The compact car segment is traditionally one of the most popular, if not the most popular in the entire industry. It’s no wonder manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure their product stands out.
For a long time, Nissan didn’t really have to worry about the Sentra. Offering a cheap, fairly reliable car was all it needed to do, and the Sentra sold fairly well, much like a number of competitors. Styling and driving dynamics were clearly not top priorities — just look at the success enjoyed by the Toyota Corolla!
Times have changed, however. Today’s compact cars must also look sharp and be fun to drive. And that’s where Nissan has its work cut out for it.
Sentra gets major upgrades for 2016
There are a good dozen alternatives in this segment and competition is fierce to say the least. The Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, and Hyundai Elantra lead the way. At the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find the Mitsubishi Lancer, Dodge Dart, Subaru Impreza, and of course the Nissan Sentra.
Actions needed to be taken, which is why we’re witnessing a serious mid-cycle update for 2016. Instead of the usual cosmetic changes, Nissan took things further and fitted the Sentra with over 500 new parts. In other words, approximately 20% of the car is fresh.
On the surface
In terms of exterior styling, the 2016 Nissan Sentra considerably stands out from the outgoing model. The most striking evolution is arguably the brand’s signature V-motion front fascia. In fact, the whole front of the car was revised. LED headlights are now standard (SR and SL only) and add a touch of luxury. In the rear, the taillights sport a new design, just like the bumper. These changes are more subtle, mind you. Overall, I’d say Nissan succeeded in injecting life and excitement into the Sentra’s look.
Designers tried to do the same inside, but the result is far less impressive. Although the steering wheel and centre stack are new, the general layout and ambiance remain quite sober. On a positive note, Nissan incorporated an Advanced Drive Assist Display in the middle of the gauges, providing a host of information such as fuel consumption, range, safety alerts, turn-by-turn navigation, caller ID, and more.
Ultimately, though, there is still some work to do. Certain materials could be improved, while the new seats are definitely not the most comfortable out there. Heck, I couldn’t even lower them enough to enjoy a proper driving position. Taller folks will curse these buckets, for sure.
Beyond all the glitz
The good news is that the 2016 Nissan Sentra received a number of invisible updates that enhance the driving experience. This car has long been considered a rolling appliance, but the latest iteration proves a little more pleasant on the road.
For starters, engineers revised and reinforced the suspension for better stability. They also gave the steering a heavier, more connected feel. Don’t expect 370Z-like handling, of course, or something that comes even remotely close to the new Honda Civic or Mazda3. But the fact of the matter is that the updated Sentra is more enjoyable to drive and compares with the Toyota Corolla.
Delivering a smooth, quiet ride has always been its forte, and Nissan raised the bar for 2016 with the addition of sound-deadening material. I really like the Sentra’s plush demeanour.
Minor tweaks to the powertrain
Under the hood is the same 1.8L 4-cylinder that produces 130 horsepower and 120 lb-ft of torque. The standard 6-speed manual transmission can be replaced by an Xtronic CVT on most trim levels.
The latter has never been a favourite of mine due to its unpleasant drone under acceleration. However, the third-generation unit is much more tolerable with simulated gear shifts that keep engine revs at more decent levels. It is certainly a step in the right direction even though passing manoeuvers remain fairly noisy.
What about technology?
What gadgets does the 2016 Nissan Sentra have in store for technophiles? Well, there’s NissanConnect and its many different features allowing you to stay connected on the go. Remember that these come at a price, though, and are only available in top trim (SL).
On the flip side, Apple’s Siri can be had in SV, SR, and SL models. It works with your iPhone, enabling you to make calls, send text messages, set reminders and more — all without taking your eyes off the road or your hands off the wheel.
The 2016 Nissan Sentra in short
Nissan has nicely repositioned the Sentra to better compete with other compact sedans. Having said that, I’m not sure the 2016 update will be enough to make a real difference in the short term. Hopefully, the next-generation model will build on that and become a force to reckon with.