2016 Nissan Sentra

DANA POINT, Calif. — Refreshed and raring to go, the 2016 Nissan Sentra isn’t the benchmark in the compact segment, but its impressive fuel economy, roomy cabin and affordable price put it firmly in the hunt. Justifying spending all the extra dough on a hybrid when the Sentra and several others deliver solid mileage numbers with a conventional gasoline engine may not make sense. Why spend an extra three or four grand on a hybrid scheme when you can get 30 mpg to 34 mpg in combined city-highway driving? That’s what Sentra delivers.

Although Sentra’s 130-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine isn’t the peppiest in the compact segment, it is more than adequate for hauling you and yours from place to place. Exciting? No. Competent and economical? Yes. It’s not the more fuel-efficient of Sentra’s trannys, but the six-speed manual that’s standard in the entry-level S grade is the more fun to drive. Enjoy it while you can. Fewer than 2% of Sentras sold are manuals. That doesn’t bode well for the manual’s future. An $850 option on the S and standard on the SV, SR and SL trims, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) ushers power to the front wheels.

With the manual, Sentra delivers a government-estimated 27 mpg city, 36 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined. Opting for the CVT raises those numbers to 29 city/38 highway/32 combined. There is also an uber-mileage FE+S grade with the CVT, low-rolling-resistance tires, underbody aerodynamics and rear spoiler that further ups the mpg count to 30 city/40 highway/34 combined.

In sprucing up Sentra for 2016, Nissan changed out roughly 20% or 550 parts. Most notable among the exterior changes are updating the front end with redesigned hood, fenders, fascia and the familial V-Motion grille. Nissan also tweaked the tail lamps and rear fascia.

Inside, a new 3-spoke steering wheel, shift knob, center stack design, seat fabrics and an available new 6-way power adjustable driver’s seat are all 2016 changes.

Available for the first time this year are a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and automatic emergency braking.

Nissan expects the big seller in Sentra’s lineup to be the $18,550 SV grade. When combined with the Driver’s Assistance Package including NissanConnect interface, navigation system, blind-spot warning and cross-traffic alert, the bottom line is still less than $20,000.

Passenger space isn’t an issue. Its backseat can accommodate three in a pinch and offers more legroom — more than an extra two inches — than the Mercedes-Benz C Class Sedan. It also bests the C Class in cargo space 15.1 cu-ft to 12.6 cu-ft.

Other than the relatively smallish touchscreen on models with NissanConnect, there are few nits to pick with Sentra’s interior. Soft-touch surfaces are everywhere. Nicely styled, the dashboard and instrument panel are tidy and uncluttered. Surrounding a 5-inch Drive-Assist display, the gauges are bright and easy to read. There’s is nothing overwhelming about operating any of the systems.

Standard on every Sentra are full power accessories, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a four-speaker audio system with USB port and 5-inch color display.

Reaching the SL trim adds all manner of goodies like NissanConnect, Siri Eyes Free, Bluetooth connectivity, heated seats and outboard mirrors with integrated turn signals, du
al-zone automatic climate control, leather seating, 6-way power driver’s seat, navigation, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic alert.

Responsive steering and determined braking highlight the Sentra driving experience. Acceleration won’t plant a grin on your face, but is good enough to merge into highway traffic without undue drama.

Sentra does everything reasonably well for a small sedan. It’s reasonably quiet, reasonably nimble, reasonably safe and reasonably comfortable. It’s also a reasonable value. Really, it’s all the things you should expect in a small entry-level sedan.

— Russ Heaps