Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2015 Nissan Sentra SV 6-speed manual

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

In last year’s comparison test of 11 compact cars, we concluded that the Nissan Sentra is not particularly exciting to drive or stylish to look at but does offer above-average value-for-money, fuel economy, roominess, trunk space and passenger comfort.   And though we didn’t like the performance of the 2013 Sentra’s optional continuously variable transmission (CVT), a subsequent road test of the 2014 Nissan Sentra SL with its new Xtronic CVT with D-Step tuning (shifts more like a conventional automatic) showed it to be considerably more responsive and quieter.

Now into its third year since its redesign, the 2015 Nissan Sentra sedan continues to offer an unpretentious blend of roominess, comfort, practicality and value-for-money.

Now into its third year since its redesign, the 2015 Nissan Sentra sedan continues to offer an unpretentious blend of roominess, comfort, practicality and value-for-money along with some new standard and optional features – with a corresponding bump in price for each trim level.

The base 2015 Sentra S model adds standard Bluetooth hands-free phone system, USB and iPod connectivity and steering wheel–mounted controls for audio and cruise.  The starting price of the S increases by $500 to $15,598. The only option available on the S is the CVT, which comes as a package with air conditioning for $3,300.

For 2015, the popular Sentra SV trim (the subject of this Test Drive) adds standard 16-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, Bluetooth wireless audio, larger 5-inch colour monitor (from 4.3-inch), rearview camera, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and tire pressure monitoring system.  With the standard six-speed manual transmission, the price rises by $800 to $18,698.

The 2015 Sentra SR now comes standard with the previously optional SR Premium Package that includes rear disc brakes, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, keyless entry and push-button start, six-speaker audio system with five-inch colour monitor, optional satellite radio, NissanConnect mobile apps, and hands-free text messaging assistant.  The price of the SR rises by $2,300 to $23,398.

The top-of-the-line Sentra SL remains basically the same, rising by $200 to $24,398.

Our test car was a Sentra SV with the standard six-speed manual transmission and an as-tested price of just over $20,000 including Freight and PDI.  Considering its level of standard equipment, this is an excellent value.  In addition to the above-mentioned standard features, the SV includes standard air conditioning, AM/FM/CD player with 6 speakers, USB/auxiliary ports, 12-volt outlet, keyless entry and push-button start, premium cloth seats, height adjustable driver’s seat, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, power windows and door locks, alarm, and sliding centre armrest.

As before, motivation comes from Nissan’s standard 130-hp 1.8L four-cylinder engine that makes a modest 130 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque.  That’s sufficient for most daily needs, particularly when teamed with the standard six-speed manual transmission, but with five people on board, the engine struggles a bit if a sudden burst of speed is required.

Fuel economy with the six-speed manual transmission is rated at 8.9/6.6/7.9 L/100 km city/highway/combined. With the CVT it’s even better: 8.0/6.1/7.2.  Our test car’s average fuel consumption display showed 7.6 L/100 km after 3,700 km on the odometer, slightly better than NRCan’s rating. After filling up with regular unleaded, the trip computer showed a Distance to Empty of just under 600 km.

Though the Sentra doesn’t have direct fuel injection or idle-stop, its respectable fuel economy can be attributed to a trim curb weight (base 1,296 kg/2,857 lb), fuel-saving transmission gear ratios, and an efficient engine with technology such as continuously variable valve timing control on inlet and exhaust valves and an alternator that decouples from the engine and battery during acceleration to increase power and efficiency.

As well, the Sentra features a driver-selectable Eco mode that reduces throttle responsiveness and reduces energy for the air conditioner to save gas.  On models with a manual transmission, it also displays a recommended ‘Upshift’ light in the instrument cluster.  However, Eco mode makes the car feel slow when accelerating from a traffic light, and I soon turned it off so I could keep up with the traffic.  I found that Normal mode is best for everyday driving, while Sport mode makes the car feel peppier but uses more gas.

