Performance was the big news in 2002 for Nissans smallest U.S. model. The Sentra SE-R, which had been absent since 1994, returned to the Nissan lineup. It is fitted with a 165-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. An SE-R Spec V edition received an additional 10 hp and a six-speed-manual gearbox. Nissan positions the SE-R against the Dodge Neon R/T, the Honda Civic Si and the Volkswagen GTI.
Classified as a compact car by the Environmental Protection Agency, the front-wheel-drive Sentra sedan was redesigned as a late 2000 model. In addition to the SE-R, the Sentra comes in XE and GXE trim levels.
A Sentra CA (clean air) model that is offered in California with a special engine was the first gasoline-powered car to meet Californias stringent standards for zero evaporative emissions. The Sentra CA has been dropped for the 2003 model year, but all XE and GXE models sold in California with the 1.8-liter engine now meet Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) standards.
A new 2.5 Limited Edition Package includes GXE front fascia styling, the 165-hp engine, an automatic transmission, antilock brakes and side-impact airbags. A new close-ratio six-speed-manual transmission goes into the SE-R Spec V model. Now fitted with standard 15-inch tires rather than 14-inchers, the XE and GXE models get a new power-steering ratio.
Ranking as Nissans second-best seller, the Sentra illustrates the increasingly global nature of the auto industry: the styling took place in California, the interior was designed in Germany, the engineering was completed in Japan and the United States, and the car is built in Aguascalientes, Mexico. French automaker Renault owns a controlling interest in Nissan.
The Sentras styling features are adapted from the larger. The cars low hood and high rear deck help give the Sentra a more upscale image. Chiseled character lines run front to rear and are complemented by an arching line for the trunk. The Sentra rides a 99.8-inch wheelbase, measures 177.5 inches long overall and stands 55.5 inches tall.
Design modifications for the SE-R include a Skyline-style front fascia with a mesh grille, fog lamps, body-colored side sill extensions and a rear spoiler. The SE-R features a sport-tuned suspension with increased spring rates, and the SE-R Spec V sedan gets 17-inch tires.
The Sentras front occupants get two bucket seats. A rear bench is supposed to offer enough room for three more people, but adults may feel cramped back there. Split rear seatbacks fold for additional cargo space, and the releases are in the trunk. Interior features include a storage box on top of the instrument panel and cupholders that are large enough to hold 20-ounce beverage bottles in the front-door map pockets. Options for the SE-R include a 300-watt, nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate stereo.
Under the Hood
A 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine in the XE and GXE sedans makes 126 hp and teams with either a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission. The Sentra SE-R gets a 165-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder that also comes with either the automatic or manual gearbox. The Spec V edition of the SE-R holds a 175-hp version of that engine and teams with a six-speed-manual gearbox.
Side-impact airbags and antilock brakes are grouped together in an option package for the GXE. Both items are standard in the new 2.5 Limited Edition Package.
The regular Sentra serves as capable and comfortable transportation. It blends a pleasant ride with easy maneuverability and all for a moderate price. Aside from its energetic engine, the Sentra SE-R is also appealing for its handling talents. Whipping an SE-R through tight turns is sheer joy, as the tautly suspended sedan clings tenaciously to the pavement.