Thursday, September 16, 2010
One of the biggest complaints with our long-term 2007 Nissan Sentra SE-R, which we sent home about 18 months ago, was its fun-sucking CVT. The gearless gearbox did not endear itself to our staffers, who were perplexed by its inclusion in what was supposed to be a sporty sedan. This gearbox conundrum does not exist in the SE-R Spec V, however, as it gets a proper three-pedal six-speed manual. So, with the gearbox issue solved, does the Sentra become a legitimate sport-compact player?
Here are the details in parts:
On the powertrain front, the Spec V compares favorably to the competition. Its 2.5-liter I-4 makes 200 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. These figures handily beat the likes of the Mitsubishi Lancer GTS and Subaru Impreza. Plus, it's got more torque than the Civic Si. More important, it matches perennial segment leader (if you ignore body-style differences) Volkswagen GTI on power, though it's short a considerable 27 pound-feet of torque. It's not the greatest-sounding four-cylinder around, but it's less harsh than the Lancer's and provides a broad torque curve with a linear powerband, which are agreeable traits to have in a performance-oriented motor. Unfortunately, it's compromised by overly aggressive throttle tip-in, which makes it difficult to modulate input until past the quarter-throttle mark. Torque steer is nearly absent, thanks in part to the optional limited-slip differential that's part of the $2200 Spec V Upgrade.
The aforementioned six-speed does the job well, but it's not buttery-smooth like the box that you'd find in the Honda. Shifts are short and precise, but the shifter feels notchy and disconnected. The clutch is neither too heavy nor too light, with a good pickup point, an important positive given the jumpy nature of the throttle.
Brakes are a similarly mixed experience. The 12.6-inch front rotors are more than capable of stopping the small sedan quickly, but like the shifter, the pedal feels disconnected and provides little feedback.
Things are better on the chassis side. The "sport-tuned" suspension is stiff, but not painfully so. Front and rear anti-roll bars do a good job negating body roll, and, despite a beam-axle rear, handling is surprisingly neutral for a front-drive car, with good turn-in and minimal understeer. Chassis rigidity is improved via a trunk-mounted V-brace. Unfortunately, the rear brace means the rear seats don't fold down to increase cargo space.
The Sentra's steering is disappointing overall. The steering column does not telescope, moving only up and down. There's not quite enough weight to it, but most disappointing, there's almost no feel. Nissan uses an electric power steering system in the Sentra instead of a hydraulic one, and these are notorious for sacrificing feedback at the altar of efficiency.
The experience from the driver's seat is largely agreeable, if compromised. The view from it, as well as from outside the car, isn't great. The Sentra was never a good-looking car, and the minimal fascia tweaks added by the Spec V package do little to change that. Interior design is similarly bland, with acres of black plastic as far as the eye can see. The SE-R sport buckets have decent, but not great, bolstering that'll be good enough to keep you in place during back-road hustling, but not good enough for serious track-day duty.
On the plus side, the car comes well equipped at a good price point. Our loaded tester, which featured the aforementioned Spec-V upgrade package that adds a rearview camera, satellite radio, moonroof, vanity mirrors, and an eight-speaker 340-watt stereo in addition to the limited-slip differential, plus a $400 navigation package, $110 worth of floormats, and $140 worth of splash guards, cost a reasonable $23,670. That's less than the base price of a GTI and just $1420 more than our SE-R long-termer. Prices have changed between then and now, of course, but today's base price difference between the SE-R and the Spec V is a mere $500.
That doesn't make the Sentra SE-R Spec V a standard-bearer for the class, but it does make it a viable choice for those who want a well-equipped sporty compact sedan with a reasonably powerful motor, don't want to pay the extra premium to step up to a GTI, and don't mind the absence of style.
Online Car Buying Tip :
First and foremost, you need to examine your budget & have your own credit history ready.
Know your automobile needs are :haul heavy equipment? a sizeable family or head up a carpool? travel far or use the car rarely?
Then go to the manufacturers' Web sites to check out the cars and the available options.
Make sure you go to more than one pricing site to get the best idea of the average price (know the difference between MSRP & Sticker).
If you plan to trade in a car you already own, you want to know the price of your trade-in.
Read More car reviews in magazines and online helps on top of opinion from friends & relatives on the car.