Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S car test drives nissan
2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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Photo Gallery: 2007 Nissan Sentra

For whatever reason, the previous Nissan Sentra (2001-2006) just didn’t do as well in the marketplace as the popular Honda Civic, Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla. My feeling is that the Sentra’s styling just wasn’t exciting enough, even for economy car buyers – and it hadn’t been updated since the fall of 2000. As well, the Sentra four-door sedan wasn’t available as a coupe or a hatchback which could have increased its popularity. Even the sporty Sentra SE-R and SE-R Spec V models, which offered a lot of bang for the buck, didn’t catch on with the tuner crowd.

As Austin Powers might have said, the Sentra just wasn’t very “sexy”.

The redesigned 2007 Sentra attempts to address some of these shortcomings and catch up with the trend to taller bodystyles at the same time – however, it’s still available in only one bodystyle: a four-door sedan.

The new Sentra is substantially bigger than the last one: 65 mm (2.3 in.) longer, 91 mm (3.2 in.) wider, and 113 mm (4.0 in.) taller with a wheelbase that is 167 mm (5.9 in.) longer than the 2006 model. Inside, that means significantly more legroom, headroom and hiproom.

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S car test drives nissan
2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S. Click image to enlarge

Crash safety has also been given a priority in the new Sentra. Improvements include a stronger safety cell with front and rear crumple zones, hood buckling creases, and steel pipe side door beams. Inside are six standard airbags and active front head restraints.

As well, Nissan has made a number of features available in the Sentra that weren’t previously available in compact sedans, such as a standard six-speed manual transmission, and optional leather seats, hands-free Bluetooth phone system, trunk divider, and a Rockford Fosgate premium audio system.

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S car test drives nissan
2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S. Click image to enlarge

The Sentra’s new styling has an obvious family resemblance with the Altima and Maxima, but I’ve never been a fan of sibling cloning. The Sentra appears rather tall and narrow and slightly chunky, though not unattractive. It’s certainly bolder than the previous Sentra, and does away with those droopy taillights – although I can’t say I like the new red and white taillights either. Hmm. I’ll give it a six-and-a-half out of ten.


Pricing and standard equipment

2007 Sentras come in five trim levels: 2.0 ($16,798), 2.0S ($19,498) 2.0SL ($23,998); and the sporty SE-R ($22,798) and SE-R Spec V ($24,298) models with the larger 2.5-litre engine and performance upgrades.

Standard equipment on base 2.0 models ($16,798) includes a 140-hp 2.0-litre four cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission, electric power steering, front disc/rear drum brakes, and 15-inch tires with steel wheels. Inside are front, side and curtain airbags; active front head restraints and three rear head restraints; cloth seats with inserts, AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers, auxiliary audio jack and 12-volt power outlet, tilt steering column, tachometer, and variable intermittent wipers.

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S car test drives nissan
2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S. Click image to enlarge

Considering that the 2007 Sentra’s base price has gone up by only $200, the new Sentra is a much better value this year, and competitive with other compact sedans in its class.

An optional continuously variable transmission ($1,200) and anti-lock brakes ($500) can be added to the base model; and a Value Option Package ($1,300) includes popular options such as air conditioning with cabin filter, power door locks, remote keyless entry, remote trunk release, rear head restraints, 60/40 split fold-flat rear seatbacks, and rear seat centre armrest with cup holders. Even with all these options, the Sentra’s price is still under $20,000.

The mid-level trim, Sentra 2.0S ($19,498), adds the following features to the base 2.0 model: 16-inch tires, anti-lock brakes and electronic brake force distribution, air conditioning, power windows with driver’s auto-down feature, power heated mirrors, power door locks, remote entry, cruise control, height adjustable driver’s seat, and upgraded front speakers.

Options on the 2.0S model include the CVT ($1,200), and a Luxury Package ($1,600) which includes 16-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, premium AM/FM/CD audio system with six speakers, speed-sensitive volume control, steering-wheel-mounted audio control switches, trip computer and outside temperature display, instant fuel economy readout, leather-wrapped steering wheel, overhead CD holder, “Divide-N-Hide” trunk divider, and cargo net.

