The Nissan Sentra compact sedan, which got numerous exterior and interior updates just last year, returns for 2017 with a surprise addition to the lineup: the first NISMO motorsports-inspired version.
With a base price of $24,990 (plus $865 freight), the Sentra NISMO offers a turbocharged 188-horsepower 1.6-liter direct-injection four-cylinder engine and a choice of either a six-speed manual or sport-tuned continuously variable automatic transmission.
That makes the NISMO – short for “Nissan Motorsports” – the most-expensive model in the Sentra lineup. Regular, normally aspirated 1.8-liter four-cylinder Sentra models begin as low as $16,990 for the base Sentra S model with a six-speed manual transmission, and range as high as $21,500 for the SL trim level with the CVT.
But you can opt for the SR Turbo version — also new this year — for $21,990, and choose either the manual or CVT, with the same engine but without all the extra NISMO features.
This engine adds significant power to the Sentra, as the base 1.8-liter engine has 130 horsepower. The extra power adds real fun to the Sentra, and it’s very smoothly applied, with no turbo lag and no sign of torque steer in the standard front-wheel drive. Passing on two-lane country roads was a breeze in this car.
Nissan says this is the first time it has given the NISMO treatment to a mainstream, mass-market sedan. The Sentra NISMO joins an elite group that also includes the 2017 NISMO versions of the GT-R and 370Z sports cars, as well as the Juke NISMO and Juke NISMO RS subcompact crossover utility vehicles.
Obviously, with 188 horsepower, the Sentra NISMO isn’t going to come close to the performance of those awesome Nissan sports cars (the GT-R NISMO has 600 horsepower, for instance).
But at least it adds some excitement to what otherwise would be just a nice, mostly sedate family compact sedan. It’s certainly a step up from the Sentra’s key competitors, the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic (at least the Civics that come out of the box).
Nissan has created performance-oriented sedans before, however -- going back nearly 50 years to the Datsun 510 (I even owned one of those back in the day), and later the original Sentra SE-R.
The 2017 Sentra NISMO looks great, thanks to aggressive exterior styling, along with a performance-oriented interior and unique suspension tuning. I enjoyed driving it, but I’m not sure very many people who saw the vehicle actually knew that it was as special as it is. But one guy did, for sure. He decided to show me just how hot his own vehicle was (a Mustang), racing up alongside me as I pulled away from a traffic light. I suspect he had read about the Sentra NISMO somewhere.
Nissan says the Sentra NISMO’s body was designed to hold to the ground 30 percent better than the regular Sentra, thanks to a unique rear spoiler and rear bumper design.
It has the signature NISMO “layered double wing” design in the front, side and rear lower body panels, Nissan says. There is a thin red stripe that runs along the lower body panels.
The car also has a unique front end, along with standard LED daytime running lights; a dark chrome V-Motion grille; and NISMO badges. Other touches include unique side sills, a NISMO rear fascia and exhaust finisher, dark chrome door handles and trunk finisher, and black NISMO outside mirror caps with integrated turn signals and the signature NISMO red stripe.
The Sentra NISMO rides on 18-inch, 10-spoke aluminum-alloy wheels with 215/45R18 Michelin Pilot Sport all-season tires. High-performance 215/45WR18 Bridgestone Potenza RE-71R summer tires are available through Nissan dealers, the company said.
There is a special four-wheel disc brake system with 11.7-inch vented front discs and 11.5-inch solid rear discs.
Four exterior colors are available – Brilliant Silver, Gun Metallic, Super Black and Aspen White. Our tester came in Gun Metallic, which is a pleasant medium-dark blue-gray hue.
The interior of all NISMO Sentras is charcoal with red accents, and there are unique bolstered front bucket seats with NISMO logos. The rear seat has cloth upholstery with red contrast stitching.
