The Nissan Sentra has been with us in its current body style since 2007, so by many measures it’s getting long in tooth. The Sentra compares to the Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze and others. While 40 mpg ratings have become the new standard for this class, the Sentra highest EPA rating of 34 mpg highway seems lower by comparison.
Our recent road trip test shows however that it can perform much better in the real world. Our tester was a 2012 base model with the 2.0 liter DOHC four-cylinder mated to Nissan electronically controlled constantly variable transmission (CVT). The EPA rates this engine/transmission combination at 27 mpg city and 34 mpg highway.
We took a long road trip from Phoenix, AZ to Sacramento, CA and back. The total drive was nearly 2,000 miles with our various offshoots. The route included mountains, desert plains, and miles of California’s oleander and garbage lined highway 99.
What really surprised us about the Sentra is its ability to be easily hypermiled. A light foot on the accelerator and strategic coasting will net you huge gains on the highway. We found it quite easily at 65 mph with the air-conditioning on to maintain a freeway average of 45-49 mpg.
Obviously that drops in the mountains and on city stops. Our trip average for the entire 2000 miles was 42.8 mpg measured both on the trip computer as well as manual computation based on fuel usage. When you consider the air-conditioning was on from start to finish this is phenomenal performance from a car the EPA expects only 34 mpg out of on the highway.
Best of all the Sentra is comfortable inside for long drives. The chassis is solid and even Germanic in feel at times. The car feels heavy and the tight steering gives confidence. Notable also is the quietness and lack of tin-can thrum that many cars in its class exhibit.
The interior is simple and utilitarian without feeling austere. It’s a down to business cabin free of ostentatious curves and swoops that some of its competitors have gone to. The materials are of a commendable quality and feel, controls are easy to reach and understand. It’s reminiscent of BMW’s of the 1980′s which had function over form.
Exterior styling is familiar as we have seen it on the roads for five years. It still manages to stand out however with jeweled headlights and a unique silhouette, but the chrome look rear tail lights is a fad long passed.
While the Sentra is due for an all new model in the coming year or so, it remains competitive in ways we didn’t expect. Granted when it’s replaced it will come with all the latest infotainment devices and more fluid styling. But for now it’s a solid, simple and highly efficient choice that starts at $16,430.