So much potential
Red Alert! Red Alert! No one is in danger, that’s just what the color is called. We’ve all seen 100’s of shades of red from pink to maroon by all car manufacturers, but this shade of red is one of the better shades I’ve witnessed. I’d call it a mix of fire engine and the infamous Ferrari red. I rented from an in town location to try and save some bucks on the airport taxes and fees, but with that comes a much slimmer selection. Since the 2018 and 2019 models haven’t changed that much, I accepted the 2017 with no issue.
This is by far the least expensive car I’ve rented and I was concerned on how many miles I could tolerate in it. It’s no secret that I am not a fan of the CVT’s that have a horrible disconnect between engine and wheels and this was by far the worst example. To add salt on the clutchless wound, it’s a $1300 option over the 6-speed manual.
When I first took a seat behind the wheel, I was anxious to see if “ECO” and ‘sport’ really made a noticeable difference in the driving experience. Upon leaving the rental lot, I had neither mode selected and the acceleration was as expected for a 130hp 1.8L engine. I first tried to floor it on the ECO setting and it was definitely more economical as the engine was very slow to respond to the accelerator. It was so slow that I’d be concerned with the ability of safely merging into highway traffic. The sport setting made the engine rev A LOT more freely (4500RPM with minimal effort), but it didn’t feel any faster at all, just louder.
Look closely at the gear shifter and you’ll see the ‘overdrive off’ button on the left. That seems pointless since the transmission doesn’t have gears instead it is always varying. The slightest incline or decline will make for changes in engine speed without the use of a button. While I was cruising at 75mph on a flat surface, the car was turning about 1900rpm, but turning off overdrive made it instantly shoot up to 4300rpm to the point it felt like the transmission was slipping. Believe me, you don’t want to listen to this engine revving that high for more than a few seconds. On the plus side, when you get it up to highway speeds, it’s very smooth and responsive. Cornering was an extraordinary surprise atypical of an econobox. I was happy to see ZERO blank buttons anywhere in the cabin. That made an instant positive impression.
Styling is fairly conservative compared to the Honda Civic that is also in this class, but distinctive as not to confuse it with others. The reflectors on the bottom bumper look awful in this picture and much cheaper up close.
The power sunroof was a rare treat on a car in this class and helped immensely with ventilation on this muggy Friday.
The 130hp 4-cylinder was adequate if not slightly lacking, but the optional 1.6L 180hp turbo version would have been welcomed with open arms for the highway on-ramps.
When I got in the car at pickup, the passenger seat was so far up I thought it was broken. Any normal size person would have knee contact with the dash at this seating position. . .
. . . but that’s good news for the person in the back seat. Not even the Volvo S90 could offer this much rear legroom. I thought this extreme variation was for the passenger seat only for varying sizes of in-cabin cargo not appropriate for the trunk, but. . .
. . . wrong again! At this moment it hit me that maybe the key demographic for this car is the little ol’ 4’8″ lady from Pasadena. The interior is very basic, the options are sparse, and getting to highway speeds only takes one foot. I’ve never seen any vehicle with the front seat flexibility of this Sentra. With the seat all the way up, I could touch the gas pedal with my hand and still see clearly in front of me. I can’t help but wonder, if you have the seat all the way up and the airbag goes off, broken ribs would have to be inevitable. Hopefully the seats can sensor weight and adjust the airbag force.
The backseat was spacious for 2 people and the seats were very comfortable, even for my friend with the back problems.
The trunk sounded tinny when opening at closing it, but unusually large for a vehicle in this class. This would be awesome economical choice for hauling a stroller, diaper bag, and a playpen for a new family.
I had very low expectations of the Sentra and was pleasantly surprised after my day with the Red Alert version of Nissan’s answer to the Cruze, Elantra, and Forte. The 4-speed automatic with overdrive from the 1997 model would be a more enjoyable driver than this one.
Things of note:
Sticker price new under $20,000 as shown.
The local dealer is unloading a brand new 2018 for about $15,000 making room for the incoming 2019 models. That’s a smokin’ hot deal if you don’t mind the CVT.
35.3mpg on my day trip is in line with the EPA stated 29CITY/37HWY
40mpg+ on a freeway jaunt would be simple.
Buy it? Rent it? Avoid it?
Full disclosure: The Nissan car line-up (Versa, Sentra, and Altima) has had some annoying gas gauge issues and my example was no different. Apparently, if the tank is over-filled, the internal floating mechanism is damaged and causes inaccurate fuel readings. Hopefully the 2019 models won’t have an issue. I wouldn’t buy a Sentra based solely on the awful transmissions that are standard issue for rental car fleets. I’ve driven manual transmission Nissan’s in the past and if the Sentra model is blessed with a good 6-speed manual, I’d definitely give it a try. I wouldn’t avoid renting one again, but I’d definitely scope out other choices if given the opportunity.
Nissan if you’re listening . . .
On a scale from 1-100: (1- Versa-like – 100- GT-R-like)
Buy it now – 20
Buy it later at half the current price – 55
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 30
Oooh and ahhh factor – 10 – it’d be zero without that sweet shade of exterior red
Recommended – (50 – 6-speed manual / 15 – CVT )