Nissan Sentra is First Produced

The Nissan Sentrawas compact car produced by automaker Nissan Motors and is generally a rebadged export version of the Japanese Nissan Sunny.

The name "Sentra" is not used in Japan.

In the United States, the Nissan Sentra currently serves as Nissan's compact car and the prices range from $15,000 for a base model to $21,000 for a loaded top-of-the-line Sentra. While previous Sentras were subcompact cars, the Sentra has grown over the years, and now the Nissan Versa has replaced the Sentra in the entry-level area, although it is rated by the US EPA as a mid-size car due to its interior volume.

The Nissan Sentra was introduced for the 1982 model year as the US export name for the Nissan Sunny. Many other countries in the Americas, such as Brazil, sell their versions of the Sunny as the Sentra. In Mexico, the first three generations of the Sentra were known as the Tsuru, and the 1994 model is still sold under that name, having gone through three facelifts, alongside the current Sentra.

This subcompact automobile was the first of the Sentras and was a direct replacement for the Datsun 210. While previous Sunnys had been rear-wheel drive, starting with the B11 they now sported front-wheel drive FF layout. The B11 also dropped the A series (OHV) engine in favor of the E15 SOHC engine out of the Datsun 310, and was the first car in the United States to carry the Nissan name solely. In 1983, all Sentras had the E16 as the only option with 4-speed manual as standard with a 3-speed automatic and, in some years, a 5-speed manual, as options. A 1.7-litre CD17 I4 diesel was also available from 1984 to 1987 (from 1983 to 1985 the US). The diesel version was produced in small numbers and because of its rarity is becoming popular with collectors. There were several models of the B11 ranging from the Honeybee, a holdover from the 210 that achieved 35 mpg, or the Deluxe that had air conditioning, Clarion tape deck and dual side mirrors. Not All Sentras had 4 wheel independent suspension and front disc brakes.

In most markets, this model line was marketed as the Nissan Sunny and was available with 1.3 and 1.5 gasoline (petrol) engines. A five-door wagon (estate car) version was also marketed, too.

In Mexico it was called the Datsun/Nissan Tsuru, some rare early models still had the Datsun badge, but it was soon replaced for the Nissan badge, also the 3 door hatchback was known as the Nissan Samurai and it was offered with a performance package called "Ninja" which included a low boost Turbo and Ninja stickers on the low side of the doors.

The Nissan Sentra has been vying for the wallets of economy-car shoppers since 1982. For most of that time, the Sentra has lagged a little behind the segment leaders in terms of overall refinement and image. Still, there have been periods where this car has been one of the best choices available.

For automotive enthusiasts, a key point in the Nissan Sentra's history came with the introduction of the SE-R version that debuted in 1991. This peppy two-door boasted 140 horsepower (serious output for a 2.0-liter four-cylinder of the time), four-wheel disc brakes and a firmly calibrated independent suspension. The Sentra SE-R was a big hit with enthusiasts on a tight budget, and the sprightly sport compact harkened back to the boxy Datsun 510 of two decades prior. The latter was a favorite of club racers due to the car's sporty handling and tough four-cylinder engine.

Nowadays, the Nissan Sentra is facing a much tougher battle than when it debuted, especially as many automakers are now offering specialized performance models that compete directly with the SE-R. Still something of a dark horse in the market, the Sentra nonetheless remains a solid choice thanks to its performance variants, high fuel efficiency and low upkeep costs.

Current Nissan Sentra

The Nissan Sentra small sedan is available in five main trim levels: 2.0, 2.0 S, 2.0 SL, SE-R and SE-R Spec V. All models but the SE-R get a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 140 hp. The SE-R has a 2.5-liter four with 177 hp, while the SE-R Spec V has a modified version of the 2.5-liter engine that packs 200 hp. Transmission choices consist of a six-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT) -- the latter available in all but the Spec V. There's also an "FE+" designation (which stands for "Fuel Economy Plus") for all Sentras except the SE-R trims. FE+ Sentras have slightly better fuel mileage numbers.

