2014 Nissan Sentra SL: Comfortable and composed ride

The 2014 Nissan Sentra is priced like an entry-level sedan, but it has qualities that should appeal strongly to older folks: a smooth, quiet ride; great fuel economy; a very large trunk; roomy cabin; and simple, straightforward controls. What it lacks is the pizzazz that lures younger folks to the Mazda3 and other sporty compacts.

Reviewers who have tested Sentras regularly over the years say the 2014 is noticeably more nimble than past versions. We didn’t notice much difference between the 2013 and ‘14 models. With a 4-cylinder engine that turns out just 130 horsepower and a steering feel ranging from vague to downright murky, the Sentra handled well enough to be judged safe and competent.

On the plus side, it rides like many midsize sedans we’ve driven. The engine makes itself heard when accelerated firmly, but otherwise, noise is negligible. The suspension does a terrific job of isolating drivers and passengers from variations in the road.

The 2014 Sentra is the latest in a long line of Nissan compacts, dating to the early 1980s. It has lots of competition nowadays from American, Japanese and Korean automakers, but it started out life as Nissan’s rebuttal to Toyota’s ubiquitous Corolla – and continues in that role to this day.

The base Sentra S starts at just under $16,000 and comes with a 6-speed stick shift – making it desirable among drivers who don’t care for the continuously variable transmission that’s standard in higher-level models. Our loaded SL had a base price of $19,640; standard equipment included dual-zone automatic climate control, push-button ignition, satellite radio, and lighted cruise and audio controls on the steering hub. Options such as the moonroof, premium audio system, navigation system with 5.8-inch touch-screen monitor, leather upholstery and heated front seats added up to a $23,660 sticker price.

The CVT’s contribution is evident in the fuel-economy projections. A base Sentra is rated at 27 mpg city, 36 highway; our SL was projected at 30-39. A conventional automatic transmission is not available.

Our test car had several highly attractive qualities, beginning with its composed ride and low noise level. Front leg room is ample, and knee room is ample in the rear seat as well. Tall back-seat passengers also have plenty of head room. What’s more, the trunk is huge for this class – 15.1 cubic feet – and the split back seat folds forward to provide space for longer items. In each of these respects, the Sentra is competitive with midsize models such as the Toyota Camry and Nissan’s own Altima.

The Sentra has a reputation for reliability, but its crash-test record is spotty. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Sentra its top rating of “Good” in every category except for a “Poor” in the small-overlap frontal crash. And while the Sentra won five-star ratings in side-impact crash tests, it earned just four stars for the driver and three for the passenger in frontal crash tests conducted by the federal government.

 

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

 

Price: $23,660

Engine: 1.8-liter inline Four, 130 horsepower, 128 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: continuously variable

Drive: Front-wheel

Weight: 2,862 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear

Wheels: 17×6.5-in. alloy

Tires: P205/50R V all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 15.1 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons

Fuel economy: 30 mpg city, 39 mpg highway

Fuel type: Regular unleaded gasoline