Introduced in mid-1999, the new Sentra SE has a bigger, more powerful 140 horsepower 2.0 litre four cylinder engine, high-performance V-rated 15 inch radials, sporty titanium-coloured alloy wheels, sport seats, and white-faced gauges. It comes fully-equipped – the only option is an automatic transmission. Suggested retail price is $23,045.
Special edition Sentra gets more pizazz
Nissan’s economical small car, the Sentra, is not as well-known as popular subcompacts like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. Nevertheless, it has all the virtues of a small Japanese car: excellent fuel economy, nimble handling, a good warranty, and above-average reliability – it won the CAA’s Used Car Performance Award twice in the past decade.
What the Sentra lacks is image…panache…pizazz. Overall, it’s a pretty boring car. A completely redesigned Sentra is expected next year, but until then, Nissan has introduced a new version of the four-door Sentra sedan with a bigger engine and a little more chutzpah.
The Sentra SE sedan has the same 140 horsepower 2.0 litre DOHC 16 valve engine as last year’s 200SX coupe (a two-door Sentra which was discontinued). The 2.0 litre four cylinder engine has 25 more horsepower than the standard 1.6 litre four cylinder engine found in the Sentra XE and GXE sedans.
In addition, the new SE has a sportier look, highlighted by standard 15 inch titanium-coloured alloy wheels, high-performance V-rated all-season 195/55VR-15 inch radials, front fog lights, a rear spoiler, side sills, tinted windows, and a selection of sporty exterior colours including colour-keyed bumpers, door handles, and mouldings.
The SE’s sporty appearance continues on the inside where there are unique, body-hugging sport seats with a special knit cloth fabric and matching cloth inserts in the doors, white-faced analogue gauges including a tachometer, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
Unique to the SE is a premium AM/FM/CD/cassette audio system with 120 watt amplifier, four speakers, twelve FM presets, auto-reverse cassette player with program search and Dolby noise reduction, and a CD player with random search and repeat features. The SE is also the only Sentra with an anti-theft system that includes a remote key fob and panic alarm.
These features are over-and-above a fairly extensive list of standard features which include air conditioning, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, power windows with driver’s automatic down feature, power door locks, power mirrors, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, and dual airbags.
The Sentra SE is not just for show, though. In addition to low-profile performance tires, the SE has a stiffer suspension with an added front stabilizer bar, four wheel disc brakes, anti-lock brakes, and engine-speed-sensitive power steering – all standard equipment.
The only option is a four-speed automatic transmission.
With 140 horsepower and a relatively light curb weight of 1188 kg (2619 lb.) the SE offers brisk performance, particularly around town. Its small size and peppy engine give it an advantage in urban driving. Keep in mind though, most of that performance comes in the higher rev ranges – maximum horsepower is generated at 6400 rpm, and maximum torque at 4800 rpm. For this reason, I would recommend the standard manual transmission over the optional automatic – that way, you’ll get the most out of this rev-happy engine.
Fuel consumption is not quite as good as the 1.6 litre motor, but it’s still very thrifty, 10.4 litres per 100 km (27 mpg) in the city, and 7.1 litres per 100 km (40 mpg) on the highway.
The SE’s handling is nimble and more stable than its Sentra siblings which have smaller tires and softer suspensions. I’m not a fan of Nissan’s solid multi-link beam suspension (I prefer independent rear suspensions), but it provides good grip on most smooth surfaces, and adds interior space to the trunk. The SE’s steering is light and quick, and the manual gearbox is above-average in terms of effort but could benefit from shorter, more precise throws. Braking is excellent, as you might expect in a lightweight car with four wheel disc brakes.
The interior is well-designed, although the dash is rather monotone in colour. I liked the large prominently-displayed dials for the ventilation and heating functions, and the clear white-on-black lettering on the stereo just below, but I would have preferred variable-intermittent wipers to the two-speed intermittent wipers offered in the SE.
There’s enough interior room for four adult passengers, but five passengers is tight. The SE’s 10.7 cubic foot trunk is big for a small sedan, and the standard 60/40 split folding rear seats add the capability of carrying long objects, or a combination of long objects and rear passengers.
The manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $23,045 may seem high for a subcompact, but it includes just about every available option as standard equipment. In addition, the Sentra SE is the only small import car to offer a 2.0 litre four cylinder engine, and it’s the only ‘sports sedan’ in the import class.
The Sentra SE will be available only in the 1999 model year, which may extend into the early part of 2000 when the new, redesigned Sentra will be introduced.