2006 Nissan Sentra 2.0 S Review
Better than Larry
If the guy you replaced at the office was fired in a scandalous wake of stolen office supplies, dating the boss’ daughter and an embezzlement conviction, the line “well, at least I’m doing a better job than Larry,” probably won’t fly. The bar was set so low, it’s practically subterranean, and being able to jump over it is not really a great accomplishment.
Having said all that, at least the all-new Nissan Sentra is vastly better than the car it replaces—a vehicle that seemed dodgy and antiquated about 22 minutes after it hit the show stand. This sixth-generation car is an improvement in every way over its predecessor, with modern proportions, tight lines and a hefty supply of standard and optional equipment—some of which is usually only found in luxury cars. But like Larry at the office, simply being better than one’s predecessor is just not enough, and the new Sentra falls way short of its compact sedan competition.
To be fair, the Sentra isn’t by any means a bad car, it’s just disappointing when compared to other small cars from Japan (or rather a Japanese company, since the Sentra is hecho en México). The steering is numb and indirect, with lots of body roll and tires that offer as much grip as a mountain climber basted in Crisco. The steering wheel itself doesn’t help, either, as there is no telescoping feature and its lowest height setting is too high. It does have controls for the stereo, cruise control and Bluetooth cell phone connection, though.
Another vital driver interface scores low with a shifter that feels like Nissan outsourced the contract to Nerf. It’s direct enough, but it has a rubbery feel that lacks the mechanical fluidity of a Honda or Toyota unit. Meanwhile, the clutch is far too stiff and requires effort that most drivers (particularly smaller women) will find tiresome. In this era of the ubiquitous automatic transmission, manuals should be fun and easy, and this one sure ain’t.
On the positive side, the 140-horsepower inline-4 engine has plenty of oomph to get the Sentra moving with good low-end power that proves useful around the city. Fuel economy is a very respectable EPA city 28, highway 34, and our tester came with a handy digital fuel mileage gauge.
Inside, Nissan clearly thought hard about a more youthful demographic, with a handful of features designed to attract first-time new car buyers. Options like keyless ignition, Bluetooth and a choice of satellite radio providers should attract tech-heads. The optional Rockford Fosgate stereo is powerful and crisp, offering an mp3 audio jack and six-CD capability. Extra CDs can be stowed in a built-in, removable wallet placed behind the driver’s visor (very handy), but there is no convenient resting spot for an iPod (not so handy). In the trunk, there is a curious hidden compartment with an unlockable drop-down panel that could possibly be useful, but for what we’re not exactly sure—perhaps rum running.
Nissan has constructed the interior with good quality materials that would be at home in a more expensive Maxima or Murano, and all controls fall readily at hand. The seats, however, are covered in a bizarre sport fabric that kind of feels like a bra, accompanied by a suede-like fabric that in our tester’s light tan seemed to be begging for a good stain. The overall design is handsome, but probably doesn’t offer enough pizzazz for the younger demo Nissan’s shooting for. The same can be said for the exterior.
Ultimately, the Sentra lacks a fun, dynamic personality similar to those found in the Honda Civic or Mazda 3—which is surprising considering the sporting nature of Nissan’s Altima, Maxima and 350Z. Heck, even the Murano and Quest are pretty sporty for their species. Perhaps the forthcoming Sentra SE-R will liven things up. Nevertheless, as an everyday car, the Sentra should meet your needs with plenty of room for four and enough standard and optional features to make you forget you’re driving a car south of 20 grand. It would just be nice if it was more than simply “better than Larry.”