2013 Nissan Sentra Driving Impressions

Commuting and driving around town is where the Sentra is most satisfying. The new 1.8-liter engine makes 130 horsepower, 10 hp less than the powerplant on the previous model, but the decrease in power is aided by a reduction in weight by more than 100 pounds. A new CTV (continuously variable transmission) automatically selects the optimal drive ratio while driving and is tuned with city fuel economy in mind. Power is adequate in most driving situations, but like many cars with small engines, the Sentra can reach its limits when driving uphill or trying to pass at highway speeds.

Three drive modes help to take the Sentra from frugal to fun. In Eco mode, the transmission and throttle work to maximize fuel economy, which, not surprisingly takes a toll on performance. We didn't notice much oomph in normal mode, but in Sport mode, we enjoyed the extra boost from shifting at higher rpms, although we did notice our gas mileage drop. The CVT felt relatively seamless, but shifts had the trademark unpleasant whirring sound faintly reminiscent of gardener's lawn edger, if you're bothered by that sort of thing.

Steering feel in the Sentra is confident, and strikes a good balance between responsive and relaxed. Brakes were fine, although we find it hard to believe that in this day and age, rear drums would still be standard on this segment. For inspiring stopping power, go for the optional 4-wheel disc brakes on the SR or SL trims.

Overall, fuel economy in the Sentra fuel economy is better than the Civic or the Corolla, although both offer slightly more horsepower and lower curb weights. The Sentra base Sentra with the manual transmission achieves 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway, while the new CVT is rated at 30 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. The optional fuel economy (FE) package available adds additional aerodynamics and low-rolling resistance tires for a gain of one mpg on the freeway, but we're not sure it's worth the extra $400.

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