Nissan Sentra NISMO — Adding 64 horses

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Last year we reported that Nissan's compact Sentra had suddenly become competitive in an extremely competitive segment. Nissan claimed the refreshed 2016 Sentra had an improved ride, a quieter interior, numerous upgrades including an advanced safety package and even a new steering wheel inspired by the 370Z sports car. And the Sentra has incredibly ample rear-seat legroom for a small sedan.

But we had one caveat — the carryover 130-horsepower 1.8-liter 4-cylinder mated to a continuously variable transmission was adequate, but decidedly unexciting. While most people will feel the standard powertrain is all they need, we are among those that think otherwise. And Nissan has effectively taken care of that complaint for 2017.

They have added SR Turbo and NISMO models with a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder making 188 horsepower — 64 more than the standard engine — and a robust 177 pound-feet of torque. It's mated to either a six-speed manual — for those who like to shift for themselves — or the Xtonic continuously variable transmission.

If you like the spacious practicality of the Sentra, then the SR Turbo is the way to go. But if you crave the NISMO racing treatment, then you will have to fork over a few more bucks for the NISMO look as well as some special tuning.

"Sentra is Nissan's third most popular vehicle behind Rogue and Altima. For the 2017 model year, a new Sentra SR Turbo grade was added to the previous lineup of Sentra S, SV, SR and SL trim levels," said Michael Bunce, vice president, Product Planning, Nissan North America. "But it is the new Sentra NISMO that will undoubtedly set the nameplate's image on fire.”

The NISMO version differs from the SR Turbo and other Sentra models with a redesigned front fascia, LED daytime running lights, a dark chrome grille, dark chrome door handles, black mirror caps, red accents along the body kit and NISMO badges front and rear. Inside, the NISMO treatment includes red accents to the microsuede-and-leather-wrapped steering wheel, the push-button starter, the instrument cluster, the leather shift knob, and the carpets. NISMO limits you to four exterior colors — Brilliant Silver, Gun Metallic, Super Black and Aspen White.

Nissan says there are aerodynamic enhancements to the NISMO edition as well including a "layered double wing" body kit that adds lower body bits to the front, rear and side; a rear spoiler, and a redesigned bumper. The car's ride height has been lowered 0.4-inch and the suspension has undergone some sport tuning.

Inside, the Sentra NISMO interior is designed to support exciting driving — starting with unique NISMO front seats with logo and additional side bolstering that some would consider a bit uncomfortable. The rear seats feature unique cloth material with red stitching.

Helping give Sentra NISMO its aggressive stance, while also helping enhance handling performance, are 18-inch NISMO 10-spoke aluminum-alloy wheels mounted with 215/45R18 Michelin Pilot Sport all-season tires.

The biggest advantage to the SR Turbo and the NISMO models is performance. We estimate 0-to-60 time of around 7 seconds with the 1.6-liter engine, considerably better than the standard engine that has a hard time breaking the 10-second mark. We think the new engine, which has been derived from the Nissan Juke, transforms the Sentra into an enjoyable driving machine.

While gas mileage suffers somewhat compared to the 1.8-liter engine, the trade-off is worth it. The 1.8 with CVT is rated at 29 mpg city, 37 highway and 32 combined. The 1.6-turbo with CVT comes in at 25-city, 30-highway, and 27-overall.

Perhaps the most impressive features of the Sentra are its unusual solitude — we rate it as quiet as any mainstream compact car on the market — and its remarkable interior
space both front and rear. Legroom is generous. And inexplicably, no space has been taken from the trunk, which also ranks as large as many mid-sized sedans with 15.1 cubic feet of useable space and rear seatbacks that fold down to increase cargo space.

The gauges are easy to read and the switchgear is intuitive. A standout feature on the Sentra includes NissanConnect, which allows you to do Google searches via the car's 5.8-inch touchscreen interface in navigation-equipped models.

The NISMO carries a base price of $25,855 including destination charge. Our test car with the $1,220 Premium Package — including an upgraded eight-speaker Bose sound system, navigation, and power driver's seat, — raised the price to $27,075. The SR Turbo goes out the door for $22,825. Add the Premium Package and the bottom line is $25,415. We would opt to forgo the NISMO treatment and save the $1,660 with the SR Turbo.

Base price: $25,855; as driven, $27,075
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 188 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 177 foot-pounds @ 1,600 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Length: 182.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,105 pounds
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 15.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons: (premium recommended)
EPA rating: 25 city, 30 highway, 27 combined
0-60: 7.0 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Hyundai Elantra Sport, VW Golf GTI, Ford Focus ST

The Good
• Well laid-out interior
• Solid performance
• Spacious backseat and trunk

The Bad
• Premium gas recommended

The Ugly
• Same performance in less expensive SR Turbo