The venerable Nissan Sentra has been a favorite among compact car buyers since its introduction to the United States in 1982. The sixth generation Sentra that went on sale starting with the 2007 model year marks yet another evolutionary leap forward for a car that has been a true trend setter for nearly three decades. Setting itself apart from the crowd has been the hallmark of the Sentra from the start, and it continues that tradition quite successfully with the 2011 Sentra SR.
Placing itself firmly in the middle of the Sentra price range, the SR is a sporty, eye catching compact sedan that deftly manages to blend modern, edgy styling with family car functionality, all while maintaining its economical frugality and legendary reliability. At an MSRP of $19,020 the SR model provided for this test by a local dealer in “Lava” Red, had plenty to offer. Powered by a Direct Injected Multi-Valve DOHC 2.0 Liter Inline 4 Cylinder producing 140 BHP and 147 Lb-Ft of torque and driven by Nissan’s CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), the Sentra SR achieves an estimated Fuel Economy Rating of 27 MPG city and 34 MPG highway.
In order to distinguish itself from the somewhat pedestrian styling of the standard Sentra, the SR comes outfitted with an attractive and pleasantly subdued outward appearance package that includes front and rear fascia extensions and lower side sills along with matching trunk spoiler. Further aesthetic enhancements such as 16” alloy wheels and chrome exhaust round out the SR’s lively looks.
The interior is well appointed and thoughtfully laid out. Seating for five is standard and, despite its diminutive outer appearance, the Sentra is surprisingly roomy. Adults of all sizes will find plenty of room up front, while the rear seats are capable of accommodating three in relative comfort. A simple, yet easy to read and informative gauge cluster provides the driver with a good range of information and is kept in perfect view through the adjustable steering wheel, while entertainment and Cruise can be operated with ease thanks to the inclusion of steering wheel controls.
Drivers side door mounted controls for windows, door locks and mirrors are also easy to reach and operate without taking eyes off the road. The factory stereo system is big on features and sound. Again, controls are well placed and there is a plenty of flexibility including both a standard 1/8” stereo input jack for auxiliary input and full iPod connectivity thanks to the included cable and center console hidden link port. The Sentra also has an expansive trunk area capable of containing a large amount of cargo, which can be even further extended by folding the rear seat backs forward.
On the road, the Sentra SR is a welcome departure from the norm. Among the first things noticed, was just how exceptionally quiet the interior cabin remains through a variety of speeds and road conditions. Only during initial acceleration does the engine noise intrude upon the passenger compartment, but it does so in such a way as to be comforting reassurance that the car is responding to your commands and not at all bothersome. The electric power assisted steering offers a consistently low level of required effort, making the Sentra easy to manipulate through tight spots and lane changes without giving up too much loss of feedback like similar systems employed in other cars.
Driving visibility is delightfully unhindered, the large windows and perfectly placed pillars make for a 360 degree view with very few and very minor interruptions. Fully adjustable seats and climate control allow for a custom tailored driving experience that is among the best in class. There are plenty of nice touches throughout the cabin, not the least of which is the center console drink holder that is fantastically brilliant in its flexibility. While taking the family of five out for a short jaunt in the Sentra, the Examiners observant spouse pointed out the ingenious little device which brought a choir of “ooh’s and “aah’s” from the kids in the back seat. It really is the little things that count.
When it comes to performance, the Sentra SR is well balanced. With 140 Horsepower on tap, it’s got ample pep without feeling overly eager. Acceleration from a dead stop isn’t exactly breath taking, but on par with what one would expect from 4-door compact sedan with 5 seats and a miserly approach to fuel efficiency. The CVT takes some getting used to. Those expecting to simply mash the throttle and go, will be surprised by what they experience, which is to say… Not much. A quick jab at the gas pedal will result in a linear and smooth (albeit somewhat delayed) “whoosh” of acceleration. Continuing to hold the pedal to the floor will prolong this steady and deliberate rate of ascent almost indefinitely. In what seems like a counter-intuitive twist, it is only when backing slightly off the throttle in gradual steps that the acceleration begins to feel more aggressive and pronounced. In fact, the speed of the car will continue to climb even as the RPM’s remain steady, or even diminish slightly. This quirky, modern era phenomenon may seem a bit bizarre to the first time CVT driver, but the learning curve is quick and most drivers should unconsciously adjust to it in a short span of time. Eventually the subtleties of the CVT Transmission become second nature, making it a great choice for anyone who spends time in bumper to bumper freeway traffic.
Ride quality is again among best in class standards. The suspension is nicely tuned to soak up the imperfections in the road while remaining confidently firm and stable. Ground clearance is also good, making speed bumps less intimidating than they might be in similar sized competitors. While travelling the scenic Lake DR. around Lake Hodges the Sentra felt right at home with the twists and turns, allowing for more enjoyment of the scenery. While it may not have the handling chops of its SE-R SPEC V equipped sibling, the SR was still very poised and capable throughout a wide range of conditions, all while maintaining a quiet and comfortable environment for the occupants. From the city streets of Escondido, to the afternoon grind of Highway 78 and everywhere in between, the Sentra SR was a pleasure to spend time in.
Overall, the 2011 Sentra SR is an impressive package. Smart styling, room for five, good looks, above average fuel economy, plenty of flexibility and quality build all combine to make it a great value. If you’re in the market for an affordable small family car, or a daily commuter that can hold your attention without breaking the bank, take a closer look at the 2011 Nissan Sentra SR. The only thing keeping this car from a 5 star rating is its slightly underachieving acceleration. An additional 20-25 horsepower would put the Sentra in a class by itself. As it is, it’s a solid and fun choice among its peers.
For more information on the 2011 Nissan Sentra SR, visit Nissan on the web or your local Nissan Dealer.