though, with generous appointments even in base 2.0 and 2.0 S models. Materials feel about right for this price range—strictly budget-grade, but tasteful—while all the examples our editors have seen have been very well put together. And thanks to the rather high roofline in the Sentra, this small sedan's interior feels very spacious. While the seats themselves are flat and unsupportive, with padding that just won't work for long trips, most will be happy with the space and the driving position. The back seat, too, is a place good enough for adults for a trip across town.

Side and side-curtain airbags are standard, as are active head restraints. In past years, Nissan has been a step behind some other automakers in safety features, but for 2011, a year before it's required by the federal government, the automaker has made electronic stability control standard on all Sentra models, along with anti-lock brakes. Side and side-curtain bags remain standard as well. The Sentra has a mix of good and mediocre safety ratings, however.

In its base 2.0 form, the 2011 Nissan Sentra makes a good commuter car, with a strong list of standard features like power windows and locks, air conditioning, tilt steering, split-folding backseats, and a 160-watt CD sound system. You get quite a few more conveniences if you move up to the 2.0 S or 2.0 SR trim—like a center console, keyless entry, and a trip computer, while the high-end 2.0 SL adds leather and Bluetooth—but both of these models are considerably more expensive and can only be had with the CVT. At the top of the range, the SE-R gets a sport-tuned suspension, big 17-inch alloy wheels, special badging, sport seats, and a number of other extras. The Spec V takes the performance package another step, with extra bracing, upgraded brakes, summer performance tires, driving lamps, and exclusive lower bodywork.

The audio system offered on both top models includes a color display screen with USB interface. Top desirables include Rockford Fosgate audio system, and a navigation system with five-inch screen, SD card reader, and XM Satellite Radio. Intelligent Key keyless entry and start is among other extras, and full leather seating is available on the SE-R models.

6

2011 Nissan Sentra

Styling

The 2011 Nissan Sentra isn't unattractive, but it's certainly no standout for styling.

The 2011 Nissan Sentra looks like a shorter, smaller car than it really is from a distance. That's mainly due to its rather tall proportions broadly arched roofline—which also tends to look better in person than in pictures.

Many of the Sentra's cues, like the flared-outward headlamps and prominent flanks at the top of the rear fenders, are borrowed from Nissan's larger Altima and Maxima—although it does look a lot like the long-ago-discontinued Saturn Ion from the outside. In SE-R and SE-R Spec.V trim, the Sentra gets a slightly dressier appearance that some might prefer, however.

Inside, the look isn't particularly inspired, but it feels modern and straightforward. The instrument-panel design is chunky and a bit more angular than you'll find in other new vehicles; a center stack of controls flows downward, housing the shifter, while upright seating affords a good view out.

Review continues below
7

2011 Nissan Sentra

Performance

While top SE-R and Spec V performance models don't quite deliver the thrills they promise, the basic Sentra models perform better than most commuter cars.

The front-wheel-drive 2011 Nissan Sentra comes with three different engines, and manual or continuously variable (CVT) transmissions, along with suspension tuning that's very different between trims. So the Sentra spans several quite different personalities.

And, from our editors' driving experience with the various models of the Sentra, the basic 2.0, 2.0 S, and 2.0 SL versions are the most successful. They each come with a 140-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, with either a six-speed manual (S only) or the Xtronic CVT (S or SL), and are adequate but not particularly spirited with either shift method. The CVT might take a little getting used to as there's a slight delay while the revs ramp up, then a raucous drone during hard acceleration. These basic Sentra models don't make any sporty claims, but they're actually quite light and nimble-feeling—and very maneuverable—and the driving experience is pleasantly straightforward.

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. But both of these models miss the marks, for different reasons. The CVT, in particular, simply doesn't fit the sportier character of the SE-R. The Spec V delivers on the handling front, with substantial upgrades to the suspension and brakes, along with appearance upgrades inside and out; but it doesn't feel as edgy as the MazdaSpeed3, or even the Honda Civic Si.

Review continues below
8

2011 Nissan Sentra

Comfort & Quality

A roomy interior, a nice, settled ride, and good isolation of road and wind noise make the 2011 Nissan Sentra very comfortable.

