Class: Compact Car
Miles Driven: 411
Fuel Used: 14.8 gallons
|CG Report Card|
|Big & Tall comfort ratings are for front seats only. "Big" rating based on male tester weighing approximately 350 pounds, "Tall" rating based on 6'6"-tall male tester.|
|Room and Comfort||B|
|Power and Performance||B+|
|Fit and Finish||C+|
|Report-card grades are derived from a consensus of test-driver evaluations. All grades are versus other vehicles in the same class. Value grade is for specific trim level evaluated, and may not reflect Consumer Guide's impressions of the entire model lineup.|
|Big & Tall Comfort|
Real-world fuel economy: 27.8 mpg
Driving mix: 40% city, 60% highway
EPA-estimated fuel economy: 27/33/29 (city/highway/combined)
Base price: $21,990 (not including $865 destination charge)
Options on test car: Carpeted floor mats ($200), premium paint ($295), SR Turbo Premium Package ($2590)
Price as tested: $25,940
The great: Visibility, control layout, rear-seat room
The good: Powertrain performance, trunk space
The not so good: Rear seat backs don’t fold flat
Call it “fun frugality.”
Back in the 1970s and ‘80s, hot hatchbacks were all the rage. These were otherwise-pedestrian econoboxes souped up with hotter engines, typically turbocharged ones. Due to the fact that they were based on small, cheap cars and still got great mileage despite the performance – which in a few cases was quite stellar for the times – they really defined the term above. And then they kind of faded from view.
But that formula has seen a resurgence of late. While not all small, turbocharged engines are aimed specifically at performance anymore, most provide a fair amount of it. And that’s the case with Nissan’s Sentra SR Turbo, offered only as a sedan.
The turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine in the SR Turbo migrated there from the make’s little Juke crossover. Though smaller in displacement than the 1.8 liter four in other Sentras, the turbo makes 188 horsepower, whereas the 1.8 makes 124 (or 130 when paired to a 6-speed manual). The turbo also out-punches the 1.8 with 177 lb-ft of torque vs. 125. In exchange, it drops 3-4 mpg in EPA ratings, as our tester with CVT automatic transmission was rated at 27 city/33 highway. It averaged 27.8 mpg in a mix of city/highway driving, very close to the 29 mpg EPA combined figure.
Of course, there’s also some added cost – though not as much as might be expected. Whereas adding “Turbo” to the badge adds $2000 to the price, that also includes a power moonroof, which often costs a grand on its own. Also standard on the SR Turbo are such niceties as heated front seats and mirrors, keyless access and starting, satellite radio, rearview camera, and hands-free text messaging. Our test car was also fitted with the $2590 SR Turbo Premium Package, which adds leather upholstery, auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, NissanConnect with navigation and mobile apps, Sirius XM Traffic and Travel link, power driver seat with 2-way lumbar adjustment, BOSE premium audio system, and – on the safety front – blind-spot monitoring and rear-cross-traffic alert. So at a base price of $22,855 including destination and $25,940 in as-tested form, the SR Turbo ends up being kind of a bargain.
It’s also kind of a nice car. Compared to your average compact, it has great visibility (thanks to thin roof pillars), good rear-seat room – even with the front seat all the way back – and a large trunk with a bit of “unofficial” underfloor storage around the spare tire. On the downside, tall drivers might wish for more space, and when folded, the rear seat backs rest eight inches above the level of the cargo floor (so you can’t just slide long items forward) and the opening left is somewhat restricted in height.
Also a little below par is cabin storage space. The glovebox is the only largish compartment, and it’s so deeply recessed on the underside of the dash that it’s awkward to reach stuff inside. Also, the console box is both small and set very far back, making it inconvenient to reach not only anything stored inside, but also the contained Aux and USB jacks. The black dashboard and armrests are padded but not the door tops, with conservative black and silver “crosshatch” trim lending a rather austere look.
Countering that, however, is a very nice control layout. The audio system includes volume and tuning knobs along with some physical buttons, with my only complaint being that the on-screen station-select buttons are far smaller than all the blank space around them indicates they need to be; as such, they’re a bit tricky to hit when bouncing down the road. Climate controls consisting of rotary temperature and fan-speed knobs along with individual mode buttons are likewise easy to use, and all controls are within easy reach.
But what sets the SR Turbo apart from other Sentras – and many other compacts – is its relatively potent turbo engine. Unlike some small turbos, it provides a fairly decent full-throttle jump off the line, and the CVT automatic transmission (a manual is also offered) executes fairly quick “downshifts” when the throttle is stabbed while underway. In both cases, power is good if not quite strong, making the car feel sportier than most rivals.
With the performance focus, it’s almost surprising how well the SR Turbo rides. It’s quite compliant over most bumps, and though you trade some handling prowess for the comfort, we think it’s a good compromise. Besides, Nissan announced it will soon be offering a NISMO (the company’s internal performance arm) version of the SR Turbo with the same engine but tighter suspension, which should satisfy those looking for optimum handling.
In the very popular compact class, Sentra typically ends up third in sales (albeit a distant third) behind the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, meaning it beats out 18 others – including some big names like the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, and Hyundai Elantra. And there’s a reason for that. Sentra combines spacious accommodations and cargo room, great visibility and control layout, and some available high-tech features at a reasonable price. And with the SR Turbo, you can also add “sporty performance” to the list.
There’s nothing like a good ol’ horsepower infusion to make a fairly milquetoast compact car a lot less boring. The basic Nissan Sentra has typically been something of an also-ran among enthusiast buyers, who usually gravitate toward sporty, crisp-handling class competitors such as the Ford Focus, Mazda 3, and Volkswagen Golf. The SR Turbo just might change that, at least among penny-pinching shoppers with a hankering for some extra “go.”
Not surprisingly, the addition of 64 more horsepower gives the Sentra SR Turbo a much more raucous character than its 1.8-liter stablemates. The power is decent off the line and builds strongly after that, and the CVT transmission—typically not the first gearbox choice among hot-car aficionados—manages to feel responsive and sporty. The powertrain has an eager personality that almost asks to be driven aggressively.
Unfortunately, the basic Sentra chassis isn’t outstanding raw material to work with when you’re building a performance car. Despite the SR Turbo’s enhancements, it isn’t quite as confident in the twisties as a comparably equipped Focus, 3, or Golf. The steering feels overboosted and offers precious little road feel or feedback, and the chassis doesn’t feel as solid as those aforementioned rivals. Perhaps the forthcoming NISMO model will step up the Sentra’s game a bit more in this arena.
Also, a front-seat upgrade was not on the list of the SR Turbo’s enhancements, so you’re stuck with the basic Sentra’s spongy, not-particularly-well-bolstered units, which aren’t very supportive in spirited cornering. Again, you’ll have pony up for a Sentra NISMO if you want serious sport seats in a Sentra.
But, all of those extra goodies drive up the bottom line—and a bargain sticker price is one of the key selling points of this car. For all its shortcomings, Sentra SR Turbo is a practical, everyday compact that strives to offer a good bang for the buck, and that always gets high marks from me.