Freshly redesigned, the 2001 Nissan Sentra sedan offers a bigger standard 1.8 litre four cylinder engine with 126 horsepower, a roomier interior with more headroom and legroom, and comes fully-equipped for under $20,000. Sentras are available in XE, GXE and sporty SE trim – the latter has a 145 horsepower 2.0 litre four cylinder engine.
Utterly sensible transportation
Just for a minute, imagine you have no character flaws: you don’t need an expensive car to boost your image because your self-esteem is well-established; you don’t need an overly powerful car to beat the next guy from one traffic light to the next because you outgrew that urge years ago; you don’t want to waste gas because you’re sensitive to the needs of the environment; and you’ve decided not to spend a lot of money on a new car because you’re saving for your kids future and your own comfortable retirement.
What kind of car should you buy? High on your list should be the new 2001 Nissan Sentra – possibly the most sensible car on the road.
It’s not that there aren’t other sensible cars out there – the Honda Civic sedan and Toyota Corolla come to mind – but the new Sentra has just been redesigned and it’s such a well-rounded car (in more ways than one) that it’s hard to find fault with it.
For example, it’s roomy and comfortable for a small car, yet is small enough to drive in downtown traffic with ease; it’s fuel-efficient and emissions-friendly, yet with a new 126 horsepower 1.8 litre four cylinder engine, has better-than-average performance; and it offers a level of quality that’s equivalent to cars costing considerably more.
In the words of a thirty year-old Datsun advertising slogan, the 2001 Sentra is ‘all you really need..’
The all-new Sentra is about 165 mm (6.5 in.) longer, 20 mm (0.8 in.) wider, and 28 mm (1.1 in.) taller than the previous Sentra, but it has the same wheelbase. Its extra height provides more headroom while clever interior design adds more legroom than in the previous model – raised front seats provide generous footroom under the front seats. The Sentra will seat four adults comfortably.
The interior of my GXE test car included comfortable cloth seats with supportive side bolstering, matching cloth door inserts, and chrome door handles – an attractive combination.
For 2001, the front seat was raised 20 mm and widened by 10 mm to make entry and exit easier, increase seat comfort, and improve outward visibility. I really liked the driving position – in addition to great outward vision, all the gauges and controls are easy to see, and things were where I could reach them easily. For example, the round gauges are bigger than average with bigger numerals. And I liked the covered storage bin in the centre of the upper dash area, a great place for storing a garage door opener – it’s easy to reach when you need it.
The centre dash protrudes towards the driver and in the GXE model, includes an AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers. Good sound, but the ‘Seek’ control will only seek ‘up’ not ‘down’.
In the centre dash area below the radio are large, easy-to-use rotary heater and ventilation dials, an open storage bin, a 12 volt outlet, and two cupholders in front of transmission lever. For storage, there are door map pockets, a small centre storage bin and armrest. At the rear are two fold-out cupholders. A 60/40 split folding rear seatback is now standard equipment on all Sentras – useful for carrying bulky cargo – but the opening to the trunk is smaller than you might expect.
Standard safety features on all Sentras includes dual front airbags, five three-point seatbelts, adjustable front head restraints, and two fixed rear head restraints.
It’s got the power
A new standard 126 horsepower 1.8 litre DOHC 16 valve four cylinder engine replaces the previous 115 horsepower 1.6 litre four cylinder engine in base XE and GXE models. This is now the most powerful base engine in the small import sedan class, and includes such new technology as variable valve timing, direct ignition, a single timing chain, improved computer controls, and micro-finished crankshaft and camshafts – many of these technologies were borrowed from the Maxima’s award-winning 3.0 litre V6 engine.
Sporty Sentra SE models have a revised 145 horsepower 2.0 litre DOHC 16 valve four cylinder engine – it’s up from 140 horsepower last year. I’ll cover the SE model in a future test-drive.
