2013 Nissan Sentra

Redesigned compact sedan loses weight and gains in gas mileage, adding new SR edition

Nissan has high hopes for the 2013 Nissan Sentra, and why not? Compacts rank second in the industry in sales, according to Nissan's CMM director Fred DePerez, with more than 2.2 million reaching customers each year. Compact sales are outpacing the overall industry recovery, too. Naturally, DePerez and his team have high expectations for the company's seventh-generation compact sedan: the 2013 Nissan Sentra.

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Dimensions and Design

Compact cars are growing - not only in sales, but in size. Visually, the 2013 Sentra looks larger than before, helped by the lowered roofline and beltline. Yet, the big news lies inside the passenger compartment. Nissan claims the largest cabin in the compact segment. Particularly in terms of rear-seat legroom, Nissan's compact leads its half-dozen competitors, with 37.4 inches. Toyota's Corolla is next at 36.3 inches, followed by the Honda Civic and Mazda3 with 36.2 inches. Backseat riders in a Ford Focus or Hyundai Elantra get just over 33 inches of leg space. Rear headroom, on the other hand, is a tad lower in a Sentra than in the six competitors, though Nissan leads in front head and leg space.

John Curl, senior manager of product planning, points to the latest Sentra's "sophisticated styling" and "efficient technology," in connectivity as well as fuel economy. A new character line is evident in the car's profile. LED taillamps now are standard, and rear overhang has increased slightly. The coefficient of drag (a measure of slipperiness through the air) has shrunk to an easygoing 0.29.

A new SR model joins the lineup, with a unique appearance that includes sport fascias and a dark sport grille. Lower body side sill extensions and foglamps are included, and the SR rides on 17-inch forked five-spoke alloy wheels.

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Specs and Tech

Beneath each Sentra hood, the "all-new" 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine develops 130 horsepower at 6000 rpm, and 128 pound-feet of torque at 3600 rpm. Eco and Sport driving modes are selectable. A new Smart Alternator decouples from the engine and battery during acceleration, then re-engages automatically to help recharge the battery via the brakes and drivetrain.

Nissan took much of the recently-redesigned, larger Altima's new technology, making it available in the 2013 Sentra. That list includes NissanConnect with navigation, a 5.8-inch touch screen, Google Send-to-Car, a rearview monitor, and warnings for curves ahead and speed limits in the area.

"Nissan is the world leader in CVT technology," according to Curl, and the 2013 Sentra's next-generation Xtronic continuously variable transmission incorporates a sub-planetary gearbox for a wide spread of driving ratios. Nissan advices that this latest CVT operates with 35 percent less friction, weighs 13 percent less, and is 10 percent smaller than its predecessor. Only the lowest-cost S model is available with a six-speed manual gearbox; all others are CVT-only.

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Dieting for MPG

Total weight has dipped by about 150 pounds. A smaller fuel tank helps lower the car's weight, but driving has not been compromised, due to improved gas mileage. Nissan claims a range of up to 515 miles. Fuel-economy estimates have not yet been issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but Nissan anticipates 30 mpg in city driving and 39 mpg on the highway. A $400 FE+ package, including underbody aerodynamic elements and low-rolling-resistance tires, edges the highway figure up to 40 mpg.

Nissan claims that it's 15.1 cubic-foot trunk is the largest in the compact segment. Nissan also promotes its Easy-fill Tire Alert system. You simply attach an air hose, pump, and the car's horn chirps when the recommended pressure is reached. No external pressure gauge is needed.

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Driving Impressions

Impressive ride quality was immediately noticeable in a 2013 Nissan Sentra SL - not cushiony soft, but nicely absorbent through all but harsh imperfections. Handling warrants no complaints either, as the Sentra dealt effectively with repeated curves back and forth on winding two-lanes. Steering feel also is satisfying, though few would call it sporty.

Acceleration is fully adequate in ordinary driving, and engine noise due to the CVT isn't a problem. That changes on even modest inclines upward, when you have to push harder on the gas and may wind up with more noise than pickup, at least for a while.

Front occupants can expect plenty of headroom and legroom, though elbow space is more restricted. Seat bottoms aren't very long, but they're cushioned well so thigh support is helpful to comfort. Riders enjoy good back support and bolstering, too. Fine Vision gauges are great - large and lit - but the navigation screen is rather small and low.

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Pricing and Trims

Prices start at $15,990 (plus $780 destination charge) for the S sedan with manual shift. Nissan expects the "heart of sales" to be the CVT-only SV model, which stickers for $17,970. The sporty new SR edition goes for $18,870, while the top-level SL model has a Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price of $19,760. Driver, Navigation, Premium, and Leather option packages are priced between $650 and $1,200 each.

"Expectations are high" in this segment, DePerez said during a presentation on the 2013 compact. In the years following the debut of the first Sentra in the U.S., in 1986, "it was kind of the car to beat ... in this segment," which then had only three major players. Since then, more than 4.2 million Sentras have been sold, all built in North America. As before, the 2013 Nissan Sentra is assembled in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Sales of the 2013 model began in mid-October.

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