Vehicle Overview
It’s a surprise that performance is the main attraction for Nissan’s smallest U.S. model in 2002. Namely, the Sentra SE-R — absent since 1994 — is coming back, fitted with a 165-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. A Spec V edition gets 10 extra horses and a six-speed-manual gearbox. The SE-R features a sport-tuned suspension with increased spring rates and 17-inch tires for the Spec V sedan. Nissan positions the SE-R against the Dodge Neon R/T, the new Honda Civic Si and the Volkswagen GTI.

Except for new option packages, little has changed for other Sentras in 2002. Option groups include the GXE Road Trip and Road Hugging packages, as well as a GXE Synergy Package. Classified as a compact by the Environmental Protection Agency, the front-drive Sentra sedan was redesigned as a late 2000 model. Two basic four-cylinder engines remain available: a 1.8-liter for the XE and GXE, and a 2.0-liter installed in the sportier SE edition. The Sentra CA (clean air) model, offered in California with a special engine, was the first gasoline-powered car to meet California’s stringent standards for zero evaporative emissions.

The Sentra illustrates the increasingly global nature of the auto industry. Its styling took place in California; the interior was designed in Germany; the engineering was done in Japan and the United States; and the car is built in Aguascalientes, Mexico. French automaker Renault owns a controlling interest in Japan-based Nissan.

Styling features that are adapted from the larger Maxima, including a low hood and high rear deck, help give the Sentra a more upscale image. Chiseled character lines run front to rear, 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 mesh grille and fog lamps, plus body-colored side sill extensions and a rear spoiler.

Front occupants get two bucket seats, and a rear bench offers nominal space for three more people, though adults might feel cramped back there. Split rear seatbacks fold for additional cargo space, and the releases are in the trunk. Features include a storage box on top of the instrument panel and cupholders large enough to hold 20-ounce beverage bottles in the front-door map pockets. Options for the new 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, while the more potent 2.0-liter four-cylinder for the SE edition develops 145 hp. Both engines team with a five-speed-manual or four-speed-automatic transmission. The Sentra CA model is available in California, with a low-emissions version of the smaller engine. The new Sentra SE-R gets a 165-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder that mates to a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission. The Spec V edition comes with 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.

Driving Impressions
The regular Sentra serves as capable and comfortable transportation, blending a pleasant ride with easy maneuverability — all for a moderate price. The extra 19 hp in the SE sedan makes a noticeable difference in performance, especially with the automatic transmission.

Aside from its energetic 170 horses, the new Sentra SE-R also is 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.

Reported by Jim Flammang  for
From the 2002 Buying Guide