Performance was the big news in 2002 for Nissans smallest U.S. model. The Sentra SE-R had been absent since 1994 but returned to the Nissan lineup; it was 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.
A reworked hood, restyled front and rear fascias, and revised headlights highlight the 2004 Sentras. In addition to the SE-R, the front-wheel-drive Sentra comes in three tamer trim levels that have new names for 2004. The former XE is now called the Sentra 1.8; the GXE has been renamed the Sentra 1.8 S; and the 2.5 Limited Edition becomes the Sentra 2.5 S. A trip computer is standard in the 2.5 S, SE-R and SE-R Spec V models. A Brembo brake package is optional for the SE-R Spec V.
Ranking as Nissans second-best seller, the Sentra illustrates the increasingly global nature of the auto industry: Its original 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 Mexico. French automaker Renault owns a controlling interest in Nissan.
The Sentras styling features were adapted from the automakers larger Maxima. A low hood and high rear deck help give the Sentra a more upscale image. The Sentra has a body-colored grille, side moldings and bumpers. Chiseled character lines run from the front to the rear and are complemented by an arching line for the trunk. Flush-mounted, one-piece multi-parabola headlights are installed.
Sentras ride a 99.8-inch wheelbase, measure 177.5 inches long overall and 67.3 inches wide, and stand 55.5 inches tall. The tires are 15 inches in diameter, and the 2.5 S version gets alloy wheels. A sunroof is available for all models except the Sentra 1.8 sedan.
The front occupants get two bucket seats. The drivers seat features four- or eight-way adjustment. A rear bench is supposed to offer room for three more people, but adults may feel cramped. The split rear seatbacks fold by pulling releases located in the trunk; this increases total cargo space. All models except the 1.8 have a 60/40-split backseat. The interior includes a storage box on top of the instrument panel and large cupholders in the front-door map pockets. The trunks in all models hold 11.6 cubic feet of cargo. A 180-watt seven-speaker CD stereo goes into the 2.5 S.
Under the Hood
A 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine in the 1.8 and 1.8 S sedans develops 126 hp and teams with either a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission. The Sentra 2.5 S gets a 165-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder that also comes with either the automatic or manual gearbox.
Side-impact airbags and antilock brakes are standard in the 2.5 S sedan and optional in all other models.
Sentra SE-R/SE-R Spec V
Nissan continues to position the Sentra SE-R against the Dodge Neon R/T, Honda Civic Si and Volkswagen GTI. 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 16-inch tires, while the SE-R Spec V sedan gets 17-inch tires.
Like the Sentra 2.5 S, the SE-R also gets the 165-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder; it teams with either the automatic or manual gearbox. The SE-R Spec V holds a 175-hp version of that engine and teams with a close-ratio six-speed-manual gearbox. Options for the SE-R include a 300-watt nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate stereo.
The regular Sentra serves as capable and comfortable transportation. It blends a pleasant ride with easy maneuverability 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.