- Great back-seat leg room
- Spacious trunk
- Strong mileage ratings
- Quiet cabin at highway speeds
- Middling front seat comfort
- Less impressive safety ratings
- CVT performance
The 2016 Nissan Sentra is more compelling to value-seeking drivers than to enthusiasts.
The 2016 Nissan Sentra has evolved into compact car for buyers who value the features, amenities, and even styling of a mid-size sedan with value-oriented pricing.
The trade-off for the Sentra's focus on comfort and livability is lackluster performance. It's not nearly as fun to drive as rivals like the Mazda 3, Ford Focus, and Honda Civic. That hasn't stopped the Sentra from outselling some of its competitors in recent years.
Last redesigned in 2013, the Nissan Sentra has been treated to a heavy mid-cycle refresh for 2016. There's a more dramatic V-shaped grille (similar to what’s used in the Altima and Maxima), modestly resculpted hood and fenders, and a new front end and headlights. The Sentra also gets the boomerang-shaped headlights of some other recently redesigned Nissan models, like the Murano; and SR and SL grades get LED accents. In concert with new chrome trim, the changes give the Sentra a more upscale appearance.
There's just one engine: a 1.8-liter inline-4 making 130 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission is theoretically available on the base S model, though few will be stocked in dealer inventories. Other models use a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that offers decent performance overall, but extremely sluggish transitory response—for instance when a quick burst of power is needed to merge into an adjacent, faster-moving lane.
Although Nissan made changes to provide crisper simulated shifts, they're barely perceptible. The engine still revs like a CVT, and few Sentra drivers will mistake the transmission for a conventional automatic (as they might in an Altima).
The Sentra keeps its front independent strut setup and torsion-beam rear suspension, with stabilizer bars front and rear. The electric power steering is speed-sensitive, and most models include a front disc/rear drum braking setup—although four-wheel discs are included in SR and SL models. Revisions for 2016 include a 10-percent increase in spring and damper rates, and a new Active Understeer Control system that brakes the inside wheel in cornering to help keep the Sentra on course. It performs well in aggressive cornering, but the sensation feels more like you're being saved than like you're driving a sport sedan.
The Sentra might have been considered mid-size—or close to it—not so long ago. At about 182 inches long, with a 106-inch wheelbase, the Sentra is roomier than most rivals by the numbers. Compared to other models in the compact segment, it has the best official front head room, front leg room, and rear leg room. In all, the Sentra feels accommodating, but its seating design and seating comfort are only average. The Sentra does have one of the roomiest trunks in this class, and in back you can flip the seat backs forward (not flat) to an expanded area.
Nissan improved cabin materials as part of the Sentra's refresh, though their quality is probably more class-competitive at the lower end of the Sentra price range. There are soft-touch plastics in critical areas, but the mix of matte plastics, metallic trim, and plasticky leather looks like its trying to appear more upscale than it is in top-spec models that hit the $25,000 mark. Additional soundproofing and laminated glass provide a pleasantly serene environment in highway cruising, but the drone of the engine is still quite present under hard acceleration.
The 2016 Nissan Sentra comes with a NissanConnect with Mobile Apps system in its SV and SR grades—good for iHeartRadio, Pandora, and Facebook apps; the system also has Bluetooth streaming audio, satellite radio, and a hands-free text-messaging assistant. Included in the SL, but optional on the SV and SR is a Nissan Connect with Navigation and Mobile Apps system that has expanded apps capability and a larger 5.8-inch touchscreen.
For 2016, Nissan has added NissanConnect Services, which include remote access, emergency services, and customizable alerts; it’s all in addition to a SiriusXM satellite radio subscription.
The 2016 Nissan Sentra also receives some new active-safety features. Forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control are part of a new Technology Package, while blind-spot monitors are offered on this model for the first time this year.
Base S, FE+ (fuel-efficiency-oriented), SV, SR, and SL models will be offered, with only the S available in manual-transmission form. The SR is the sporty, premium model in the lineup and can be equipped with a Premium Package adding a power sliding moonroof, Bose premium eight-speaker audio, leather upholstery, upgraded infotainment, and several active-safety features. There’s also now a Style Package for the mid-range SV that includes a power sliding moonroof, dual vanity mirrors, a rear spoiler, and 16-inch five-spoke alloy wheels.
Base prices range from the high teens to the low $20,000s, and a fully-optioned Sentra will sticker in the mid-$20,000s.
Most Sentras use the CVT to achieve 29 mpg city, 38 highway, and 32 combined. These numbers drop to 27/36/30 mpg with the 6-speed manual transmission, which is sold in very small numbers.
2016 Nissan Sentra
An economy-car interior lets down the Sentra's stylish body.
The current Nissan Sentra made its debut in 2013, and a heavy mid-cycle refresh for 2016 gives it a stronger family resemblance to the bigger Altima and Maxima.
Up front, the Sentra now sports a deep V-shaped grille and boomerang-shaped headlights. The compact sedan's hood, fenders, and fascia have also been reshaped with more pronounced sculpting. The rear fascia and taillights received a similar makeover.
In profile, 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 started with a generally handsome look, and the changes give it a slightly more upscale appearance.
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 new front and rear fascias, lower-body sill extensions, a rear spoiler, chrome exhaust tip, fog lamps, and V-rated tires on 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels.
The Sentra's cabin is less stylish than its sheet metal, and follows tradition in offering a rather upright layout with straightforward controls. The dash curves gently and flows across in a two-tier arrangement, tapering at the sides in a way that maximizes space. The mix of matte and metallic materials seem like they're trying to look more upscale than they are, a fact that's more acceptable at the lower end of the Sentra's price range.
2016 Nissan Sentra
Average performance is the best you'll do in any Sentra.
