Model: 2013 Nissan Sentra SR.
Exterior color: Red Brick.
Interior color: Charcoal.
Engine: 1.8 liter, 4-cylinder.
Transmission: Continuously variable.
Fuel economy: 39 mph highway, 30 mph city.
Dealer: Hunt Nissan.
Price (as tested): $21,795.
It's amazing how much refinement automakers are building into today's compact cars; especially when you consider they are direct descendants of the prosaic little econoboxes of the last third of the 20th century.
Exhibit A is Nissan's redesigned 2013 Sentra, a smart new entry in the crowed field of commuter compacts.
I owned one of the first Sentras off the assembly line in 1982, and while it was a competent car for the era, by comparison, today's car is a spaceship.
Last week, we took a Sentra SR from Hunt Nissan out for a spin and came away thoroughly impressed with the content and build-quality of Nissan's new small car, which will compete with the snazzy redesigned Ford Focus, among others.
STYLING AND FEATURES
The all-new Sentra, assembled in Mexico, has many of the styling cues already popularized by modern Nissan sedans. The elevated roof-line outlines a spacious cabin with great, inside-out visibility. The nose and grille are simple, but contoured in a way to subtly exaggerate the car's mass.
"It looks like a smaller version of the Altima," observed Danny McVay, sales manager at Hunt Nissan. "It has a more upscale look."
A character line undulates over the front wheel-wells and flows horizontally down the length of the car. Our test car came in SR-trim, a sporty trim package that includes lower body ground-effects, a chrome-tipped exhaust and fun, 17-inch alloys. Importantly, it also includes four-wheel disc brakes, a real safety and performance upgrade from the standard rear-drums setup.
Inside, the cabin is simple but tasteful. The Sentra SR includes a leather-covered steering wheel and shifter knob. Quality dash materials look something out of an Infiniti, Nissan's luxury brand. Textured metal-look inlays are nice interior accents.
The new Sentra is built on a platform that's 3 inches longer than before, a dimensional change that shows up in rear-seat leg room and trunk space. With over 15 cubic feet of storage space, the trunk is immense for a compact car.
The 2013 Sentra is powered by a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 130 horsepower. Those specs are down a little from the 2012 model, which boasted a 2.0-liter engine and 140 horsepower.
The payoff comes at the pump. While most drivers won't notice the slight horsepower reduction, which is masked by a new continuously variable transmission, the Sentra has stellar fuel economy. The government estimates the Sentra will get 39 miles per gallon highway, 30 mpg city. If most of your driving is a blend of city and highway routes, expect about 34 mpg.
During a short test drive on Highway 153, the Sentra had adequate power for merging and passing in freeway traffic. There's a little engine noise under hard acceleration, but that's typical in this class. The Nissan continuously variable transmissions are the best in the business.
Most compact car buyers are looking for reliable, safe, fuel-efficient transportation with just enough styling to make purchase day a happy occasion. The new Sentra gets upgrades in all these areas, especially fuel economy.
Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...