Nissan’s compact Sentra sedan got a complete makeover for 2013, moving into a whole new generation and moving it up a few notches in status, as well.With the redesign, the Sentra is roomier, but it’s also a whole lot classier, as well, with an appearance that’s more like that of a small premium sedan rather than an affordable entry-level compact.This seventh-generation Sentra is also now being assembled in Mississippi as well as in Mexico, a switch Nissan made to ensure enough production capacity for the new model, which the automaker expects will do much better in the marketplace than its predecessor. Sales this year, through September, are up 14.5 percent. Before being moved to Mexico a decade ago, the Sentra was assembled at the Nissan plant in Tennessee.The new Sentra is available in seven different versions, and will return mostly unchanged when the 2014 models arrive in late November, Nissan says.No prices have been announced yet for 2014, but the 2013 Sentra starts at $15,990 (plus $810 freight) for the base S model with a six-speed manual transmission, and $16,590 with a continuously variable automatic. The manual is available only on the base version.The rest of the models, all with the CVT, range as high as $19,590 for the top-of-the-line SL model, which also can be outfitted with leather seats ($1,030 extra). Others are the FE+ (Fuel Economy) S model ($16,990); SV ($17,390); FE+ SV ($17,990); and SR ($18,690).Under the hood of all models is a new 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, rated at 130 horsepower and 128 foot-pounds of torque. The automatic is the newest generation of Nissan’s CVT, which has been redesigned to help improve fuel economy.With the CVT, the Sentra is EPA rated at 30 mpg city/39 highway in standard grades, and 30 city /40 highway in the FE versions. With the manual gearbox, the ratings are 27/36. The car can go as far as 415 miles before refueling, when equipped with the FE package, Nissan says.Driving the Sentra is surprisingly fun for a vehicle in this class, which includes the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus. There’s plenty of zip from the 1.8-liter engine, and the CVT works well with the engine – without the usual revving between shifts that makes some of these transmissions seem inefficient. Handling is rather sporty, with crisp steering, excellent stopping power with the antilock brakes, and a firm suspension that held the road well on curves I encountered on some of my favorite hilly country roads.With the remake, the Sentra’s overall length has been extended by 2.3 inches, and the wheelbase is about a half-inch longer. The car is about a half-inch lower than before, as well.Among new design features are LED accents for the headlights and taillights, a roomier interior and trunk, and better seats with standard cloth upholstery. The interior includes soft-touch materials on the instrument panel and driver’s door armrest.Also available is NissanConnect, which includes navigation and a hands-free text-messaging system (although it’s probably still not a good idea to text and drive, even if it’s hands-free).The Sentra’s exterior has a premium look, with design cues taken from its bigger brother, the midsize Altima, which also was redesigned for 2013. Both of these vehicles look more expensive than they are.Helping to boost fuel economy, the new Sentra is 150 pounds lighter than its predecessor, Nissan says.Even in base form, the Sentra is decently equipped. Standard are such features as a six-way manual driver's seat and four-way manual front passenger seat; air conditioning with micro air filter; a tilt/telescopic steering wheel; power windows with driver's one-touch up/down (with auto reverse); power door locks with auto-locking feature; two 12-volt power outlets; remote keyless entry; LED taillights; and remote trunk and fuel-filler door releases. Also standard is a four-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system. Audio upgrades include a six-speaker AM/FM/CD system with a 4.3-inch color display, USB connection for iPod/iPhone and other devices; and a Bose system, which has eight speakers and an amplifier specially tuned to either the cloth or leather interior. Satellite radio is available, as is a Bluetooth hands-free phone system ($275 extra, but included on the SL model).Base and SV models come with 16-inch steel wheels, but 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels are available as a $975 standalone option except on the SR and SL models, which already include 17-inch alloy wheels.Inside, there are lots of conveniences for the passengers, including front and rear door pockets, a front center console with padded armrest and cupholders, and a rear-seat armrest with cupholders. Included on the instrument panel are electroluminescent gauges that have backlighting even in daylight.Among other available premium features are dual-zone automatic climate control and a rearview camera system.The Sentra seats five, and rear legroom is among best-in-class, at 37.4 inches. In fact, the passenger cabin – at just over 95 cubic feet – is roomy enough for the Sentra to be classified by the EPA as a midsize car.We took a long ride with two adults and two big teenagers on board, and heard no complaints from the rear passengers. They said they had enough leg- and knee room even with the front seats all the way back. The middle rear position would be tight for a third person, but would work fine for a child seat. The trunk has 15.1 cubic feet of space, up 2 cubic feet from the previous model. The rear seat has a 60/40 split-folding back so the cargo area can be expanded when necessary.Besides most of the items included on the base model, the SV version we tested came with cruise control, two additional speakers, lighted steering-wheel audio controls, a security system, and premium cloth seating and door trim.The available Nissan Connect system with navigation brings apps such as Pandora, along with streaming Bluetooth audio and a 5.8-inch color touch-screen display. It includes NavTraffic and NavWeather, as well as Google Send-to-Car functions. The nav map also show warnings of curves ahead, and gives posted speed limits.The Sentra SR is a sportier version, which adds 17-inch, forked five-spoke aluminum-alloy wheels, unique front and rear fascias and grille, lower body side-sill extensions, a rear spoiler with integrated LED brake light, fog lights and a chrome exhaust tip. Interior extras include silver trim, premium sport cloth seats and a driver's seatback pocket.At the top, the SL comes 17-inch, split seven-spoke aluminum-alloy wheels; "smart" automatic headlights; fog lights; heated outside mirrors with integrated LED turn signals; the Nissan Intelligent Key with pushbutton start; Bluetooth hands-free phone; and a six-speaker audio system with 4.3-inch display, USB connection, and satellite radio.Besides the leather upholstery, SL models can be dressed up with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, maple wood-tone interior trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, and an upgraded tire-pressure monitoring system with Nissan’s Easy Fill Tire Alert.Standard safety features include front seat-mounted side air bags, roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for both rows, LATCH connections for child seats in the rear, tire-pressure monitoring, antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, and electronic stability control.For 2014, Sentra enhancements will include CVT, steering and suspension tweaks; and new front-seat lower-cushion storage pockets on all models.Our tester included the SV Driver Package ($1,000), which tacked on the intelligent key/pushbutton start, smart headlights, Bluetooth phone system, six-speaker audio system with 4.3-inch color display, satellite radio, USB port, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, and the Easy Fill Tire Alert system.We also had the Navigation Package ($650), which brought the Nissan Connect system, streaming Bluetooth audio and rearview monitor. Carpeted floor and trunk mats added $170.Total sticker was $20,020, including freight and options for our SV.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .