The 2016 Nissan Sentra benefits from a mid-cycle update intended to improve handling and refinement, and has been upgraded with the latest features.
The Nissan Sentra is a compact sedan known for value over style, and livability over performance. Now enjoying its sixth generation, the current Sentra sells well. With a length of 182 inches on a wheelbase of 106 inches, the Sentra is bigger than most compacts, with more headroom and legroom, front and rear.
Redesigned for 2013, the 2016 Sentra is heavily freshened: A new V grille brings some drama and looks more like the larger Altima and Maxima, while the boomerang headlamps copy the Murano. The hood, fenders and fascia are re-sculpted for 2016 with more definition, with new chrome trim. Taillamps and rear fascia get reshaped too.
The Sentra is powered by a 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder engine making a modest 130 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. It uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that’s extremely slow to respond to full throttle, which is often needed with only 130 horsepower. A 6-speed manual transmission is available on the base S model, although dealers rarely stock them.
The 2016 Sentra gets new springs and dampers that are stiffened by 10 percent, and a new system called Active Understeer Control that dabs the brakes to the inside front wheel in a corner, which helps the car pivot.
There are also infotainment upgrades, with the addition of NissanConnect Services, including remote access and satellite radio. And a new Technology Package, with collision warning with braking, adaptive cruise control, and blind spot monitoring.
The Sentra with the CVT gets decent mileage, EPA-rated at 29/38/32 mpg City/Highway/Combined. The CVT proves its fuel efficiency (if not its functional efficiency), as the mileage with the manual transmission drops by 2 mpg.
The 2016 Nissan Sentra S comes with 6-speed manual transmission ($16,780) or CVT ($17,630) and manual air conditioning, cloth upholstery, AM/FM/CD audio with MP3, WMA, four speakers, iPod adapter, auxiliary jack, speed-sensing volume and steering wheel controls. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Sentra SV ($18,550) includes NissanConnect with Mobile Apps system, good for iHeartRadio, Pandora, and Facebook apps; the system also has Bluetooth streaming audio, satellite radio, and a hands-free text-messaging assistant. A Style Package for the mid-range SV that includes a power sliding moonroof, dual vanity mirrors, a rear spoiler, and 16-inch five-spoke alloy wheels.
Sentra SR ($20,410) is the sporty, premium model in the lineup and can be equipped with a Premium Package adding a power sliding moonroof, Bose premium eight-speaker audio, leather upholstery, upgraded infotainment, and several active-safety features.
Sentra SL ($22,170) comes with leather upholstery, larger 5.8-inch color touchscreen.
The tweaking for 2016 makes the Sentra look more like the grownup Nissan sedans, the Altima and classy Maxima. There’s a new crease flowing from the front wheels to rear deck, that suggests the upscale lines.
The sporty Sentra SR gets its own front and rear fascias, foglamps, 17-inch alloy wheels, molding on the side sills, rear spoiler, and chrome exhaust tip.
The interior of the Sentra lacks the refinement of a Chevy Cruze or VW Jetta. It’s upright and straightforward, with a two-tiered and gently flowing dash that tapers at the sides to save space. In the mid-range models, the matte and metallic plastic, blend in a way that suggests a nice try to be upscale. The available artificial leather is plasticky, we prefer the standard fabric. There’s more sound insulation and laminated glass, bringing serenity on the highway, but not eliminating the drone of the four-cylinder when it’s working hard.
There’s a generous amount of headroom in front and legroom for all passengers, but the seat comfort is only average. The rear seat can easily hold three pre-teens, although adults will want more headroom and a higher seating position (which can’t be done without raising the roof). Oddly, the front seats feel too high.
The rear seatbacks feature a hidden center armrest, and fold forward (not flat) and open the cabin to the roomy trunk that feels like a chest that can hold a lot of suitcases.
The Sentra ride is relatively soft, as we found on rough streets in New York City. And it’s quiet. The 2016 Sentra is the quietest Sentra ever produced.
It isn’t sporty, however. It’s generally not as much fun to drive as the Mazda 3, Ford Focus or Honda Civic. It’s about getting from point a to point b.
The CVT uses artificial shift points to make it feel crisper but doesn’t succeed, which is surprising, because the CVT in the Altima is so slick it could be mistaken for an automatic. But the Sentra’s so-called shifts are nearly imperceptible; it still revs like a CVT, and makes noise doing so.
Standard are Normal, Eco, and Sport modes, small buttons low on the dash where the driver can’t see them. Sport mode quickens the throttle and transmission, while Eco cuts down the AC. We found that the CVT behaved better in Eco mode, by not trying so hard.
The Sentra corners with competence, if not spirit. The speed-sensitive electric power steering has the right amount of resistance, and feels like the Altima. Improved cornering is the reason for the firmer shocks and springs in 2016, plus the chassis has been stiffened by a new front tunnel stay, to reduce roll.
Also new for 2016 is the steering assist that dabs the inside front brake in turns. It was impressive how it worked in aggressive tight turns, although it felt like the driver was being saved, not like the car was capable.
The front suspension is independent with struts, and the rear a torsion beam, with anti-roll bars at each end. The ride is pretty good, and doesn’t seem to change with the low-profile tires that improve handling.
The standard brakes are discs in front, drums in rear. The drums will work fine for most Sentra owners, no matter that rear discs might be better on downhill mountain roads. A bigger concern might be the amount of nosedive under hard stops, a suspension issue.
Nissan Sentra brings midsize room in a compact car, and 32 miles per gallon. The seats are average and best trimmed in fabric. The engine has marginal power, and the transmission is a CVT. It looks okay, but it’s not much fun to drive.
Sam Moses contributed to this report, with staff reports by The Car Connection.