Red motorsports-inspired trim accents are used throughout the interior, including on the unique Alcantara leather-wrapped steering wheel, the start button (with red ring), and the meter cluster with a red tachometer. There are also red accents on the leather shifter knob and NISMO embroidered carpets. A dark headliner and NISMO logo on the instrument panel are also unique.
Other special features include five-inch Advanced Drive-Assist Display between the tachometer and speedometer; a soft-touch instrument panel; sliding center armrest; Nissan Intelligent Key keyless entry; backup camera; power windows with driver's one-touch auto up/down; power door locks with auto-locking feature, and remote trunk and fuel-filler door releases.
Standard is an AM/FM/CD audio system with five-inch color display, satellite radio, and Bluetooth hands-free phone system. The Siri Eyes Free Voice Recognition and smartphone integration for iPhone and Android phones are also included.
Our vehicle had the optional NISMO Premium Package ($1,220), which brought a Bose Premium audio system with eight speakers, along with NissanConnect with Navigation and Mobile Apps and a 5.8-inch color touch-screen display.
The Sentra NISMO’s body has special reinforcements, including a thicker cowl, vehicle floor and rear parcel shelf. The suspension is sport-tuned.
As for the turbo engine, it produces up to 177 foot-pounds of torque, and includes a 10.5:1 compression ratio, Continuously Variable Valve Timing Control System, spray-coated and mirror-finish cylinder bores, a variable-pressure oil pump, and a low-pressure EGR system, which helps lower exhaust gas temperature and improve knock sensitivity, Nissan says.
Our tester came with the CVT, which, as tuned, acts more like a conventional automatic, with noticeable shift points that helped build the car’s speed quickly on takeoff.
The electric power steering has also been specially tuned to allow for precise control, especially helpful on the twisty roads we enjoyed while driving this car.
Standard safety and security features include front seat-mounted side air bags; roof-mounted side-curtain air bags with rollover sensors; front seat belts with pre-tensioners and load limiters and adjustable upper anchors; and LATCH connectors for child safety seats in the rear.
The Sentra also comes with child-safe rear door locks; Zone Body construction featuring front and rear crumple zones; the Nissan Immobilizer and anti-theft alarm systems; and a Tire Pressure Monitoring System.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @gchambers3.
2017 Nissan Sentra/Sentra NISMO
The package: Compact, four-door, five-passenger, four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive sedan.
Highlights: Significantly updated just last year, the Sentra gets its first-ever NISMO motorsports-oriented turbocharged performance model for 2017, along with a less-expensive SR Turbo model with the same engine. Besides having great styling and fuel economy, this is a surprisingly delightful car to drive, especially with the NISMO treatment.
Negatives: Back seat a tight fit for three people (common in this segment).
Engine: 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder, normally aspirated (S, SV, SR, SL); turbocharged 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder (SR Turbo, NISMO).
Transmission: Six-speed manual or continuously variable automatic.
Power/torque: 130 HP./128 foot-pounds (1.8-liter); 188 HP./177 foot-pounds (1.6-liter turbo).
Length: 182.1 inches (182.5 SR only).
Curb weight range: 2,857-3,105 pounds.
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/drum, antilock (standard); disc/disc, antilock (optional; standard on SR Turbo, NISMO).
Trunk volume: 15.1 cubic feet.
Air bags: Front; front knee; front seat-mounted side; roof-mounted side-curtain for both rows.
Electronic stability control: Standard.
Fuel capacity/type: 13.2 gallons/unleaded regular.
EPA fuel economy: 29 mpg city/37 highway/32 combined (1.8, CVT); 27/35/30 (1.8 manual); 27/33/29 (SR Turbo, CVT); 26/32/28 (SR Turbo, manual); 25/31/27 (NISMO, manual); 25/30/27 (NISMO, CVT).
Major competitors: Volkswagen Jetta, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Kia Forte, Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza.
Base price range: $16,780-$24,990, plus $865 freight.
Price as tested: $27,080, including freight and options (NISMO CVT, Premium Package).
On the Road rating: 9.3 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.