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S car test drives nissan
Voice-activated Bluetooth phone is an option. Click image to enlarge

Top-of-the-line 2.0SL model ($23,998) includes standard leather seats, a Rockford Fosgate audio system with AM/FM in-dash six-CD changer, eight speakers including two subwoofers, four mid-woofers, and two tweeters and MP3/WMA CD capability; and the Luxury Package mentioned above. The only option on the 2.0SL is the sliding glass moonroof ($1,000).

Sporty SE-R models ($22,798) add a 177-hp 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine, standard CVT, 17-inch radials and alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, sport-tuned suspension, speed-sensitive variable-assist steering, fog lights, SE-R grille, rear spoiler, extra bodywork and trim, chrome exhaust tip, sport seats, aluminum pedals, and oil pressure and g-sensor gauges.

SE-R Spec V models have a 200-hp 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine, six-speed manual transmission, larger front disc brakes, front stabilizer bar, firmer suspension, V-brace in the trunk, and red stitching on the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

This week’s test car is a 2.0S model with the optional CVT and Luxury Package. With Freight charges and A/C tax, the as-tested price came to $23,598.


Interior impressions

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S car test drives nissan
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S car test drives nissan
Top: tall cabin allows for a higher seating position; bottom: plastic panel on rear door scuffs easily when getting in and out. Click image to enlarge

The Sentra has a tall cabin and a higher seating position than the previous Sentra, and is roomy enough for four adults. With its long wheelbase and tall roof, even adults in the rear seat have adequate legroom and headroom. However, I noticed that the plastic panels on the rear doors are easy to scuff when getting in and out.

The driver’s visibility is good but the high rear trunklid and rear head restraints obscure vehicles immediately behind when backing up. The quality of the dash and seating materials has improved over other recent Nissan automobiles, and I especially liked the woven “fish net” seat inserts, and the metal trim around the shift lever. The dash controls are easy to reach, notably the transmission shift lever which is positioned high and well back for easy reach.

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S car test drives nissan
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S car test drives nissan
Top: dash materials are improved over the previous Sentra; bottom: The radio display is also used to relay stern messages. Click image to enlarge

The speedometer and tachometer are traditional round gauges behind the steering wheel with an additional illuminated digital gauge for the fuel and engine coolant. There’s also a digital transmission gear indicator, and odometer. The display in the upper centre dash provides radio station and band, outside temperature, and digital clock – as well as large warning messages when any of the doors are left open. From an appearance point of view, I’m not a big fan of Nissan’s orange-yellow displays with black numerals, but I didn’t have any trouble reading them.

The standard radio/CD player consists of a single on/off and volume dial in the centre and plenty of large pushbuttons. As I mentioned, the 2.0S has four speakers with upgraded front speakers, and I found reception and sound quality to be quite good.

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S car test drives nissan
Rotating adjuster allows the cupholder to accommodate different sized beverages. Click image to enlarge

The heating and air conditioning functions are also a simple three-dial arrangement that I found easy to use and quick to warm up/cool down. Below the shift lever is an open storage bin and a 12-volt powerpoint for charging phones and accessories. An auxiliary audio jack input is located in the radio.
My test car had the optional voice-activated Bluetooth phone option, a feature not available in most compact cars. This allows you to sync your Bluetooth phone with the hands-free, voice-activation system, providing easier, safer hands-free calling while driving. Illuminated audio and cruise control buttons are also found on the steering wheel.

Between the front seats are two cupholders with a rotating centre adjuster that compensates for different-sized cups, and just behind that is a hard plastic armrest with a small storage bin underneath it with room for a half-dozen CDs.

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S car test drives nissan
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S car test drives nissan
Top: Folding the rear seats is a two-step process; bottom: Divide-N-Hide trunk option provides a hidden, forward trunk compartment behind the rear seats. Click image to enlarge

There’s also a flip-down, fully-lined coin tray near the driver’s door, and a large glovebox that can fit an 8X11-inch notepad. My car had the optional removable overhead compact disc holder above the driver’s sun visor which can hold up to eight CDs. A folding rear seat armrest has two cup holders.

Split folding 60/40 rear seatbacks are standard on the 2.0S model (but not the base model). Folding them down requires two steps: first, lift up the split seat cushion, and second fold down the seatback. The head restraints can be left in if the front seats are far enough forwards.
The Sentra’s fully lined trunk is a comparatively large 371 litres (13.1 cu. ft.), and it can be opened remotely with a button on the key. My test car had the optional “Divide-N-Hide” trunk divider which separates the forward half of the trunk from the back half. This could be handy for storing delicate or fragile items that you don’t want to roll around the trunk, or things that you leave in the trunk permanently like emergency blankets, shovel, first aid kits and flares.