Compared to most other models of its size and price, the 2011 Nissan Sentra has a delightful level of refinement. And that observation extends to seating ride quality, and interior noise.

While other compact models are offered as coupes or hatchbacks, the Sentra is only offered as a sedan; it's a very well-designed cabin, though, with generous appointments even in base 2.0 and 2.0 S models. Materials feel about right for this price range—strictly budget-grade, but tasteful—while all the examples our editors have seen have been very well put together.

Thanks to the rather high roofline in the Sentra, this small sedan's interior feels very spacious. While the seats themselves are flat and unsupportive, with padding that just won't work for long trips, most will be happy with the space and the driving position. The back seat, too, is a place good enough for adults for a trip across town.

Ride quality is also surprisingly good in the Sentra; it rides nearly as well as the larger Altima, with a somewhat soft but well-controlled attitude, though it can have a little bit of small-car pitchiness on the highway. Top SE-R Spec.V models are not only firmer, but harsher and louder over pockmarked surfaces.

Review continues below
6

2011 Nissan Sentra

Safety

Nissan has upgraded the Sentra's safety equipment for 2011, but some of its crash-test ratings are mediocre.

The 2011 Nissan Sentra isn't particularly strong with respect to safety—mainly because of some unimpressive safety ratings from the federal government.

The Sentra gets top "good" ratings in frontal offset and side tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and 'acceptable' ratings in the IIHS seat-based rear-impact test. Ratings from the federal government, though the new, tougher NHTSA test program, haven't been so positive, though: The agency gave the 2011 Sentra just three stars for frontal and side impact, and four stars overall.

On the other hand, the Sentra did have one very positive indicator: It achieved a top five-star rating in the new NHTSA Side Pole test—that's replicating a sideways crash against a tree or utility pole.

Side and side-curtain airbags are standard, as are active head restraints. In past years, Nissan has been a step behind some other automakers in safety features, but for 2011, a year before it's required by the federal government, the automaker has made electronic stability control standard on all Sentra models, along with anti-lock brakes. Side and side-curtain bags remain standard as well.

Review continues below
8

2011 Nissan Sentra

Features

The feature set in the 2011 Nissan Sentra is very respectable compared to other inexpensive compacts.

In its base 2.0 form, the 2011 Nissan Sentra makes a good commuter car, with a strong list of standard features like power windows and locks, air conditioning, tilt steering, split-folding backseats, and a 160-watt CD sound system.

You get quite a few more conveniences if you move up to the 2.0 S or 2.0 SR trim—like a center console, keyless entry, and a trip computer, while the high-end 2.0 SL adds leather and Bluetooth—but both of these models are considerably more expensive and can only be had with the CVT.

At the top of the range, the SE-R gets a sport-tuned suspension, big 17-inch alloy wheels, special badging, sport seats, and a number of other extras. The Spec V takes the performance package another step, with extra bracing, upgraded brakes, summer performance tires, driving lamps, and exclusive lower bodywork.

The audio system offered on both top models includes a color display screen with USB interface. Top desirables include Rockford Fosgate audio system, and a navigation system with five-inch screen, SD card reader, and XM Satellite Radio. Intelligent Key keyless entry and start is among other extras, and full leather seating is available on the SE-R models.

Review continues below
7

2011 Nissan Sentra

Fuel Economy

Because of its fuel economy ratings, which are unimpressive for a compact car, the 2011 Nissan Sentra isn't very green.

A rather large subset of small-car shoppers look at compacts such as the Nissan Sentra because of their better fuel efficiency.

So it might come as a bit of a surprise that the Sentra actually isn't very good on gas; its EPA ratings, of just 24 mpg city, 31 highway, aren't much better combined than those of some mid-size sedans, and even with the more efficient CVT, ratings only rise to 27/34. The high-performance SE-R Spec.V rates only 21/28.

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April 14, 2015
For 2011 Nissan Sentra

A very competent ride

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I sort of backed into buying a Sentra. I've never been a Nissan fan and hadn't considered the Sentra when it became time to replace my commuter beast. I commute 80 miles round trip, so I was looking for... + More »
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