2001 Nissan Sentra SE
Click image to enlarge

For 2001, the Nissan Sentra has been redesigned with more interior room and leg room. Sporty SE models feature a 2.0 litre DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine, with 145 horsepower and 136 ft-lb of torque, sport-tuned suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and an excellent 180 watt AM/FM CD with seven speakers to make daily driving a little more self-satisfying.

If your needs and desires are in conflict, the 2001 Nissan Sentra SE might be the solution.

With four doors, comfortable seating for four (five in a pinch), 60/40 rear folding seat, great storage throughout the cabin for small stuff (love the dash-top storage box), air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry and descent fuel consumption, the Sentra SE is everything a practical person needs for life’s daily driving chores.

But if that sounds a little too boring, there is also the 2.0 litre DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine, with 145 horsepower and 136 ft-lb of torque, sport-tuned suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and an excellent 180 watt AM/FM CD with seven speakers to make daily driving a little more self-satisfying. Just because your practical budget limit is less than $20,000 doesn’t mean you have to give up all your pleasures.

And if you can find the means to add the $2,200 sport package, which firms up the suspension even more, puts ABS on those four-wheel disc brakes, improves traction with a limited-slip differential and adds a few appearance items and power sliding glass sunroof, you may never have to acknowledge you have a practical side.

2001 Nissan Sentra SE
Click image to enlarge

Sport minded drivers will find the 2.0 litre engine to be a smooth operator that moves quickly and strongly through the rpm range. Refinements to this all-aluminum engine for 2001 include a lengthened intake manifold, re-profiled intake camshaft, lighter weight roller-type rocker arms, lighter weight crankshaft, new piston rings, modified swirl control valve and double-tipped platinum spark plugs. A new variable capacity muffler utilizes a special flap valve which opens at 2,000 rpm and above — reducing exhaust system backpressure and increasing horsepower.

The five-speed manual transmission is precise – though not as crisp as some competitors – and clutch action light.

The viscous limited-slip differential significantly aids traction and tames torque steer. Most often the effect of the limited slip is unnoticed. But when turning in under acceleration or accelerating from a stop on wet pavement, the effect is quite evident through the steering wheel as both wheels grab for traction.

The Sentra’s suspension employs front independent MacPherson struts combined with a rear multi-link beam design. For 2001, the rear stabilizer diameter was increased. In front, a revised subframe allows use of softer bushings for improved ride comfort and a shorter length stabilizer bar to improve dynamic performance. Sentra SE models utilize a front strut tower brace for reduced body lean, along with stiffer suspension tuning for enhanced cornering performance.

2001 Nissan Sentra SE
Click image to enlarge

While performance and handling were excellent for this level of car, serious performance enthusiasts may wish to wait until later this year when Nissan will begin shipping the 2002 Sentra SE-R with its bigger 2.5 litre, 170 horsepower four-cylinder engine.

To my mind, anti-lock brakes are a safety feature that should at least be available as a stand alone option on any vehicle, but like many manufacturers, Nissan packages anti-lock brakes with an upscale option package that includes items the buyer might not otherwise need or want.

Being tall, I could do without the power sliding sunroof, which takes head room out of the car. Even though the Sentra for 2001 has been raised one inch, I still found headroom to be limited. But thanks to a six way adjustable drivers seat, I could lower my seating position. Such was not the case for a tall passenger who frequently bumped his head on the roof liner. As well, the open sunroof created considerable wind turbulence, even at relatively low speeds.

Compared to other vehicles in this class, seating position is traditional – read low – and some drivers may find this uncomfortable. Room for rear passengers is limited, but that’s not unusual in a compact and tall rear passengers will need to watch their heads.

Trunk space at 11.6 cubic feet is less than the Honda Civic or Ford Focus which both offer 12.9 cubic feet, but the 60/40 rear folding seat provides more room when it is needed.

Fit and finish in the Sentra is excellent, something that is becoming a trade mark for Nissan even in relatively inexpensive vehicles. Good quality materials and attractive seating surfaces make the Sentra SE feel more costlier than it is.

Sentra SEs receive easy-to-read titanium-tinted gauges (like on the Maxima SE), as well as a leather-wrapped steering wheel. All controls are well-placed and easy to use and audio controls are conveniently placed above the climate controls.

Total storage capacity has been doubled for 2001 and storage pockets include a covered box on the top of the instrument panel and a tray covering the front side sill crossmember. Front door pockets include a holder for 20-ounce water or soft drink bottles. A tray is provided next to the parking brake lever to hold small items.

2001 Nissan Sentra SE
Click image to enlarge

For the buyer not willing to give up the pleasure of driving for the practical realities of day-to-day transportation, the Nissan Sentra SE offers a good compromise. But don’t be surprised if no one, not even your car enthusiast neighbour, stops by to comment on your great new set of wheels.

They aren’t rude. They just didn’t notice.

That’s the problem with the Sentra. It blends in a bit too much with the automotive landscape. Here is a car with a well-thought out, spacious interior, comfortable seating, plenty of zip, excellent handling and a high fun-to-drive factor, but exterior styling that not even a rear spoiler and 16 inch aluminum alloy wheels can help.

Don’t get me wrong. The Sentra is not a bad looking car. In fact, its conservative styling is a good match for my own conservative nature. But on the Richter scale of styling impact, the Sentra is a minor tremor.

See also:
Greg Wilson’s review of the 2001 Nissan Sentra GXE

Technical Data:

2001 Nissan Sentra SE
Base price (SE) $19,698
Price as tested $21,898
Freight $857
Type 4-door, 5 passenger compact sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.0 litre DOHC 4-cylinder
Horsepower 145 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque 136 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
Transmission 5 speed manual
Tires P195/55HR 16 all-season
Curb weight 1,217 kg (2,683 lbs)
Wheelbase 2535 mm (99.8 in.)
Length 4509 mm (177.5 in.)
Width 1709 mm (67.3 in.)
Height 1410 mm (55.5 in.)
Trunk space 328 litres (11.6 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 9.9 l/100 km (29 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.0 l/100 km (40 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

Connect with Autos.ca