Nissan Sentra, circa 1991
Nissan Sentra

By Jeremy Cato

They’re kind of boxy and bland looking, though, not offensive in any way. Still, if you want a generally reliable, affordable and fuel efficient older grocery getter, a Nissan Sentra from the early 1990s is a good bet.

Nissan revised the Sentra for the 1991 model year (another remake came in 1995), offering a lineup of two- and four-door sedans. These cars proved to be much superior to the previous version, offered from 1987-1990.

A key difference: the 1.6-litre four-cylinder got a horsepower boost to 110, with no appreciable loss of fuel economy (8.1 city/5.6 highway (L/100 kilometres)). Performance from 0-100 km/h should come in under 12 seconds in an older car.

The standard transmission was a five-speed manual. The engine is much happier with the manual. Cars with the automatic transmission tend to be sluggish performers.

In terms of reliability, major surveys of owners and independent testers offer lots of praise for the Sentra’s quality of build and overall trouble-free operation. Only a handful of relatively minor issues are worthy of serious attention (see Buyer’s Alerts).

At its core, the Sentra was and remains a friendly and uncomplicated commuter. Give credit to this car’s above average ride and handling. This area is one of the Sentra’s great strengths. In fact, the Sentra has the feel of a much larger sedan and only Toyota’s of that era has proven to be quieter on the highway. The Sentra’s turning circle, by the way, is among the very tightest. And that’s a plus for ’round town manoeuvring.

On the safety ledger, the Sentra’s front disc/rear drum brakes work effectively and the pedal effort required is minimal. An anti-lock brake system was optional on the GXE and the X models, but the base Sentra. A driver’s side air bag arrived in 1992.

As for roominess and comfort, the Sentra’s front buckets were firm when new and should remain comfortable even as the car ages. These seats offer adequate lateral support and front head room is generous for six-footers. Front leg room is a little tight, though. And the rear seat is low and not among the most comfortable. However, there is head room back there for a six-footer. The trunk is large and without bulges, the lid cuts right to the bumper for easy loading and the fold-down back seat enhances versatility.

These older Sentras may not be the sexiest of commuter cars, but they’re hard to beat for overall functionality and reliability.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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