The 2016 Nissan Sentra gets the job done—and with relative ease—but it's simply not much of a joy to drive.
That probably won't be a problem, though, for the Sentra's budget-minded buyers, who may not miss the zippy performance offered by competitors like the Ford Focus or Mazda 3, or the refinement of the Chevy Cruze or VW Jetta.
There's just one engine: a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder that makes 130 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission is available, but only at the base S trim level; its action is notchy, loose, and imprecise, though, and we'd be surprised if you could find a Sentra S 6MT on many dealer lots.
The rest of the lineup uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT). It has been revised to make artificial shift points feel crisper, but unlike the Altima's slick unit, no one could possibly mistake the Sentra's CVT for a conventional automatic. "Shifts" are nearly imperceptible, but the Sentra gets quite noisy at high revs under strong acceleration.
Despite the CVT's drawbacks, the Sentra moves at a reasonable pace in most circumstances—though the engine and transmission will show obvious strain when accelerating up a hill.
Regardless of the model or trim level, all Sentra models include Normal, Eco, and Sport modes, though they are selected from 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 almost as quickly.
Handling has never been a particular Sentra strength, but has improved for 2016. It's competent without encouraging spirited maneuvers. The tuned suspension features a 10-percent increase in spring and damper rates, and a new front tunnel stay enhances body stiffness for improved roll and body control.
Another innovation this year is brake-controlled steering assist, which applies light braking to the inside wheel during cornering. It proved impressive when taking tight curves at imprudent speeds, but it feels more like you're being saved than like driving a sport sedan.
The nicely weighted, confident steering is a bright spot; it's speed sensitive and much like what's used in the Altima.
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 stops well enough, albeit with lots of nosedive and body motion.
The Sentra's ride quality is pretty good, and isn't significantly different whether you go for the base wheels or the low-profile 17-inch tires that do improve responsiveness somewhat.
2016 Nissan Sentra
Comfort & Quality
The Sentra has a large cabin, and fit and finish have improved.
The 2016 Nissan Sentra's greatest strength may be a remarkably spacious cabin, even by the standards of today's compact segment. With interior space that approaches mid-size standards of recent years, it offers comfortable levels of room and functionality for most buyers.
The back seat, for instance, has plenty of leg room and will easily accommodate three pre-teens. Taller adults may want more head room and a higher seating position.
Conversely, seating positions for the driver and front passenger are a bit high, though head room is good, even with a sunroof.
Nissan has improved the quality of cabin materials this year. Even so, it may not impress buyers splashing out $25,000 for a top-spec Sentra. It's perfectly acceptable if you're making a deal closer to the $20,000 mark. Be aware, too, that available leather upholstery has a plasticky quality that looks better in photos than it feels in person. We'd be happier with the standard cloth upholstery.
Trunk space is among the best in the class, and feels that way. It has a large, chest-like cargo area that could fit a couple large suitcases or a great quantity 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.
2016 Nissan Sentra
Crash-test performance has improved, and so has the Sentra's safety gear.
The 2016 Nissan Sentra earns a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS with top "Good" marks across the board.
It doesn't fare as well in crash tests performed by the NHTSA. The agency gives it a four-star overall rating: five stars in side impacts, and four stars in frontal impacts and rollover crashes.
Newly available on the Sentra this year is a suite of so-called "Safety Shield Technologies" that include forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking; adaptive cruise control; blind-spot monitors; and rear cross-traffic alerts.
NissanConnect (standard on SL, optional on SV and SR) relies on a satellite radio subscription for a variety of services such as remote access, customizable alerts, and convenience services like calling a live operator for directions that are downloaded to the navigation system.
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. Parents will appreciate two full LATCH connectors in the back seat, and three child-seat upper tether anchors. An Easy Fill Tire Alert system sounds the horn when you’re inflating the tires to signal the recommended pressure.
A rearview camera is standard in upper trim levels, 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 phone connectivity is also standard across the line.
2016 Nissan Sentra
The Sentra's a strong value in more basic trim levels.
Nissan offers six trim levels in the Sentra. The base S 6MT is equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission, and is likely to be a rare sight at Nissan dealerships.
That leaves the S Xtronic as the true entry-level model. It's well-equipped with extras such as automatic headlights, cruise control, and Bluetooth phone connectivity.
The FE+ S adds a few hundred dollars to the price of an S, and boosts fuel economy estimates with low-rolling-resistance tires, a rear spoiler, and deflectors for the rear tires and underbody.
The SV has the most features while still holding the base price under $20,000. It gets equipment such as a rearview camera, NissanConnect, Siri Eyes Free voice recognition, and keyless ignition. Option packages include features like a moonroof, heated mirrors and front seats, navigation, and safety assists.
The sporty SR is distinguishable mostly for appearance add-ons like 17-inch wheels, chrome exhaust tips, and an exclusive body kit.
The range-topping SL, meanwhile, adds luxury-car touches like leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a power driver's seat. Options for the SL include an eight-speaker Bose audio system.
2016 Nissan Sentra
The Sentra has good, but not class-leading, fuel economy.
The 2016 Nissan Sentra delivers respectable fuel economy numbers, though it's not the class leader.
Most Sentras use a CVT to achieve 29 mpg city, 38 highway, 32 combined. These numbers drop to 27/36/30 mpg with the 6-speed manual, which is sold in very small numbers.
The FE+ S is the Sentra's fuel-economy champ. With low-rolling-resistance tires and added aerodynamics, the package boosts EPA estimates to 30/40/34 mpg.
No matter which model or trim level you get, all Nissan Sentra models include Normal, Eco, and Sport modes that affect throttle response and transmission tuning, while Eco mode also reduces air-conditioning draw. It's a feature that's also offered by Honda vehicles, but not with the equivalent Kias and Hyundais.