But they aren’t compelling attributes. Nothing to match, say, Hyundai Accent’s sexy styling, Ford Focus’ Euro-crisp handling, Honda Civic’s seemingly indestructible reputation — despite Civic’s horrible stumbles on the 2012 redesign that had to be fixed fast for 2013.
And whatever allure Sentra’s attributes have is seriously undercut by a dreadful drivetrain and front seats that have lumbar bulges tailored by a sadist, with no adjustment knob or lever to moderate the pain.
Physiques differ, of course, and yours might fit the seats better. But it seems plain wrong to give you no lumbar adjustment in a car that the automaker says is meant to draw more upscale buyers — more like the ones you’d see hovering around Civics in a Honda showroom. The ones who like a premium touch or two and come from households averaging $70,000 annually or so, instead of Sentra’s $50,000-$60,000 range.
Never mind whether the other guys let you manipulate the seat’s bulge (Civic doesn’t). It’s the right thing to do. And Sentra’s redesign could have incorporated the feature during development at low cost, and thus one-upped rivals.
Likewise, it seems incorrect not to offer a power seat at any price. Or not to have Bluetooth standard.
And mileage-madness is insufficient reason to cut power and refinement from the greasy parts that make the car go.
The 2013 Sentra is hobbled with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder rated 130 horsepower and 128 pounds-feet of torque. The 2012 had a 2-liter four-banger good for 140 hp, 147 lbs.-ft. That car weighed 100-plus pounds more, but still seemed to scoot a little better than the new one.
New one has a better miles-per-gallon rating: 30 to 34 in city/highway mix, vs. predecessor’s 27 or 30.
But it’s not worth the compromise in driving feel.
The new engine is done no favors by Nissan’s beloved CVT — continuously variable-ratio automatic transmission — which sends the already coarse-voice powerplant into paroxysms of amplified strain when the driver asks to accelerate.
A CVT under throttle revs the engine high and keeps it there until the car sort of catches up. A normal automatic, a good one, steps elegantly through gear ratios, allowing engine speed to rise and fall as the driver’s right foot commands.
Ah, you say, but the CVT surely must be why the new Sentra engine uses less fuel. Nope. The previous one was saddled with a CVT as well.
The test car recorded a decent mileage reading, by Test Drive’s lead-foot standards, in the mid-20s. But in large part that was because the Sentra was just no fun to drive briskly. The unpleasant underhood complaints discouraged enthusiasm.
If you drive especially gently, and engine noise is a price you’ll pay for better mpg, and you’re willing to buy an up-level version of Sentra to get the good interior and the navi and the Bluetooth, then the new Sentra might seem a solid partner.
But it’s disappointing to have to portray it thus.
Nissan has seemed distinctive, in the way Chrysler always has, by being feistier, more fun, more roguish than the bigger makers.
Nissan gave us the Datsun 510 sedan in the late 1960s, regarded at the time as “a poor man’s BMW.” It delivered to our shores the 1970 Datsun 240Z, an affordable and sophisticated sports car.
More recently, Nissan gave us Porsche 911 performance for half the price in the GT-R. Its Leaf battery car, while not everybody’s path to bliss, blazes new trails.
So it’s sad to see Nissan backing away from the edge as it does with the 2013 Sentra.
Cars should be safe, of course, but the next priority should be that they are fun and satisfying to drive. Sentra isn’t.
The overhauled 2013 Nissan Sentra is much more attractive than the previous version.
What? Remake of front-drive, four-door compact, to be more competitive with Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra and the like.
When? On sale since October.
Where? Made at Aguascalientes, Mexico.
How much? From $16,780, including shipping for base S model with six-speed manual, to $23,490 for SL top model with all factory options. Nissan dealer accessories add another $1,690. High-end SL test car — leather, navigation, alloy wheels — was $22,400.
Special FE fuel-economy models go into production in December and will be $400 more than similar non-FE. You get 1 mile per gallon more on the highway; Nissan gets to advertise a 40-mpg car.
What makes it go? 1.8-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine rated 130 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 128 pounds-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm. Base S has manual transmission; others have automatic continuously variable-ratio transmission (CVT).
How big? Similar to Civic, Corolla. The Sentra is 182.1 inches long (182.5 in. SR sport model), 69.3 in. wide, 58.9 ion. tall on a 106.3-in. wheelbase. Weighs 2,822 to 2,851 lbs. Rated to carry about 900 lbs. of people, cargo, accessories, depending on model. People space, 95.9 cubic feet. Trunk, 15.1 cu. ft. Turning circle diameter 34.8 ft.
How thirsty? Manual transmission rated 27 miles per gallon in the city, 36 mpg on the highway, 30 mpg in city/highway mix. CVT rated 30/39/34. FE fuel-economy model will be rated 30/40/34. Test car trip computer registered 26.3 mpg or 3.8 gallons per 100 miles, in normal suburban driving because it wasn’t much fun to drive vigorously. Burns regular, holds 13.2 gallons.
Overall: Coarse drivetrain, back-breaking seats kill the appeal.