For our five-day vacation this week, we rented a 2007 Nissan Sentra. Base price on the 2.0 liter, 4 cylinder, manual transmission model is $15,365 after destination & handling. Our model had an automatic transmission and was a nice “Sonoma Sunset” red color. The automatic tranny added another $800 to the price, which happens to be a much lower add-on cost compared to what other car manufacturers charge for their upgrade.
I won’t comment much on styling, since everyone has their own opinion on what looks nice, but I personally don’t like Nissan’s trend towards sharp angles and blunt noses and rears.However, Mike from Caroline’s Diner in Greensboro, NC LOVED the car’s design.
Over the course of about 1200 miles of driving, I got a chance to find out a few things about the Sentra that you probably wouldn’t in a 10-20 minute test drive:
Positives of the Sentra
My wife and I found it hard to find many positives to outweigh the negatives (see below) of the 2007 Nissan Sentra, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Here are the few items that we thought as positives of the Sentra:
- Spacious trunk – By looking at the Sentra’s trunk, you would think it could only fit a single golf bag, but you’d be wrong. The trunk stretches well into the vehicle and swallowed all of our luggage and gear with room to spare. I guess the guy who lived in his Sentra for a week in the commercial was right about the trunk space!
- Quiet cabin – While traveling hundres of freeway miles through MD, VA and NC, and across many types of pavement and asphalt, we only noticed road noise on very rough roads. Additionally, we only heard minimal wind noise intruding into the cabin.
- Solid interior contruction – The steering wheel, radio, shifter and most other interior controls and components felt like the highest quality of cheaper plastics. It sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it was well put together with small gaps and a solid feel throughout the cabin.
- Comfortable driving position – I’ll add a disclaimer later, but the Sentra places the driver and passengers in a more upright position that other sedans, so you had more knee and foot space. I wouldn’t call the back seat’s legroom spacious, but the seat positioning definitely helped even things out.
- Powerful 4 cylinder engine – The 2.0 liter engine in this Sentra had immediate “giddy-up” and I never lacked power on the highway when passing, even at 70+ miles per hour.
- Excellent gas mileage – While driving over 1,200 miles at mostly 80 miles per hour (shhhh, I don’t want to hear it!) with the air conditioner on or the windows open, I still managed to average between 34-37 miles per gallon throughout the entire trip.
Negatives of the Sentra
As I mentioned, there were some major negatives of the Sentra that swayed us to an overall negative opinion of the car:
- Horrible visibility – If I’m going to drive a car for years, I MUST be able to see in all directions with little difficulty. However, the Nissan Sentra’s “modern” design causes some major blindspots in the rear, sides, and front. The side mirrors are shaped oddly so that no matter how much I fiddled with their position, I couldn’t get a clear sight of vehicles near the driver’s side. I made-do for the trip, but long-term, the lack of visibility makes me not want this car.
- Poorly designed lighted controls – The small circular display for the fuel gauge and tripometer and odometer was black text on an amber background. Due to the angle of the dash and the small font, I had to lean forward and squint to see the display. Additionally, the amber LED lights used on the ventilation knobs for A/C, Recirculation and Defrost were almost invisible in the sun, whether on or off. I had to ask my wife whether the A/C was turned on, or hold my hand over the knob to shield it from the sun. Very dangerous while driving, because…
- Poor stability – I seriously thought I was going to fly off the road many times during this trip. Maybe I’m just picky after driving a 4300 lb truck for a year, but every gust of wind or slight road bump threw the car across the road. I certainly don’t remember having this problem in our Malibu which is only a bit heavier than the Sentra. This also leads me to…
- Touchy steering – Combine poor stability and touchy steering, and you get a very scared and worried driver. I had to constantly fight to keep the Sentra straight on the highway, whether over rutted roads or pristine pavement. I was constantly inching the wheel left and right to keep the car in place, but often that wasn’t enough to keep the Sentra on track.
- Tin can stereo – Although the stereo had an auxiliary input jack standard on the base model, it didn’t make up for the poor quality stereo sound. CDs and radio alike both sounded as if it was only being piped through the radio itself, rather than from 4 speakers. No amount of fiddling with the controls could get a CD quality sound emanating from those 4 speakers.
- Can’t close the air vents – Since I was baking hot while sitting on the sunny side of the car, I needed the A/C on high. My wife, who is always cold, wanted to close the air vents, but found that the vents would not close fully. No matter which direction you pushed, pulled or turned the knobs and shutters, cold air would still come out.
I’ll be blunt and say that if you’re looking into the compact car market, and the Nissan Sentra is on your short list, perhaps you should spend more time on a test drive with the Nissan Sentra, as well as comparable vehicles such as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Fusion, and Mitsubishi Lancer.
Even better, go for a used car and save yourself about $5,000-8,000 on a tried and tested compact car.