A lot of people complain that the players in the compact car segment are all the same, but that’s kind of a cop-out. In fact, certain compacts excel at one particular attribute, such as the Mazda 3’s handling prowess, or the Subaru Impreza’s all-weather capability. Then there’s the 2014 Nissan Sentra, which abandons all pretensions and embraces its identity as a boring, garden-variety compact. Is going full-on vanilla enough to sway buyers from other options?
Give the People What They Want
Today, car buyers are being swayed toward taller crossovers because they prefer the feeling of an elevated seating position. The 2014 Nissan Sentra gives a similar sense of height from behind the wheel, but it wasn’t until I pulled up next to a late-90s Honda Civic that I realized just how much the Sentra towers over older compact cars. It’s also far more spacious inside than compacts of the past. In fact, the Sentra’s headroom, passenger legroom, and positively huge cargo space all rival the larger, midsize Altima. The 2014 Nissan Sentra doesn’t suffer from anonymous styling either—it’s as sleek and polished-looking as the big-brother Altima.
Class the Place Up
What else do car shoppers crave? Nice stuff. The 2014 Nissan Sentra looks premium and feels solid enough inside to hold up to the daily wear-and-tear of commuting. “Nissan makes effective use of plastic and vinyl to convey a premium feel, which isn’t always easy to do,” said staff photographer Patrick Hoey. Nobody is expecting fine-grain wood and mood-sensitive ionized perfumes, but the Sentra’s attractive, well-designed dashboard and tech features (like Bluetooth, navigation, push-button start) go far beyond the bare-bones days of previous economy cars.
It’s Slow, But So What?
Where the Sentra falls short is its weakling 130-hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder. It’s straight-up geriatric merging from an on-ramp, but the Sentra’s powertrain is really tuned more for low-speed maneuvering in city traffic. It won’t kick-start your heart, but that’s not the Sentra’s purpose, as much as it is easy driving and 39 mpg on the highway. Case in point, Nissan focused on revising ride and handling for 2014. “Compared to last year, the new car feels a lot less floaty and vague thanks to tighter steering and slightly firmer suspension tuning,” said associate web editor Joey Capparella.
It might not be the enthusiast’s choice, but the 2014 Nissan Sentra is a car that succeeds at exceeding the wants and needs of most consumers. It’s proof that a good vanilla will always have a place on a car shopper’s palate.