I hesitated a bit before hopping into the 2008 Nissan Sentra. In all honesty, I was afraid the Saddle-colored leather seats, which were the color of mashed carrots, would rub off on my clothes. If I were younger and hipper, maybe I'd have found the odd color to be refreshing or cool. In fact, the Sentra's entire interior had an edgy, young design, but I might be too old to appreciate it. How did I get so boring so fast?
The Sentra is a small sedan, and most trims fit into the under-$20,000 category. It's a starter car, and it would be perfect for young adults who are just beginning their post-college lives. Even though it's an economy car, it's obvious that Nissan put real effort into making the Sentra look more mature. In addition to the cool design, the Sentra includes steering-wheel-mounted buttons for the radio and cruise control, as well as speed-sensitive volume for the stereo system, which has a CD player and XM Satellite Radio.
The only real bummer I experienced while driving the Sentra was its lack of power. With a wimpy 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, I was faced with the embarrassing situation of trying to pass another car and not being able to pull off the maneuver. Scary.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT Storage compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
SENSE AND STYLE Family friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair Fun factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove on): Some
There's nothing flashy or gaudy about the Sentra's exterior; it has very clean, simple lines. However, its tendency toward practicality doesn't push it into boring-sedan category. The Sentra's exterior doesn't scream, "Look at me!" But if it does happen to catch a passer-by's eye, they would be likely to find it attractive. The Sentra is the sensible shoes of the Nissan lineup; it's everything you need, plus a little style at an affordable price.
Considering all that you get for the price, I'd say that a Sentra is the perfect accessory for a young, aspiring executive-type. It has a business-casual look, but it could keep pace with those suit-and-briefcase days or nights out on the town as well. The exterior is practical and keeps all of its bold interior details under wraps.
Because of its small size, the Sentra was easy for my boys to navigate. They were able to get in and out without any problems, and they never had any problems with the doors being too heavy.
Despite my lack of love for the funky interior color, I did like that Nissan put leather seats into an affordable car. The seats were comfortable, even though they weren't easy to adjust. I also really loved that the Sentra had places for me to put all of the things I use every day. There was a "counter space," which sat in front of the cupholders, and it kept my BlackBerry and the car's keyfob close at hand on a practically skid-free surface (yay, they weren't slipping and sliding all over the place!). These added touches got me to pay closer attention to the car; I didn't want to miss anything. I also noticed the seat belt buckles were hefty and easy to grab, a plus when little hands are trying to buckle themselves in. But the steering wheel, while leather-wrapped, seemed slight; I couldn't find a comfortable grip.
The ride was quiet, with the exception of the sunroof. Although it was closed, the sunroof made a lot of noise; it was so noisy while driving that I often thought the sunroof was open when it was actually closed tight. There was also a noticeable draft from the closed sunroof if its shade was left open.
The trunk space is not huge in the Sentra, but it was easy (honest!) to fold the 60/40-split backseats for added cargo space. It's a three-step process, but it's not hard to figure out.
For the most part, I felt safe and secure in the Sentra. Despite its bargain price, I didn't notice a tin-can feeling that can be found in some lower-end cars. The Sentra offers frontal and side-impact airbags for the driver, plus front passenger and side curtain airbags for both rows. The Sentra also has antilock brakes and electronic brake-force distribution.
While Nissan doesn't go above and beyond with its safety offerings in the Sentra, they have created a website detailing which child-safety seats fit best into their cars, including the Sentra. The site also provides a few tips on achieving a good, snug fit, like leveling the base of an infant seat by using a piece of a swimming noodle to lift up the rear portion, or reducing seat slippage by placing kitchen drawer liners beneath the seats. For a peek at Nissan's child-safety seat recommendations, click here.