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2018 Nissan Sentra Review

2018 Nissan Sentra Review

The 2018 Nissan Sentra is a compact car that does what it says on the package: it’s roomy, quiet, and relatively affordable.

The 2018 Nissan Sentra lives within the margins. It’s roomy for up to four, fuel-efficient by most car standards, and equipped with just enough gear to make the daily commute and home again.

It’s the kind of car that millions of people use every day. Our rating of 5.5 is a reflection of its average abilities and above-average safety systems, which are new for 2018.

Those safety improvements include standard automatic emergency braking on all models equipped with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The Sentra is offered in S, SV, SR, SL, SR Turbo, and Nismo trim levels.
Review continues below

That automatic emergency braking helps to bring the Sentra up to speed with its rivals that offer the same standard equipment: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3.

Unlike some of those competitors, the Nissan is pretty clear about its intentions: it’s a commuter-special. The tall, upright look is a boon to outward vision and head room, but it’s a little Poindexter, by our book.

That doesn’t bode well for the SR Turbo and Nismo variants that were introduced last year. Nissan offers an uprated turbo-4 that improves horsepower over the base Sentra powertrain—188 horsepower to 124 hp—but it’s not as dramatic as the numbers indicate. The SR Turbo and Nismo versions aren’t as fun as the Sentra’s old high-po edition, the SE-R.

A 6-speed manual is available on base S and turbo trim levels, but it’s not worth the effort, we say. It’s a little ropy and not too precise.

The CVT helps push the Sentra into low-30-mpg combined country, but only without turbochargers. Those versions require premium unleaded and aren’t especially thrifty.

Base Sentras are relatively well-equipped for their low $17,885 price. They get 16-inch wheels with wheel covers, automatic headlights, cloth upholstery, a 5.0-inch audio display with Bluetooth connectivity and a rearview camera.

The trim levels run the gamut all the way to leather-upholstered Sentra SL versions, but we say the best value is on lower-priced versions.

The 2018 Nissan Sentra looks better on dealers’ lots next to other Nissan sedans; next to competitors is another story.

Like a bad poker hand, the more we look at the 2018 Nissan Sentra the less it changes to what we like.

The Sentra better fits alongside the Altima now, but it can’t outrun its boxy, tall proportions. Taken alone, it’s hardly offensive. Taken next to new ideas from Honda, Mazda, and others, the Nissan is a step behind.

The sheet metal takes its cues from the Altima in deeper creases and a body line that runs from nose to tail on the Sentra. Turbocharged versions get a line of LED daytime running lights, accents, spoilers, and side sills to separate from workaday models.

The overall profile is still of a compact car, without any illusions to separate the cabin from the front axle, like Mazda and others.

In back, the Sentra commits no penalties—it doesn’t commit much effort, either.

The interior of the Sentra is upright and utilitarian without much fuss. Plainer versions look best with a mix of matte and plastic material that doesn’t hide its budget roots; more-expensive versions get the same treatment anyway. The dash curves gently and flows across in a two-tier arrangement, tapering at the sides in a way that maximizes space.

As a commuter, the 2018 Nissan Sentra is competent. In high-po variants, we struggle to find the performance beyond paper.

The 2018 Nissan Sentra prioritizes comfort and affordability more than performance, even in higher-powered versions.

Those powertrains found under the hoods of SR Turbo and Nismo variants are entertaining, but they’re in the minority too. We credit them for existing, but take one back for the more-popular and relatively stale inline-4 and automatic combo that Nissan offers.

The powertrain for most Sentras on the road will be a 1.8-liter inline-4 that colors inside the lines at 124 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. Its most common companion will be a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that acts as one long gear for efficiency’s sake, or can simulate programmed “gears” when pressed hard. It’s enough to power the car around town, but highway passing and steep climbs will test patience and planning before execution. Base Sentras can be equipped with a 6-speed manual that makes the driver—if not the engine—busier on base versions. The manual is too ropy and loose to be fun, we say.

The uprated 1.6-liter turbo-4 makes 188 hp and 177 lb-ft and it’s on loan from the Juke. In both applications—SR Turbo and Nismo—it makes the small Sentra more fun to drive, but by a smaller margin than we were expecting. As standard, the Sentra SR Turbo is equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission, but the CVT is an option and it includes simulated, stepped “gears” when its back is pressed against the wall.

Sentra’s equipped with a 1.8-liter inline-4 get a base suspension setup that was updated in 2016 with stiffer springs for more controlled motion. Whether riding on base 16-inch wheels or the uprated 17-inch wheels, the Sentra manages to be fairly soft without excess roll.

Opt for the SR Turbo or Nismo variants for stiffer springs and a remapped steering formula for more heft at the wheel. We don’t mind the added weight, but the steering in the base Sentra is a bright spot; Nissan has handling for its sedans dialed in.

Sentra S and SV variants get rear drum brakes that feel confident, but add perceptible nose dive.

Comfort & Quality
Good packaging helps the Sentra seat four adults comfortably—a relative rarity among small cars.

The 2018 Nissan Sentra hits the middle of our comfort scale despite its compact dimensions.

Although it competes with the Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus, and Mazda 3, it has better interior space than all three thanks to good packaging.
Front-seat riders sit up higher in the Sentra than compared to its rivals, which is a boon for outward vision. The high roof affords good head room for front and rear passengers, even equipped with a moonroof.

