2014 Nissan Sentra: Around the Block

Patrick M Hoey

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.

2014 Nissan Sentra SL Specifications

Base Price $16,800
Price As Tested $22,280
Engine 1.8-liter I-4
Power 130 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque 128 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
Transmission Continuously variable
Drive Front-wheel
Cargo Capacity 15.1 cu ft
Fuel economy 30/39/34 mpg (city/highway/combined)
To understand why, for example. the Civic blows the Sentra off the sales charts, one needs to simply spend some time driving both around.

The Sentra has the roomiest back seat by far, of the three.  Nice.  But the noisy, strained engine coupled with the fairly awful CVT just destroy this car.  Accelerating in the Sentra is like dragging nails across a chalkboard.  No amount of child seat space in the rear seat can compensate for this.  

The Civic has a much more refined powertrain.  Honda's CVT is far less annoying.

Sure, the dashboard of the Honda might not suit everyone from a style perspective.  It's odd. The rear seat is not as generous as the Nissan's.  Fair enough.  But for goodness sake, you drive both cars and you'd have to have been raised by wolves to feel that the Sentra was the better purchase.  The Civic's suspension tuning and powertrain are light years more spot on the money.  Not to mention that the resale on the Civic is probably considerably better than the Sentra, negating any up front price advantage for the Nissan.

The Sentra plain feels built to a price point.  The Honda is no Mercedes Benz, but somehow the guys in Ohio have figured out how to build a econobox that doesn't scream cheap to you every time you drive it like the Sentra does.  Even on the low end, the Honda attention to detail shines through a little bit.

As for the Corolla, well.  Toyota dropped the ball big time on this one.  The dash is a monolith...way too tall like a  rock climbing wall in front of you.  For instance, the driver's sightlines in an Impreza or Civic are far superior to those in a Corolla.  The vague on center feel of the EPS is horrendous on the Toyota.  How they let that steering on the market is beyond me.  Atrocious.  Buicks with bad tie rod ends have more on center feel.

The Mazda3 is the clear leader in this segment for the time being.  Price and relative lack of incentives would be the only fly in the ointment.  But if you can swing it, the best bang for the buck overall, and the most well rounded package.
David Meyer
Thanks for mentioning "the Mazda 3’s handling prowess", though you missed its class-leading "acceleration". Add in the 20 cu. ft. of storage behind the rear seats and it sounds like you are raving for the Mazda. Thing of it is, all these wonders are only truly wonderful when compared exclusively to other compacts that can eke out 37+ MPG highway! Sure, I can chirp my front tires on dry, clean, pavement. Not the point, though, is it? The Mazda lets you feel enough of the driving experience that you can think you are really DRIVING, when what you want is an anti-social gas guzzler! You have to balance your priorities, here. You don't want to buy one of these Sentras if you want to feel the impression of being in charge of a responsive vehicle. Or of following a Subbie through the remains of a downpour. Give up such illusions, though, and this could be the vehicle of your dreams!
And 100x nicer than the outright bizarre and hideous Civic interior.....and arguably nicer than any other compact interior.  A let's face it, with the Corolla and Civic still ruling compact sales, the market does not exactly demand performance.  That said, with a very solid design, Nissan should easily amp up the performance.
Still 100x better than the bland but immensely ugly Corrola.
Sorry, three referring to Civic / Corolla / Sentra triad.

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