After it gave the Sentra an extensive restyling last year, Nissan adds the new 1.8 Special Edition to its existing base line-up of 1.8 and 1.8 S, and the two high-performance SE-R and SE-R Spec V models (listed separately).

Other across-the-board changes for 2005 include new seat fabrics and paint colours, and redesigned front grille.

All carry a 1.8-litre engine that makes 126 hp and come with a five-speed manual transmission that can be optioned for a four-speed automatic. The engine comes with platinum-tipped plugs that will last 160,000 km between tune-ups, and meets Super Ultra Low Vehicle emissions standards while delivering good fuel economy for its performance.

The entry-level Sentra 1.8 gets a new immobilizer key system for 2005, which adds to a list of standard features including 15-inch wheels, rear window defroster, dual manual remote mirrors, cloth bucket seats, two-speed wipers, tilt column, and 60/40 folding rear seat.

The new-for-2005 mid-line 1.8 Special Edition features power windows with driver’s-side auto-down, power locks with remote keyless entry, power mirrors, air conditioning, CD system with four speakers, and variable intermittent wipers.

Changes for 2005 on the upper-line 1.8 S are the inclusion of fog lights, trip computer, heated mirrors, premium audio system with seven speakers, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, dual overhead storage console and dual overhead fog lamps. Standard carryover features from 2004 include tachometer, cruise control, valet key, dual rear cup holders, upper dash storage compartment and a second 12-volt power outlet.

The 1.8 series provides a package that’s very comfortable for two and rather cramped for five, and delivers style and performance that’s right in line with its price tag. Its California-designed body hits a happy medium between sporty and elegant.

The 1.8 model line combines front independent MacPherson struts with rear Multi-Link Beam design with rear stabilizer bar, which reduces road noise and improves handling through a unique lateral link. Brakes are disc and drum; ABS is available on 1.8 S as part of a package that includes front-seat, side-impact air bags.

The 1.8 ($15,598) comes within a hair of the more powerful base Chevrolet Cobalt ($15,495), but Chevrolet’s prices climb much steeper than Nissan’s with each trim line. Similarly-sized and priced Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla offer 115 and 130 hp respectively, which means the winner of the “big three” Japanese automakers still hasn’t been decisively determined.

Sentra is manufactured by Nissan Mexicana (NMEX) in Aguascalientes, Mexico.

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