2016 Nissan Sentra SL Review and Road Test

2016 Nissan Sentra SL

After an extensive refresh, can the Sentra rise to the occasion?


Nissan is saying the Sentra has been heavily updated- what does that mean?

If you park our 2016 tester next to last year’s model, you will agree that Nissan didn’t just add a couple of paint choices and different wheels to the Sentra and call it a day. The same basic shape remains, but now the Sentra is sporting duds that recall the best mixture of Altima and Maxima styling cues with the V-Motion front grille acting as the exclamation point on the visual front. They’ve updated some of the oily bits too, and the Sentra now boasts retuned suspension with 10% stiffer springs and dampers, power steering with more feel and a chassis that has been stiffened to chase off the limpness imparted by the outgoing model. The engineers also spent a considerable effort trying to eliminate undue noise, vibration and harshness from the driving experience by adding generous amounts of sound deadening material.

With all these changes, it must be the class of the field.

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the compact car segment, it’s a pretty competitive space. You’ve got the perennial benchmarks in the Mazda 3 and VW Golf, and now Honda has gotten serious with the Civic again- it can now be viewed as one of the best you can buy alongside the Mazda and Vee Dub. Now, Mom always said if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say it at all but this is a review and we have to tactfully sling a little mud now and then. With that being said, the Sentra is woefully outclassed by these competitors. It’s not the Sentra is a bad car- there really isn’t such thing these days- but its shortcomings are in stark contrast when you compare them to most of the cars it has to do battle with for sales.

Wait a minute- didn’t Nissan move 15,000 Sentras last year here in Canada? That’s quite a lot…

It is, and that isn’t entirely surprising. Some car buyers view cars as appliances and are so indifferent to what they drive they’re compelled by Sentra’s low price of admission and the amount of stuff you get for the money. Take our SL-trimmed tester, for example. For $27,729 you get the expected leather seats that are heated, a sunroof and a touchscreen infotainment system with navigation. You also get higher end stuff like rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control. In addition to all that kit, you get tons of space in the back seat area and trunk to put all of your, well, kit. Sentra owners also enjoy good fuel economy, and on one trip we were able to average just under 6L/100km with our observed mileage over the course of our road test was 8.2L/100km; not too shabby.

I’m confused…it sells like hotcakes, and yet you say it’s seriously outgunned. What gives?

Take the Sentra’s drivetrain. It’s got a wheezy 1.8 litre engine lashed to a CVT that exemplifies all the stuff we hate about these gearboxes. Together, the two make for an unflattering couple. The engine never sounds like its happy spinning throughout its operating range, and the CVT mandates that the revs rise and fall in gooey fashion or simply stay pegged at the upper regions of the tach when you ask for full power. Then there’s the suspension, which when you’re straight up commuting never draws attention to itself. But show the Sentra some corners, especially those with uneven pavement throughout, and the picture becomes far less rosy. It feels almost as if the front and rear suspension were calibrated by two different teams of engineers.

Mmm-kay. Is it the same story in the interior?

The interior is a bit of a mixed bag. Going down the highway you’ll notice how hushed the Sentra is, and if you keep your speed constant the engine and tranny fade into silence. There’s also commendably little wind and tire noise, too. The dashboard is extremely legible and sharp, and the steering wheel looks like it was donated by the NISMO folks, a handsome three spoke thing that feels good in the hands. Then you shift your attention to the infotainment system, whose graphics and command executions feel many years behind the current standard. Nissan’s efforts to make the Sentra’s interior a better place are genuine, but ultimately fall short- the plastics on the door cards are unyielding swaths of black plastic and don’t look like they’ll wear very well as the years go by. Those doors open exceptionally wide making ingress and egress easy for even the largest body types but slamming them shut them makes a cheap sounding TWANG instead of a nicely damped THWUMP.

Will Nissan keep the Sentra around?

With the kinds of sales numbers the Sentra generates, you can bet on it. Also, euthanizing the Sentra would leave a gaping hole in Nissan’s lineup below the Altima and above the Versa so it will be here to stay for the foreseeable future. We’re not sure how many more years the Sentra will be around in its current form but since this one’s just been heavily refreshed that won’t happen too soon. There’s an upside here, and that is that Nissan’s engineers have no where to go but up, and they’ll no doubt be spurned along by the strong entries that make up the best of the class. And there’s more- as of this writing, rumblings of a NISMO tuned Sentra are getting louder. Not only would this be a huge boost to the Sentra’s image, Nissan desperately needs to recapture the enthusiast hearts that used to swoon over the brand back in the late 1990s. We look forward to seeing the Sentra making a roaring comeback.

2016 Nissan Sentra SL- Specifications

  • Price as tested: $27,729
  • Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger compact sedan
  • Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive
  • Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission
  • Engine:  1.8-litre inline four, DOHC, 16 valves
  • Horsepower:  130 @ 6,000 rpm
  • Torque (lbs-ft.): 128 @ 3,600 rpm
  • Curb weight: 1,339 kg (2,951 lbs)
  • Observed Fuel Consumption: 8.2L/100km (29 mpg)