PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA

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2010 Nissan Sentra: Big car feel in a small package

By September 10, 2010

Now in its fourth year of its sixth generation, the Nissan Sentra still offers mid-size room in a compact car, according to the EPA, who classifies cars not only by fuel economy but by size. A mid-size vehicle has 110 cubic feet of passenger and cargo volume and the Sentra meets that goal with 110.8 cubic feet. But it is still only 180 inches long on a 105.7-inch wheelbase.

Cutting edge when introduced, the SentraÕs edgy look is getting a bit tired. Because it isnÕt as long, it doesnÕt seem to have the staying power of, say, the Altima look. It now looks more functional than emotional, but in some ways that is good. It still has all the abilities that were designed into the Sentra, such as carrying your mountain bike or moving some rather large pieces of furniture. It wasnÕt just a car you could live with, but live in. The Sentra is versatile.

Under the hood is NissanÕs 2-liter dual overhead cam 16-valve inline-four. which makes 140 hp at a low 5,100 rpm and 147 pounds of twist at 4,800 rpm. It drives the front wheels via a CVT (or six-speed manual) transmission. Performance is excellent, possibly the best in its class, save the VW with a 0-60 mph time of just 8.66 seconds. Passing times are also good with a 50-70 mph simulated pass of just 5.23 seconds and an uphill run of 8.56 seconds. If you compare those numbers to the last Sentra test some two years ago, they are almost identical as the previous test posted numbers of 8.63,5.10 and 8.31 seconds, respectively.

Fuel economy remains consistent, with this Sentra recording an overall 27.2 mpg during 600 miles of hard driving. It also recorded 37.1 mpg at a steady 70 mph and 35.5 mpg on a trip to the Bay Area at speeds of 75 mph. CVT transmissions are a bit different than a gear automatic. Step hard on the throttle and the engine quickly races to about 5,000 rpm or peak hp and stays there as the gearing accelerates the car and allows the engine to climb to about 6,000 rpm. It is responsive. As before the engine spins 2,050 rpm at 70 mph.

Partial throttle is like a geared tranny downshift, bringing the engine from say 2,000 rpm to about 3,500, which it holds as the car accelerates smartly. It is zippy and after a few days you become use to no shifting of gears and its smoothness, sort of like a Buick Dynaflow from the 1950s, which did not shift and always was in one gear and used a torque converter like a CVT uses two variable sized pulleys and a chain.

Handling continues to be small car nimble. Its quick power rack and pinion steering is only 2.9 turns lock to lock and it runs on lower profile 205/55 tires, which also offer decent grip. Track is also wide at 60 inches. This adds up to a nice handling compact car that, while there is some body roll, handles the twisties in a manner I call small car smart. The terms nimble and agile come to mind even though there is just a hint of torque steer, which is a non-issue.

Ride quality is surprisingly good, very smooth and quiet on the superslab and good at gobbling up bumps in a big way. There is no kickback in the steering wheel from sharp bumps. The suspension is well tuned and wind and road noise is kept to a minimum to such a degree, this Sentra would be fine on a long trip, especially considering it gets 35 plus mpg on the highway.

Braking is good from front discs and drum rears. ABS is also standard stopping the Sentra from 40 mph in 42-43 feet, about the same as in the last test. There seemed to be no initial bite in the pedal, but the stop was still good and well controlled. Headlights remain good in low and high beams. Of course, there are at least six airbags.

Inside you will find a huge cabin and a cloth interior that has surprisingly comfortable seats. This is a no-frills type of car in its layout, but it has everything you need and nothing you donÕt. The instrument binnacle has a large tach and speedo plus a trip computer. The vertical stack is easy to use, except there is no tuning knob for the radio. But there is a change in the radio presets. There are no more A-B-C bands that you can intermix am with FM. The new separation of radios bands is an improvement. Otherwise it is a model of simplicity. One nice feature not found in other small cars is the softer door paneling.

Rear seating can hold three adults with reasonable room. The trunk is over 13 cubic feet or almost mid-sized.

Pricing for this Sentra model ÒSÓ starts at $17,180 plus $720 for the truck from its Aguas, Mexico, assembly plant. My tester only had a few options, such as splash guards ($140), a Convenience package which includes keyless ignition and Bluetooth opts for $850, the VDC, vehicle dynamics control and traction control adds $370 (it should be standard) and floor mats will cost you $110 bringing the total to $19,350.

Specifications

Price $16,040 to about $21,000 (for a Spec V)

Engine

2.0L DOHC 16-valve inline four 140 hp @ 5,100 rpm

147 lbs.-ft. of torque @ 4,800 rpm

Transmission

Six-speed manual

CVT automatic

Configuration

Transverse mounted front engine/front-wheel drive

Dimensions

Wheelbase 105.7 inches

Length 179.8 inches

Width 70.5 inches

Height 59.5 inches

Track (f/r) 59.8/60.8 inches

Ground clearance 5.7 inches

Cabin volume 97.7 cubic feet

Trunk capacity 13.1 cubic feet

Fuel capacity 14.5 cubic feet

Wheels (std/opt) steel 6.5X16 inches/Alloy 6.5X16 inches

Tires 205/55X16

Weight (2.0S CVT) 2,954 pounds

Weight distribution (f/r) 62/38 percent

Co-efficient of drag 0.35

Performance

0-60 mph 8.66 seconds

50-70 mph 5.23 seconds

50-70 mph uphill 8.56 seconds

Top speed

Well into triple digits.

Fuel economy

EPA rated at 26/34 mpg city/highway. Expect 27-28 mpg in rural country driving and 37 mpg on the highway at legal speeds.

Mountain Democrat

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