The base Sentra comes with only the basics, while the S and SL can be had with a few upscale features not typically seen on an economy car, such as Bluetooth connectivity and keyless start. Thanks to the longer wheelbase on which the car now rides, the cabin is roomy, with ample headroom and legroom for 6-footers.

We've found this Sentra to be comfortable, roomy, economical and peppy. The SE-R, especially in Spec V form, provides stirring performance. (It can run to 60 mph in just 6.7 seconds.) It also offers a lot of grip in the corners, though due to the somewhat tall body design, there's more body roll than expected for this type of car.

One downside to the Nissan Sentra is the CVT's lack of versatility -- there's no way for a driver to change or hold ratios on his own. The SE-R with manual shift mode addresses this problem with simulated gear ratios, but for enthusiasts, this is still no substitute for a traditional clutch and stick. In addition, the car's suspension could be more effective at damping out bigger bumps and road undulations.

Used Nissan Sentra Models

The current, sixth-generation Nissan Sentra debuted in 2007, with slightly larger dimensions than the previous version, and employed Nissan's new design language, giving it a measure of styling pizzazz it never had. Changes since '07 have been limited to minor standard feature upgrades.

Nissan's fifth-generation Sentra ran from 2000-'06. Available in sedan form only, it was initially available in base XE, nicely equipped GXE and top-of-the-line SE trims. All were powered by a 1.8-liter inline-4 with 126 hp, and power was sent to the front wheels via a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual gearbox. The sporty SE-R returned in '02, and just like today, there were two versions: the standard SE-R (165 hp, five-speed manual) and the hot rod SE-R Spec V (175 hp, six-speed manual, 17-inch wheels).

At the time, our editors praised this Sentra for its functional cabin design, nimble handling, many standard features and peppy SE-R trim level. Downsides included bland styling, an awkward driving position and a small backseat. This generation generally has a solid reputation as far as mechanical reliability, though anecdotal evidence suggests that the engine in the SE-R models was more trouble-prone.

The fourth-generation Sentra (1995-'99), with its low nose and high tail, was a styling departure from the straight-edged look of the previous car, Officially offered just as a sedan (the coupe version became the 200SX), this Sentra had more interior room than before, but sadly lost its independent rear suspension. (Notably, independent rear suspension has never returned to the Sentra line -- today's sixth-generation car continues on with a rear torsion-beam setup.) Trim levels consisted of a bare-bones base model, the slightly less stripped XE, the popularly equipped GXE, the luxury GLE and the sporty SE. All trims but the SE had a 115-hp engine, while the SE actually featured the same 140-hp engine as the previous SE-R.

The sporty SE-R debuted with the third-generation Nissan Sentra (1991-'94). Buyers had a choice of either a coupe or sedan, though both shared the same simple, boxy styling. With 140 hp, four-wheel disc brakes and a tuned, fully independent suspension, the Nissan Sentra SE-R coupe provided a lot of bang for the buck and was a favorite among driving enthusiasts. All other Sentras of this generation had a 110-hp engine and trims included the stripper E, base XE, sporty SE and well-equipped GXE.

Running from 1987-'90, the second-generation Sentra was available in a multitude of body styles, including a coupe, a sedan, a wagon, a hatchback and a Sport Coupe fastback. Engine output ranged from 69 to 90 hp, depending on the year. Many of these Nissan Sentras are still on the road, and they have a respectable reputation for reliability and a miserly fuel appetite.

The Nissan Sentra debuted in 1982 as a replacement for the Datsun 210. Since then, it occupied Nissan's subcompact slot until 2000, when the Altima moved into the midsized category and the Sentra took over the compact spot. It was the first car to be branded only a Nissan.

The Sentra has seen many incarnations over the years, including as a coupe, wagon, and hatchback. In recent years, the Sentra has been available only as a sedan.

The 1991-1994 Sentra SE-R was equipped with an new engine that set speed records in the subcompact class at the time. The model is still popular for tuning and customization.

The Sentra is all new for 2007, part of an across-the-board Nissan overhaul. Taking its "You could pretty much live in it" slogan literally, Nissan filmed a series of commercials featuring a young man who lived in his Sentra for an entire week.