With an automatic transmission, the Sentra GXE with a 1.8 litre engine delivers 9.0 l/100 km (32 mpg)in the city, and 6.5 l/100 km (44 mpg) on the highway. That’s not class-leading fuel economy, but it’s still thrifty. Fuel economy is slightly better with the standard five-speed manual transmission. In addition, the 1.8 litre engine meets California’s ULEV (ultra low emissions vehicle) emissions standards.
Other standard features include engine-speed sensitive power steering, front disc/rear drum brakes (optional ABS), an independent MacPherson strut front suspension, and a semi-independent beam-type rear suspension.
Overall, the Sentra’s performance is better than average for a small car. More horsepower, a tighter body, an improved suspension, improved manual and automatic transmissions, and better brakes are all reasons that the Sentra’s driving experience has improved.
The 1.8 litre engine idles smoothly and is barely audible from the cabin. The Sentra is quick off the line, and reaches its 6500 rpm redline with some minor noise and vibrations coming from the engine – not disconcerting and not unusual, but it’s there.
At a steady 100 km/h on the freeway, the engine revs at a comfortable 2300 rpm – there’s a consistent low, buzzy drone, but it’s not intrusive. The optional 4-speed automatic transmission slides seamlessly from gear to gear with none of the jerkiness found in some small cars.
The Sentra’s ride is comfortable but firm, and handling is nimble and stable with a tight turning circle. Steering effort is easy but responsiveness could be slightly quicker, I thought. I found the Sentra to be a very easy car to drive, in part because of its short wheelbase, tight turning circle, and good visibility. In addition, its trunklid is not as tall as on many cars, so it’s easier to see where you’re going when backing up.
Prices and features
For a base price of $15,298, Sentra XE models include the 1.8 litre engine and 5-speed manual transmission, dual front airbags, three point seatbelts with front seatbelt tensioners, rear child safety door locks, 14 inch tires, power steering, tilt steering column, 2-speed windshield wipers, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, rear defroster, dash-mounted storage bin, two front cupholders, dual outside mirrors, and body-coloured bumpers.
An optional value package on the XE includes air conditioning, AM/FM/CD stereo, digital clock, body-coloured mouldings, centre armrest/storage bin, and visor vanity mirrors.
Sentra GXE models ($17,698) add the following features to the XE’s standard equipment: AM/FM/CD stereo system with four speakers, air conditioning, power windows and door locks, heated power mirrors, remote keyless entry with a panic alarm, variable intermittent wipers, cruise control, tachometer, upgraded seat cloth, visor mirrors, centre console armrest, two rear cupholders and power outlet, and trunk cargo net. The GXE is likely to be the most popular Sentra model.
Sporty Sentra SE models, $19,698, have the more powerful 145 horsepower 2.0 litre four cylinder engine, sport-tuned suspension, 15 inch tires with alloy wheels, four wheel disc brakes (optional ABS), fog lights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, titanium coloured gauges, overhead storage for sunglasses, map lights, anti-theft system and immobilizer.
An optional Sport Package on the SE includes 16 inch tires and alloy wheels, ABS, limited slip differential (with manual transmission), power glass moonroof, rear spoiler, premium stereo, and special sport seat cloth upholstery.
Sentra’s competitors include the Honda Civic sedan ($16,100 – $19,900), Toyota Corolla ($15,625 – $21,390), Mazda Protégé ($14,995 – $17,390), and Subaru Impreza AWD sedan ($21,995 – $27,995). Domestic competitors include the Saturn SL1/SL2 ($13,588 – $17,358), Ford Focus sedan ($14,895 – $19,795), Chrysler Neon ($17,995 – $19,905), Chevrolet Cavalier sedan ($15,915 – $20,115), and Pontiac Sunfire sedan ($16,165). The Sentra sedan offers more horsepower than its import competitors, a roomy interior, and a competitive price, but unlike some its competitors, it’s not available in other bodystyles, such as hatchback, coupe or station wagon.
If you’re looking for a four-door sedan under $20,000 and you want something practical, easy-to-drive, and fuel-efficient, the Sentra is an entirely sensible choice.