Rear seat passengers get 37.4 inches of leg room and a generous 50.9 inches of hip room, which is better than most rivals. We wouldn’t blink at asking two adults to climb in the back, or even a trio of teenagers (they’ve got metabolism to spare). The rear doors swing wide for easy entry and exit and the trunk is admirably sized at 15.1 cubic feet of cargo room, made better by a wide rear opening.

We’d advise skipping the leather upholstery on SR or SL trim levels (it’s too thin) but suggest opting for the SV’s upgraded cloth or the SR’s sporty cloth as reasonable substitutes.

Regardless of trim level, the Sentra is quiet at highway cruising speeds thanks to acoustic glass drubbing the rattle from underneath the hood. There’s some untoward noise during heavy acceleration, so plan to leave a few minutes earlier?

Standard automatic emergency braking on most Nissan Sentra models this year complements mixed safety scores.

The big news this year for the 2018 Nissan Sentra is the inclusion of automatic emergency braking on all automatic-equipped cars and a rearview camera.

Those advanced features earn it a point above average, but we take one back for a four-star overall score from the feds and land at a 6 for safety.

Beyond automatic emergency braking, every Sentra is equipped with six airbags including front and rear side-impact curtain airbags. Traction and stability control systems are standard, and blind-spot monitors are available on SR trim levels, or standard on the SL grade.

The Sentra includes practical features such as an easy-fill tire alert that honks the horn when the tires are properly inflated and good outward vision thanks to a low belt line.

The IIHS gives the Sentra good marks in all crash-testing performed so far, but it says that the small car's headlights are rated "Poor."

Keep a 2018 Nissan Sentra close to base and you’ll find a relative value among small cars.

Affordable small cars aren’t the penalty boxes of yesteryear.

For $17,885 to start, the 2018 Nissan Sentra S is equipped with 16-inch wheels with wheel covers, automatic headlights, cloth upholstery, a 5.0-inch audio display with Bluetooth connectivity and a rearview camera. Advanced safety equipment, which is new for this year, is standard on base models too. We cover those features separately.

That’s fairly good base gear for the bucks, and the infotainment screen is impressive too. We give two points above average for those but take one back for Nissan’s inflexibility for options outside of trim levels. 

Above the S trim level, Nissan offers the Sentra in SV, SR, SL, SR Turbo, and Nismo grades. The base price of $17,885 balloons to more than $27,000 for an automatic-equipped Sentra Nismo.

For many new buyers, the SV trim level will be the first stop. It offers reasonable upgrades for its starting price of nearly $20,000 including a leather wrapped steering wheel, 16-inch alloy wheels, upgraded cloth upholstery, a six-speaker audio system (up from four in the S trim), keyless ignition, and dual-zone automatic climate control. An available popular equipment package bundles a 5.8-inch touchscreen, navigation, and moonroof. A separate cold weather package adds heated front seats.

Opting for the sportier SR trim level adds sport cloth seats, 17-inch wheels, LED headlights, foglights, adaptive cruise control, and sporty interior accents. Nissan offers an optional tech package for SR trim levels that includes a 5.8-inch touchscreen, moonroof, and blind-spot monitors. A premium package goes further with the same equipment as the tech package, Bose audio, leather upholstery, power adjustable driver’s seat, and Nissan Connect telematics.

The full-boat SL trim level adds leather upholstery, a moonroof, Bose audio, 5.8-inch touchscreen, Nissan telematics, blind-spot monitors, and unique 17-inch wheels for more than $24,500. We’re not sold on those models’ value.

The SR Turbo versions add an uprated engine to an otherwise SR-equipped Sentra. Sentra Nismo versions add 18-inch wheels, another engine upgrade, sporty-looking add-ons inside and out, and deeper front buckets for up to $27,000.

We’ve found that throwing more money at a base Sentra doesn’t make it better—its best values are found toward base models. Asking for an uprated engine adds some fun goodies, but at more than $27,000 for a top trim, wouldn’t you rather you rather have a Juke with more horsepower?

Fuel Economy
The 2018 Nissan Sentra is fuel-efficient among all cars, but it loses its advantage compared to other rivals.

The Nissan Sentra has a relatively long, conflicted tale to tell when it comes to efficiency.

The most likely version that you’ll see on dealers’ lots will be a Sentra equipped with a 1.8-liter inline-4 and continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). That’s rated by the EPA at 29 mpg city, 37 highway, 32 combined. That’s good enough for an 8 out of 10 on our scale and it’s the only version that makes the cut. 

Opt for a manual transmission in the Sentra and the numbers fall to 27/35/30 mpg.

The rest of the Sentra lineup offers turbo-4s that require premium fuel and are rated lower.

Sentra SR Turbo models manage 27/33/29 mpg with an automatic, or 1 mpg lower across the board with a manual.

Sentra Nismo models are rated almost identically with either transmission: 25/31/27 with the automatic, manuals lose 1 mpg from the highway number.

Compared to its rivals, the Sentra is a half step behind. Most versions of the Honda Civic net around 35 mpg combined, and all Chevy Cruze models manage better than 30 mpg combined—turbodiesel models are rated at 37 mpg combined. Few rivals require premium fuel outside of high-performance versions.

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