The Japanese carmaker Nissan implemented some mid-term changes to its Sentra compact sedan earlier in 2016. While the tweaks did nothing to harm its driving performance, even making it a tad sportier, the Nissan Sentra has long been considered by many to offer one of the dullest driving experiences in its class.
This may have been a prime motivator in the decision by Nissan’s engineers to add a turbo to the equation for the coming year. The new 2017 Nissan Sentra SR Turbo will house the same 4-cylinder, direct-injection turbo engine that powers the Nissan Juke.
I recently got to see for myself how this more dynamic new version comported itself at a launch presented by Nissan in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Here are the impressions this brief first encounter left me with.
More metal for the pedal
I start, of course, with that new engine. Able to produce 188 HP and 177 lb-ft of torque, the Sentra SR Turbo may not make people forget the old Sentra SE-R Spec V, which was discontinued in 2010, but I must admit the heavier punch attached to the gas pedal of the new model is excellent news, particularly when you compare it to the anemic naturally aspirated 1.8L 4-cylinder version that hampers the other Sentra models.
Nissan evidently intends to build on the success its sedan has had in the United States and in Canada by adding this more dynamic option. An additional selling point will undoubtedly be the impressive fuel economy it offers even with that increased power output.
The 2017 Sentra SR Turbo will be offered with a standard 6-speed manual transmission, with an available CVT transmission available as an option for those not inclined to operate a stick shift on a daily basis.
I was happy to learn that the changes Nissan made were not limited to the new engine set-up. The suspension has been firmed up, as pertains to the shocks but also the springs. Nissan also delivered more precise steering – something the Sentra could do with. As for the braking, the front disc brakes gained a few millimetres of diameter to improve their bite when it counts the most.
At the wheel
Have these improvements made a better car of the Sentra? Quite obviously, yes. From the get-go, the SR Turbo needs only seconds to flex its new muscles. I’ve noted in the past that the sound of this engine bloc as it performs in the Juke lacked charisma, and it’s no different now that it sits in the Sentra SR Turbo. But since this sedan aims to beef up the model’s recipe more than it seeks to dislodge any of the current sport model heavyweights, this is not a significant issue.
Handling of the manual transmission is disconcertingly easy, and the same can be said of the clutch pedal. Some may question the precision of the stick shift, but those who really want more in that respect should probably take a look instead at the 370Z, for example. Nissan engineers also deserve credit for tightening the steering column, braking and suspension. Nirvana may still be several steps away, but the intention is clear, the effort genuine.
This SR Turbo is without a doubt the most fun-to-drive Sentra currently on the market. If I had my druthers we would see a genuinely re-worked version produced by the company’s performance wing, Nismo – but that’s another story!
The SR Turbo, a sleeper?
No use looking for pretense or artifice in how the SR Turbo distinguishes itself visually – there is virtually none. The “SR Turbo” badge on the back of the trunk is the only cue added by the manufacturer. For the rest the sedan is a twin of the SR model, including a more convincing lower frame and exclusive alloy wheels. The spoiler on the back trunk is a nice touch, but overall the SR Turbo can be lumped in with other sleepers, those cars that offer enhanced performance but don’t feel the need to advertise it.
Now for inside
The same vision applies in the cabin. Its look is only very subtly enhanced by the blue stitching adorning the upholstery. The leather-covered steering wheel is not unpleasant to grip, although there are better options available in the Nissan catalogue.
The presence of the gearshift knob is an encouraging sign, at least for those who appreciate handling one. A CVT transmission is available as an option, but time constraints during our road test in the Atlanta region forestalled our trying it out. Having driven a fair number of Nissan vehicles over the years, I can safely predict the CVT makes the car quite expressive during acceleration, but duly silent when at cruising speed.
Nissan designers clearly did not seek to revolutionize the interior of the new Sentra. The dashboard remains unchanged, as does the second row of seats. And as regards that back row, the Sentra is one of the most generous providers of legroom in its segment. The same applies to cargo capacity in the trunk, in fact.
At the moment of writing this article, Nissan Canada had still not announced pricing for the 2017 Nissan Sentra SR Turbo. From looking at the $24,298 price tag on the 2016 SR edition (minus the turbo engine), I expect an entry price point that hovers around the $26,000 figure. We’ll have to wait to learn more on that front.
The Nissan Sentra SR Turbo is no war machine designed to conquer the track, let’s be clear. The injection of power is an excellent move by the carmaker and its engineers, however. I would be surprised, in fact, not to see this new engine bloc migrate to the rest of the Sentra lineup. And while we’re prognosticating, how about a Nissan Micra Nismo version? Now who wouldn’t like to see that?