For the past few years, the Nissan Sentra has been a wallflower, sitting out the big dance as segment frontrunners Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla continued their dominance against competition newer and better than ever. That wasn’t always the case. The Japanese automakers have always dominated the compact car segment, but they’ve done so as a trio—the Nissan Sentra taking a very sizable bronze medal. Lately, it’s been all participation ribbons.
With the 2013 Nissan Sentra, it looks like the automaker is finally getting ready to make it a real competition again. Adopting Nissan’s ultra space-efficient B platform, 2013 Sentra adds space, loses weight, gains in fuel efficiency, and makes a very credible argument for itself as to why it should be taken seriously again.
The entire car is new. Having lingered on lots since the 2007 model year—an eternity in auto years—the previous-generation Nissan Sentra was a clunky design that lacked the space-pod futurism of the Honda Civic or the conservative looks of the Toyota Corolla. When 40 mpg became the next big thing in compact cars, the Sentra trudged along with 34 mpg.
Well, not anymore.
The 2013 Nissan Sentra ditches its former 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine for a smaller 1.8-liter unit that makes 130 horsepower, down 10 horsepower on the previous model. However, where the last car was rated for 27 mpg in the city, the new one raises that number to 30 mpg and 39 mpg on the highway—and gains yet an additional highway mpg with the FE+ package. Combined, it reaches 34 mpg, the same as the ultra-efficient Volkswagen Jetta TDI and more than any fuel economy special like the Chevrolet Cruze Eco or Ford Focus SFE.
Along the way, the 2013 Sentra adopts standard LED accent lights in its headlight housings and full LED tail lights. It brings on Honey I Shrunk the Altima-like style, first seen earlier this year at the Beijing Motor Show as the Nissan Sylphy. It’s a wholly new look for the Sentra, a handsome look. And with it, Nissan is gunning right for the heart of the market.
Engines and Drivetrains
Nissan is initially bringing just one engine to the market: a new 1.8-liter four-cylinder producing 130 horsepower. That’s down some 10 horsepower from the standard 2.0-liter engine from the 2012 Sentra, down 8 horses from the Chevrolet Cruze, and over its head by 30 horsepower versus the Ford Focus. But the 2013 Nissan Sentra has something going for it that those cars don’t: Weight.
At 150 pounds lighter than the outgoing model, the Sentra should tip the scales under 2,900 pounds, lighter than just about anything in its class. Coupled to that, the 2013 Nissan Sentra will have either a standard six-speed manual transmission or an updated and upgraded continuously variable automatic, likely making it one of the most efficient cars in its class. Per Nissan’s vice president Al Castignetti: “In the race for fuel economy bragging rights sometimes what gets lost in the mix is drivability. Sentra’s new engine and advanced CVT design are perfectly matched to provide the best of both mpg and driving enjoyment.”
Those, to us, sound like fighting words.
The 2013 Nissan Sentra promises to be a slightly larger car with a bigger trunk (up 2.0 cubic feet to 15.1 overall), soft-touch interior materials, an updated 5.8-inch navigation display with speed limit detection, a 4.3-inch color infotainment screen available in every version, and a host of other features. Nissan calls it a “class above” approach; we say it’s taking the fight to the dogs.
With ample space, six different trim levels including the FE+ S and FE+ SV that get 40 mpg on the highway, a more aerodynamic shape characterized by stylish looks, and many, many other options available, it looks like Nissan’s finally done messing around. Going on sale later this year alongside the now-in-dealerships 2013 Nissan Altima, the upcoming Pathfinder, and the yet-to-be-unveiled Versa hatchback and Rogue crossover, the 2013 Nissan Sentra will undoubtedly make Nissan’s lineup the strongest it’s been in a long time. Let the games begin.