I find it a bit disconcerting that Nissan, a brand that staked its revival on building powerful, passionate vehicles, offers a sport compact so far behind the rest of the pack. As Eric notes, the 177-hp SE-R more closely matches the output of the non-Speed Mazda 3 and Kia Forte. This would be OK if the SE-R traded on refinement and value. It doesn't. True, there's a high level of feature content, but I don't see anything here that I couldn't get on a similarly priced 3, Forte, or Corolla, all of which leave the aging Sentra behind in terms of refinement. The CVT doesn't help here, as it highlights the big four-cylinder's buzziness at high RPM.
At least the SE-R drives pretty well. Steering is suitably quick and responsive, and the suspension maintains its composure under hard cornering. But once again, this is nothing that similarly priced, more recently updated competitors don't offer. I'm aware that Nissan now has a relatively fresh stable of small cars with the Cube and Versa, but the C-segment remains too important to ignore. I hope at some point soon we'll see a class-leading Sentra and along with it, a truly tasty SE-R.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor