2004 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V
Photos: Nissan. Click image to enlarge

By Jil McIntosh

There is no question that Nissan is back on top of its game. The 350Z, Murano, and now the stunning Z roadster are justifiably getting all the press.

But don’t let these higher-end beauties make you forget that Nissan still knows how to do entry-level. A base Sentra starts at $15,598; my top-of-the-line “factory hot rod” SE-R Spec V Sport (how I miss the days of simple car names) came in at $24,898 before freight.

The Sentra offers a buffet of trim packages and three engine levels. The base 1.8 and 1.8S models ($15,598 to $21,598) come with a 1.8-litre, DOHC 4-cylinder that provides 126 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. The SE-R ($21,498 to $24,398) and SE-R Spec V ($21,998 to $24,898) have a 2.5-litre DOHC that produces 165 horsepower in the lower line, and 175 horsepower in the higher range.

It turns the Spec V into a tight, torquey little thing (180 ft-lbs at 4,000 rpm) that moves out through a close-ratio 6-speed manual. Nissan means business here: the four-speed automatic that’s optional on the 1.8 and standard issue on the SE-R is not available to Spec V drivers.

In keeping with its macho side, SE-R features a sport-tuned suspension, firmer shocks and heavy stabilizer bars. Spec V adds polyurethane bushings, firmer springs, Z-rated tires and a limited-slip differential. It’s solid off the line, handles well, and it’s sportscar-firm – quite a package at the price.

All Sentra models share a handsome four-door configuration that provides roomy seating for the up-front passengers, and short-haul-only comfort for the rear. The seating position surprised me. I sat relatively low – normally I like to be about half a notch shy of the roof (the female version of a car making up for length-er, height?) – yet I still had complete visibility.

2004 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V

2004 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V

2004 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V
Click image to enlarge

There’s a fair bit of cabin storage, including a console bin that takes CDs, a dash-mounted covered bin and cubbies in the centre stack. The trunk is a generous 104 cm, but fold the rear seat and it extends to 160 cm. Both sides of the 60/40 rear seat move on the lower series, but Sport packages add a 300-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system, and the subwoofer precludes folding the smaller portion of the seat. Ah, the price we pay for tooth-rattling bass.

Heater controls are fine until you stop for refreshment; the average bottled water or keg-o-coffee size blocks them. Doors close with a good solid thunk, although I’d prefer inside handles that override the locks. Larger, more convenient vent handles would make it easier to open and close them, especially when wearing gloves.

I found the wipers irritating, since they don’t sweep far enough on the driver’s side. I live in an area being rapidly gobbled up by urban sprawl (note to self: when elected queen of the world, enforce a law that developers have to regularly wash off the mud they track onto the roads), and I had to look at a wide band of dirt. In winter, salt spray would equally block my vision. As well, the owner’s manual promises a mist function along with the variable intermittent wipers, but for some reason, it isn’t there. (And it wasn’t just my tester; I stopped into a dealership to check their cars, too. No dice – or rather, no mist.)

While the base 1.8 can be upgraded with a “value option package” that adds air, better stereo and variable wipers among others, the 1.8S and all SE-R packages include power heated mirrors, AM/FM/CD, air, power windows, power locks with keyless entry, and cruise control. All receive dual air bags; ABS is available (as part of a larger package) for all but the base 1.8. Sport packages receive a power sunroof and nine speakers.

In combined city and highway driving, the Spec V returned 9.7L/100km (29 mpg).

No, I didn’t get the same looks given the Z roadster that pulled up beside me at the lights. But when you get the Spec V’s style and performance out of the box for under 25 grand, who’s complaining?

Technical Data: 2004 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V

Base price $21,998
Freight $868
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $22,966
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.5 litre four cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 175 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 180 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Curb weight 1230 kg (2712 lb)
Wheelbase 2535 mm (99.8 in.)
Length 4509 mm (177.5 in.)
Width 1709 mm ( 67.3 in.)
Height 1410 mm ( 55.5 in.)
Ground clearance
Trunk space 329 litres (11.6 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 10.2 l/100 km (28 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.7 l/100 km (37 mpg)
Fuel type Premium unleaded
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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