Driving impressions

The Sentra’s new 2.0-litre DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine features continuously variable valve timing for improved torque at lower speeds and greater fuel efficiency and emissions. It develops 140 horsepower at 5100 rpm and 147 lb-ft at 4800 rpm – not class leading, but sufficient for this size and weight of car. With the optional “Xtronic” CVT, the Sentra offers fuel economy of 8.2 L/100 km (34 mpg Imp) in the city; and 6.0 L/100 km (47 mpg) on the highway – again not class-leading, but still very frugal. According to Nissan, the Sentra with a CVT gets better overall fuel economy than the Sentra with the standard six-speed manual transmission.

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S car test drives nissan
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S car test drives nissan
2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S. Click image to enlarge

The Sentra is a comfortable, easy to drive car that’s nimble and manoeuvrable in the city, and cruises comfortably and quietly on the highway. The electric power steering effort is light when parking, but when cornering at speed I noticed a strong ‘return-to-centre’ feel which seemed a bit excessive.
Under acceleration, the CVT-equipped Sentra feels slower than competitors equipped with conventional automatic transmissions, but in fact, it is as quick or quicker. In independent acceleration tests conducted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada last fall, a CVT-equipped Sentra took 9.6 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h – quicker than the 2007 Hyundai Elantra, Dodge Caliber and Suzuki SX4 with automatic transmissions in the same tests. The Sentra’s time is also comparable with automatic-equipped versions of the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.

Driving with a CVT transmission is a different, and at first unsettling, experience. There are no discernable shift points as you speed up – the engine just revs up to a point and stays there until you lift your foot off the gas. In the city, the engine may rev up to about 3000 rpm as you accelerate, and hold there until you reach your cruising speed. Merging onto the highway under full throttle, the engine can speed up to 6000 rpm, and stay there until you settle into a cruising speed. Under hard acceleration, it feels like the transmission is ‘slipping’ but that’s just the normal operation of a CVT. Most of the time, the CVT allows the engine to loaf along at very low speeds which explains why CVTs in general provide better gas mileage than traditional automatic transmissions. At a steady 100 km/h, I recorded an engine speed of just 1,900 rpm, and at 120 km/h, I saw 2,200 rpm.
The shift lever includes an on/off “overdrive” button which allows the engine to maintain a higher speed to provide better throttle response when needed, such as when preparing to enter the freeway.

Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S car test drives nissan
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S car test drives nissan
2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S. Click image to enlarge

The Sentra’s braking performance isn’t as good as some of its competitors though. In AJAC braking tests, its 100 km/h to 0 km/h braking distance of 45.1 metres was six metres longer than the best performer in the AJAC group, the VW Rabbit. It’s difficult to say why this is, but it could be due in part to the Sentra’s rear drum brakes.

Handling is nimble – the Sentra uses an independent front suspension (front strut with coil springs and stabilizer bar)
and a semi-independent rear suspension (torsion beam with stabilizer bar). The Bridgestone Turanza P205/55HR16 all-season tires on my test car provided good grip in wet and dry conditions. The ride is very comfortable, and with the low revving engine, the cabin is commendably quiet for an economy car.


Verdict

Much improved over the previous Sentra, the 2007 model is roomier and more comfortable with a newly available continuously variable transmission that improves fuel economy. Concerns include rear visibility, braking performance, and exterior styling.


Pricing: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S

  • Base price: $19,498
  • Options: $ 2,800 (CVT transmission, $1,200; Luxury Package, $1,600: 205/55HR16-inch tires and alloy wheels, Bluetooth phone system, AM/FM/CD audio system with six speakers, speed-sensitive volume control, steering-wheel-mounted audio control switches, trip computer and outside temperature display, instant fuel-consumption gauge, leather-wrapped steering wheel, overhead CD holder, “Divide-N-Hide” trunk divider, cargo net)
  • Freight: $1,200
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Price as tested: $23,598 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives


Specifications


Related stories on Autos


Competitors


Crash test results


Manufacturer’s web site




About Greg Wilson

Greg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and contributor to Autos.ca. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).