2010 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V
2010 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V. Click image to enlarge

Related articles on Autos
Sentra SE-R drift video now online
Test Drive: 2010 Nissan Sentra 2.0
Buyer’s Guide: 2010 Nissan Sentra
DBDR: 2010 Nissan Sentra 2.0
Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Nissan Sentra
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Nissan Sentra
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Sentra 2.0S

Manufacturer’s web site
Nissan Canada

Join Autos’s Facebook group
Follow Autos on Twitter

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

Photo Gallery:
2010 Nissan Sentra

For those with a thirst for driving excitement but a limited budget, there are several compact sedans and hatchbacks on the market with tuned suspensions, performance tires, and extra power under the hood, many of them starting under $25,000.

Well-known examples include the Toyota Corolla XRS ($22,550), Mazda3 GT ($22,995) Subaru Impreza 2.5i Sport ($24,695), Honda Civic Si sedan ($26,880) and Volkswagen GTI ($29,675), but one that’s often forgotten is the Nissan Sentra SE-R ($21,798), and SE-R Spec V ($23,198). These zippy Sentras have a bigger, more powerful 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that replaces the Sentra’s standard 140-hp 2.0-litre powerplant; the SE-R has 177 horsepower and a CVT with paddle shifters, while the SE-R Spec V has 200 hp and a six-speed manual transmission.

Both these sporty Sentras feature 17-inch low profile tires, sport tuned suspensions, and nicely-equipped interiors with front sport seats and special instrumentation. New this year is standard Vehicle Dynamic Control (stability control) and traction control.

SE-R and Spec V Sentras can be identified by their smoked headlight and taillight surrounds, front air dam, black honeycomb ‘sport’ grille, front fog lights, side sills, rear trunk spoiler, 17-inch alloy wheels and tires, chrome exhaust tip, and SE-R/Spec V badges on the trunk. Still, this is not an aggressive looking car.

2010 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V
2010 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V
2010 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V. Click image to enlarge

The SE-R Spec V model includes a few upgrades over the standard SE-R: W-rated 17-inch summer performance tires, larger front brake rotors, stiffer shocks and struts, a 20-mm lower ride height, larger front stabilizer bar, reinforced upper cowl, trunk-mounted V-brace, and the aforementioned six-speed manual transmission.

Our Spec V test car included the optional Sport Package with a helical limited slip front differential, power glass moonroof, Rockford Fosgate audio system with eight speakers and XM satellite radio, and illuminated vanity mirrors; as well as the Tech Package, with navigation system, five-inch colour screen, and rear-view camera; and metallic pearl paint.

With options, Freight and A/C tax, the as-tested price of this Sentra SE-R Spec V came to $25,524, a very reasonable price for this much stuff.

Driving impressions

The Spec V’s aluminum 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and continuously variable valve timing has a higher (10.5:1) compression ratio than the regular SE-R’s engine and develops maximum horsepower and torque at higher r.p.m.s. Its 200 horsepower comes at 6,600 r.pm. compared to the SE-R’s 177 hp at 6,000 rpm, but more importantly the Spec V makes maximum torque at 5,200 r.p.m. instead of the SE-R’s 2,800 r.p.m. which means the Spec V’s engine needs to be revved higher to extract performance, much like a race engine. Surprisingly though, I found the Spec V has enough useful torque for typical commuting needs and doesn’t need to be shifted constantly to keep the power up. So it’s a fairly flexible engine, though a bit coarse when working hard, and surprisingly quiet when cruising. On the freeway, the engine revs at 2,400 rpm in sixth gear at 100 km/h.

2010 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V
2010 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V
2010 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V. Click image to enlarge

With its high compression ratio and higher revving nature, the Spec V 2.5-litre engine isn’t as fuel efficient as the SE-R or the regular Sentra, and it uses Premium fuel. Against official fuel economy numbers of 9.8 L/100 km (29 mpg) City and 7.0 L/100 km (40 mpg) Highway, I averaged about 10 L/100 km in an urban-heavy use.

The Spec V’s six-speed manual shifter is positioned high up on the centre console for easy reach, shifts are easy though a bit long and clunky, clutch pedal effort is moderate, and engagement is smooth.

The SE-R’s sport-tuned suspension, which includes independent struts/coil springs in front and a torsion beam at the rear, provides a good balance of flat, nimble handling and a non-punishing ride. The standard Continental Sport Contact2 P225/45WR17-inch summer radials on our test car proved sticky and responsive in the dry while being reasonably quiet on the highway. Though I didn’t get a chance to drive in the rain, the optional helical limited slip front differential combined with standard traction control should improve traction and stability when accelerating and cornering in slippery conditions. And if the car begins to lose control, standard stability control is there to help tug the car back into line.

The letdown, for me, in the Spec V’s performance, is the steering feel. The car’s electric power-assisted vehicle speed-sensitive steering has a very strong return-to-centre feel which interferes with the driving experience when cornering, particularly when accelerating and cornering. There is also some mild torque-steer under hard acceleration. The Spec V’s steering feel is manageable and not unsafe in any way, but it should be less intrusive, in my opinion. One positive note is the Sentra’s tight turning diameter of 10.8 metres (35.4 ft.).

Connect with Autos.ca