1991 Nissan Sentra
Along with the Saturn SL2 Sports Touring Sedan, the Mercury Tracer LTS and the Ford Escort, the new Nissan Sentra GXE is one of the best small sedans on the market. I did not expect much of the Nissan when it was dropped off in the Orlando Sentinel's parking lot. It looked like just another nice, sedate little car. But it's much more than that. The new Sentra has class. I can't think of another small car that has so many nicely styled features. Window switches, door panels and seats are all a cut above what you usually see on small sedans. The Sentra is peppy, stingy on gas and tightly assembled. Slam the doors and you'll hear a solid clunk that rivals almost anything from Detroit. When I evaluate a car I always ask myself this: ''Is this a car I would buy?'' With the Sentra the answer came quickly. I would buy this car - and not mind paying for it month after month. The Sentra is better than most other small cars, and it offers good value for the money. ENGINE, PERFORMANCE Performance is measured in more ways than how fast a car will go from 0 to 60 mph. It also is measured in dependability, fuel economy and smoothness - all areas the Sentra excels in. Under the hood, Nissan's fuel-injected, 16-valve four cylinder displaces 97 cubic inches, but it has the heart of a much bigger powerplant. It can be revved to a maximum speed of 6,900 rpm without fuss or undue noise and vibration. The test car came with a four-speed automatic transmission. Just like more expensive Nissans, there was a button on the shifter that controlled the overdrive. The transmission was excellent. It shifted into overdrive so smoothly I could hardly feel it. But, more importantly, it shifted out of overdrive easily during hard acceleration. A five-speed manual is available. Though other cars, such as the Mercury Tracer LTS, are quicker than the Sentra, I found the car's performance very pleasing and more than adequate for passing slower traffic and for entering freeways. Fuel economy was excellent. City driving with the air conditioner on yielded 31.2 miles per gallon; highway driving with the air conditioner returned 36.5 mpg. HANDLING The test car had a major fault: It had the worst set of brakes I ever have experienced in a new car. Perhaps the test car had a mechanical defect, but the brakes had little bite or grab, and stopping power was minimal unless heavy pressure was applied to the pedal. The GXE's steering is by power-assisted rack and pinion. It had a nice, weighty feel to it and a fairly tight turning radius. The car handles well, but it's not sporty. Competent would be a better description. The suspension system allows for a soft ride and easily dispenses with bumps and rough terrain. FIT, FINISH, CONTROLS The Sentra's strongest point is the way it is designed and assembled. The economy is in a recession and money is tight. Consumers ar e likely to buy a small car out of necessity rather than desire. The Sentra is a small car you can be proud to own. The cloth-covered seats are plush and comfortable and made with quality materials. Rear-seat passengers are apt to find foot-and legroom on the tight side. This is a trait of many Nissan products - even in the most expensive Nissan, the Infiniti Q45, foot-and legroom is lacking. Cruise control is operated by switches mounted in the steering wheel. Buttons and switches for the heater and air conditioner, lights and mirrors are all easy to access and use. The way they are styled - and the way they work - is what separates the Sentra from other cars. They felt as if they could be used in cars costing three times as much. I hope the brake deficiency is a fluke that is confined to the test car. Overall, the Sentra is an enjoyable car.
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