WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: The 2014 Nissan Sentra SL is a perfectly legitimate competitor in this class, checking most of the boxes that buyers want checked: it's roomy, it gets good mileage and it has bland, inoffensive styling. The deal breaker for me, the death knell, is the CVT transmission. I can't stand those things. Even the one in the Subaru WRX, which is surely the sportiest CVT ever made placed in one of the sportiest cars ever offered. You could put a CVT transmission on the Death Star and I would not want to drive it. You can get a Sentra with a manual transmission, but it's only available on the base S model, which I did not drive. Interestingly enough, both the manual and the CVT are onboard solely for gas mileage reasons. At least in my opinion, which trumps all others.
I don't think most buyers in this class will notice the CVT, though. Most buyers are not like you and me. We want a car to feel alive, to respond to our handling whims, to corner like it really means it. For us, there are Ford Fiestas and Focus STs, Mazda Mazdaspeed 3s and maybe even the Chevy Sonic turbo with the manual trans. The whole CVT obsession at Nissan is too bad considering that only a few years ago there was a Sentra SE-R that they introduced at a racetrack.
The 2014 Sentra you see here was all-new in fall of 2012, with a new chassis and a new 1.8-liter engine in all models. The 2014 Sentra gets revisions to its CVT, steering and suspension tuning. I like the steering, and the suspension is fine as far as I pushed it, which was not very far at all. But every time I stepped on the gas I got that wailing, woeful reminder from the engine that, “Hey man, whatever power and torque I'm producing has to go through that thing, so don't come whining to me about ain't no power or nothin'.” It's sad and I wish Nissan had gone another direction. There's probably some scandal in Paris where someone in purchasing was dating the CVT sales person and voila, we're stuck with 8 billion CVTs that we have to use no matter what. Again, that's just my opinion.
It's really too bad because the interior is spacious to the point of being car-magazine cavernous, which is still pretty big. There is beaucoup room in the back seats, for instance, so if you have to carpool with real adults they will not complain in your Sentra. There's room in the front foot box for a total of about 18 feet. There's headroom despite the sunroof. It's a good commuter car, if you can get around that CVT which, as I've said above, I can't.
The 2014 Nissan Sentra SL is equipped with a 1.8-liter I4.
ASSOCIATE WEST COAST EDITOR BLAKE Z. RONG: There are many ways to do a compact car -- light and sporty, like the Mazda 3, reassuringly stable, like the Honda Civic, blandly unpretentious, like the Toyota Corolla. There aren't many that feel like mini luxury cars. But the Sentra does just that.
It feels downright luxurious in here, in fact. The cabin is light and airy. The fake wood looks considerably less fake than usual, and has a bit of sparkly sheen to it (don't laugh; it's the small things that impress us simpleton humans). Everything to lay a weary elbow upon is soft or soft-ish. The seats were wonderfully old-school in their grip and softness. Great visibility and a pleasant, if odd-shaped, steering wheel round out the interior niceties in our loaded test car. (And a rear backup camera, because why not?)
It drives like a luxury car, too. Kind of. Well, it's not fast or nippy by any stretch of the imagination -- that much is clear. Put your foot down on the throttle (heavy, programmed for eco-mindedness) and the engine strains, mutedly, right up to the edge of giving up. But the Sentra imparted a comfortable ride, a quiet drivetrain, weighty and numb steering and a surprising feeling of heft. For 99.99 percent of new car shoppers, this is all they'll ever need or care about. This was once what luxury was truly about, before every luxosedan below a Lincoln owner's median age had to pretend it was the next great BMW M5.
Is it fun? No way -- I've been pretty nice so far, describing the Sentra as “pleasantly comfortable” instead of lambasting it for being a dullard. But if you drive enough compact cars, it's easy to see how each can manifest a personality -- and the Sentra definitely has its leisure suit on.
The 2014 Nissan Sentra SL has a economical interior with soft-touch feature throughout.
2014 Nissan Sentra SL
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: After driving the Nissan Versa Note for a few days, this Sentra SL seems far more livable as a daily driver. It's a little bit more powerful, a little bit quieter and has a little better interior equipment. I suppose that accounts for a price that's just a little bit higher.
This SL trim is seriously well equipped for a sub-$25K car. Rearview cameras, which will be required soon, navigation, leather and Bluetooth are all things usually found on more upgraded cars. I noticed them as soon as I sat down.
Speaking of sitting, the seats are soft and semi-supportive, and heat up nicely, but they don't sink low enough to make me feel comfortable. I know I complain about it often, but if feels like you're sitting on top the car, and not in it. The dash looks plasticky, but the doors and central armrests are soft. It looks like there's a decent amount of knee room in back.
The 130-hp, 1.8-liter probably wouldn't be bad if it was connected to a torque converted automatic or manual transmission. But since this is a CVT, it continually revs up and down, making weird noises in the cabin, never giving you exactly what you want. In sport mode, it revs all over the place, but does make the car feel at least a little bit quicker. The driver just never knows when the power is going to come on or off.
It's a little, lightweight sucker, meaning it crashes over potholes, especially when on the brakes. I hit a big one as I was slowing for a stoplight. I thought the mirror was going to fall off.
Steering is fine, not exciting or particularly bad. But there are plenty of small cars out there that are actually fun to drive. The Mazda 3 is one of them, heck, the Mazda 2 or Ford Fiesta if you want something smaller. But this is well-equipped, has a decent amount of room, and dare I say it, is kind of cute, in a dumb puppy sort of way. Choose the manual, have a little fun.
Base Price: $20,400
As-Tested Price: $22,250
Drivetrain: 1.8-liter I4; FWD, continuously variable transmission
Output: 130 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 128 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm
Curb Weight: 2,862 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 30/39/34 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 32.8 mpg
Options: Leather package including leather seats, heated front seats, rear disk brakes ($1,030); navigation package including NissanConnect with navigation, 5.8-inch color touchscreen, NissanConnect apps, voice recognition for audio and navigation, SiriusXM traffic, SiriusXM travel link, streaming audio Bluetooth, hands-free text messaging assistant, rearview monitor ($650); carpeted floor mats and trunk mat ($170)
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