By Cars.com EditorsApril 6, 2016
About the video
For 2016, Nissan redesigned its compact car with a new face that brings it in line with the styling of Nissan's other sedans. The 2016 Nissan Sentra has lots of formidable competition in the compact sedan class. How does it measure up?
(car engine starting) Since the 2013 model year, the Nissan Sentra compact sedan, has distinguished itself with a roomy interior and styling that is present.
For 2016, Nissan has refreshed the car, both inside and outside, with a claim of 20% new parts. We'll take a look at what's changed and how the car stacks up against the formidable competition. The exterior changes are limited to the eight pillars forward, new hood, fenders, headlights, grill. The Sentra looks a lot more like the redesigned Maxima and Ultima now, which is actually a pretty big improvement over the previous generation. Also note that this one is the SR trim level, it's the second from the top. And it comes with the sportiest look, these 17 inch wheels, the rocker panel extensions, a rear spoiler and the chrome exhaust tip. Now I say, sportiest looking, because overall the mechanicals are pretty much the same across the line. The Sentra's suspension has been tweaked a bit for 2016 and it rides reasonably well and handles also reasonably well, but it is not a car that begs you to drive it hard, and it's certainly not to the level of the class leaders like the Honda Civic, which was redesigned for 2016, and is actually much closer to its past, its history of having exceptional handling. Now, beyond that not much has changed. It's still 130 horsepower, 1.8 liter, four cylinder. In the base trim level, you can get a six speed manual, but the option is a continuously variable automatic transmission that's also standard in all of the higher trim levels. Now that CVT means that, occasionally, you hit the pedal and there's some delay, and that's pretty common among CVTs. Though, some in this class have gotten a little bit better. Again, I'm going to mention the Honda Civic. Now beyond that, Nissan has changed the programming of the CVT, not in a way that makes it more responsive, but a way that adds artificial shift points. Now Nissan says it's not because of the change in the CVT, but the 2016 has actually lost a little bit of gas mileage. It's down to 32 miles per gallon combined versus 33 in the 2015 model. The update for 2016 comes with a number of interior improvements. Perhaps, chief among them is the addition of the steering wheel from the 370Z sports car. Nice, classes up a car of this level pretty well. The materials have improved overall, note that this SR has optional leather seats. I find them a little bit more comfortable than they used to be, and the leather quality is pretty good. You'll also note, they happen to have this interesting storage pouch in the front. These seats are almost like marsupials, like a kangaroo or a wallaby. Now the layout is pretty simple and easy to use. My one objection is to the positioning of the eco and power buttons that control the response of the drive train. 'Cause they're down by the driver's left knee and kind of out of sight. Now because it's such a simple car, most of what you're going to control is controllable with the steering wheel and the buttons, in the base version of you don't even get a touch screen. As you move up the trim levels, you add a five inch touchscreen that adds something called NissanConnect Mobile Apps, which supports things like Pandora and iHeartRadio, internet radio, which works with your cell phone. Now, if you go up to the higher trims, you're eligible for this 5.8 inch touchscreen, which adds even more. It includes navigation and additional features like SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, and My Apps that extend to things like Facebook and Twitter. I think consumers would rather have things like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which is not yet available in any Nissan. They now have something called NissanConnect Services, which is a subscription-based service that has things like the SOS button, collision notification, it uses its own cellular built-in to talk to the outside world. Among the most important additions to the 2016 Sentra are active safety features available as options, including forward collision alert with autonomous emergency braking, blind spot warning with rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control, which maintains a preset interval from the car in front of you. And actually, it works quite well, brings you all the way down to a stop, which is nice. Unfortunately, it doesn't then pick up again when the car in front of you moves, like some more advanced systems do. You have to go above about 20 miles per hour and then re-trigger it. Backseat roominess has been one of the advantages of the Sentra since its previous redesign, especially the 34.7 inches of leg room. I'm six feet tall and I have the driver's seat all the way back, but things change quickly in this class. Already, the 2016 Civic has the same leg room dimensions and the current Toyota Corolla has four inches more. Nissan uses its opportunity to refresh the Sentra, to make it incrementally better in some ways. But there's no question it's still middle of the pack in drivability and fuel efficiency, but it does offer some value. The SV trim level is probably the best example. We were able to configure one, with all of the active safety features and a lot of convenience features, including the built-in navigation, for under 20,500. The closest we're able to come to that was a Honda Civic EX sedan for more than $3,000 more. And that was relying on Apple CarPlay or Android Auto for the navigation. In a class, as competitive as this one, sometimes you have to dig a little bit to see what the advantages are, and you might have to do a lot of test driving. (car boot closing)