The Nissan Sentra compact sedan is admirably roomy for four and gets good fuel efficiency. Conservatively upright in profile and traditional in style, the 2018 Sentra is largely unchanged over last year.
Automatic emergency braking is available for the 2018 model year; only models with manual shift, and the NISMO editions, do without the new system.
A rearview camera and 5.0-inch display screen, with Bluetooth streaming audio, come standard on all 2018 models. 2018 Sentra SV sedans get 16-inch alloy wheels and dual-zone automatic temperature control. Adaptive cruise control is standard on 2018 Sentra SR 1.8L and SL trim levels. 2018 Sentra SL sedans include a moonroof and Bose audio. A new Midnight Edition package is available for S and SR trim levels, featuring blacked-out body accents and 17-inch wheels.
Last redesigned for 2013, the Sentra was mildly facelifted three years later.
Six trim levels are offered: S, SV, SR, SL, SR Turbo, and NISMO. Most 2018 Sentras get a 1.8-liter four-cylinder, rated at 124 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard on the S model, but others come only with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that contains no gears but behaves like an automatic. With manual shift, the base engine produces 130 horsepower.
In SR Turbo and NISMO models, a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, borrowed from Nissan’s Juke, makes 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet. A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard for the SR Turbo, but its optional CVT includes stepped, simulated gears.
Newly standard automatic emergency braking on most models helps elevate the Sentra against such rivals as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, but safety scores could be better. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Sentra Good crash-test ratings, but the small-overlap test for the passenger side was not rated. Headlights are deemed Poor, though the 2017 Sentra was named a Top Safety Pick.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the regular-engine 2018 Sentra a four-star score overall, and for frontal impact. Non-turbo models earned a five-star rating for side impact.
Blind-spot monitoring is available on SR versions, and standard on the SL.
Sentra S ($16,990) has the 1.8-liter engine, cloth upholstery, a 5.0-inch display, Bluetooth, four-speaker audio, automatic headlights, a rearview camera, and 16-inch wheels with covers. It’s available with the CVT ($18,140). (Prices are MSRP and do not include $885 destination charge.)
Sentra SV ($18,960) gets the CVT, plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel, upgraded cloth upholstery, six-speaker audio, keyless ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Sentra SR ($20,370) adds sport cloth seats, LED headlights, foglamps, adaptive cruise control, sporty interior accents, and 17-inch wheels. It comes with the 1.8-liter engine and CVT.
Sentra SL ($23,440) has the CVT, along with leather upholstery, a moonroof, Bose audio, 5.8-inch touchscreen, Nissan telematics, blind-spot monitoring, and unique 17-inch wheels.
Sentra SR Turbo substitutes a more powerful 1.6-turbocharged engine and comes with CVT ($22,490).
NISMO ($25,790) comes with a turbocharged engine, 18-inch wheels, sporty details inside and outside, and deeper front bucket seats. It’s available with manual or CVT.
Compared to other Nissan models, the compact Sentra looks welcoming. Next to competitors from other automakers, it’s less appealing. With its relatively tall, almost boxy profile, the Sentra lags behind modern rivals from the likes of Honda and Mazda.
Sentra sheetmetal shows a clear kinship to the bigger Altima, include rather deep creases and a body line that stretches from nose to tail. Turbocharged Sentras feature a number of visual extras, including LED daytime running lights, side sills, and a spoiler.
Not unlike its body, the Sentra’s interior comes across as upright and utilitarian, built on a budget-focused foundation. What Nissan’s compact offers, beyond its competitors, is greater cabin space, especially in the back.
Front-seat occupants sit higher than is typical in the compact category, which is a bonus for outward visibility. The tall roofline provides good headroom in front and rear, even with a moonroof. Leather upholstery isn’t the best choice in upper trim levels, because the material is thin.
Rear-seat passengers get 37.4 inches of legroom and a generous 50.9 inches of hip space. Both figures beat those of most rivals. Wide-opening rear doors make it easy to enter and exit. Either two adults or three teenagers can feel comfortable, stretching out a bit in back.
The gently-curved dashboard flows across the front compartment in a two-tier layout. Tapering at the sides makes maximum use of the available space.
The sizable trunk holds 15.1 cubic feet of luggage. Loading is eased by a wide opening.
Sentras are quiet at highway cruising speeds, thanks largely to acoustic glass. When accelerating strongly, however, some unwanted noise oozes into the cabin.
Sentras handle better than some might expect. The 1.8-liter models with the base suspension have relatively stiff springs, ensuring more controlled body motions. In SR Turbo and NISMO editions, springs are stiffer yet, while remapped steering promises a greater sense of heft.
Whether it has base 16-inch tires or upgraded 17-inch rubber, a Sentra rides fairly softly, without excessive body roll. Rear drum brakes on S and SV versions feel confident, but permit perceptible nosedive.
While undeniably competent in daily commuter-style driving, performance of regular-engine Sentras is on the leisurely side. Even in SR Turbo and NISMO form, the Sentra appears to embrace comfort over vigorous acceleration. They’re more gratifying than non-turbo models, to be sure; but the performance boost isn’t dramatic, considering the difference in horsepower.
Base Sentras come with a 6-speed manual gearbox, which feels too loose to make it fun to manipulate. Nissan’s CVT is more satisfying, though highway passing and steep climbs in mountainous terrain may demand some planning and patience.
Non-turbo Sentras score well in fuel economy, though some competitors are even more thrifty. With the 1.8-liter engine and CVT, the 2018 Altima is EPA-rated at 29/37 mpg City/Highway, or 32 mpg Combined. Manual shift drops those figures by 2 mpg in each category.
Sentra SR Turbos with CVT are EPA-rated at 27/33 mpg City/Highway, or 29 mpg Combined. Turbos with manual lose 1 mpg on each estimate. NISMO models are rated 25/30/27 mpg with CVT; but the highway figure rises by 1 mpg with a 6-speed manual gearbox. Turbos require premium gasoline.
All told, the compact Sentra performs as promised. Roomy and quiet, it’s a relatively affordable choice. Average in capability, it’s the type of car driven by millions each day. Best values are the lower-cost versions. Even the base Sentra is comparatively well-equipped for its price.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.