Though most buyers will choose the CVT, the Sentra’s standard six-speed manual transmission is very easy to use.  Though the shifter feels somewhat loose, shift effort is very light, clutch engagement is smooth and clutch pedal effort is minimal.  The Sentra doesn’t have Hill Start Assist to stop the car rolling back on a hill when the brake is released before the clutch is engaged, but with a little practice, pulling and releasing the handbrake between front seats is just as effective.  Another benefit of buying the six-speed manual transmission is that it allows the driver to maximize performance from this admittedly modest engine output.

Though we complained about powertrain noise in our first reviews of the Sentra, the 2015 Sentra seems quieter. Even under acceleration, the pleasant sporty buzz from the engine is muted, and at freeway speeds the cabin is acceptably quiet.  At 100 km/h, the engine does 2,600 rpm in top gear.  The Sentra’s coefficient of drag is a surprisingly low 0.29, reducing wind noise.

The Sentra’s speed-sensitive electric power steering is well-weighted for easy parking and comfortable highway cruising and the driver’s outward visibility is good.  A rearview camera in the 5.0-inch centre screen makes it easy to back into a tight parking space (without hitting anything). The Sentra’s turning diameter of 10.6 metres (34.8 ft) is reasonably tight.

The Sentra’s ride is generally comfortable and the suspension absorbs sharp bumps well, but handling is a bit soft with some lean that discourages fast cornering.  The standard Bridgestone Turanza 205/55HR16-inch all-season tires on alloy wheels on our test car provided plenty of grip and quiet running in normal driving. Stability control (VDC) and traction control are standard on the Sentra but can be turned off should you be stuck in a snow drift or a gravel pit. [What were you doing in a gravel pit, Greg? –Ed.]

The Sentra’s bulky shape – tall roof, upright sides and bulky rear end – create plenty of cabin space and trunk room.  Its total interior volume of 3,143 L (111.0 cu. ft.) is one of the largest in its class.  That’s most obvious in the rear seat where passengers have more legroom than in some mid-size cars, and in the trunk, which has a large opening and a capacity of 428 L (15.1 cu. ft.).  That can be increased by folding down one or both of the rear seatbacks, however they don’t fold down flat and there is a step from the trunk to the passenger compartment.

The driver’s seat is comfortable, if lacking in side support. A tilt/telescopic steering wheel and manual height-adjustable driver’s seat will help most drivers find a good driving position. The Sentra’s rear passengers have plenty of legroom and adequate headroom. A fold-down rear centre armrest contains two cupholders and there are two small open bins at back of centre console. In our 2014 comparison test of compact cars we found that the Sentra sedan was the easiest to install rear child seats. It has LATCH systems on the outboard rear seats and upper tether anchors for all three rear positions.

The Sentra’s interior design isn’t fancy, but I liked its simplicity. The mostly black plastic interior in the SV includes some silver trim on the console, doors, shifter and steering wheel, subtle chrome trim on the controls, and nicely padded door armrests and centre armrest. Maple wood trim is available on the SL trim.

I particularly liked the easy-to-read round gauges that are backlit in white, the red-illuminated steering wheel controls and instrument panel buttons, the attractive look and feel of the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, the standard push-button start which allows you to leave your ignition key in your pocket, the heated front seats, the simple heating and air conditioning controls, and the padded centre armrest that slides forwards when needed.  A button on the steering wheel allows the driver to scroll through trip computer information displayed in the instrument cluster, including useful info such as average fuel economy, instant fuel economy, average speed and distance to empty.

Though the standard 5.0-inch colour centre touchscreen looks small, the displays are large and bright and the screen buttons are easy to use.  The rearview camera is also a big bonus. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the standard six-speaker audio system which delivers clear, unfettered sound clarity. I found it easy to pair my iPhone and make hands-free calls, and enjoy the standard Bluetooth streaming audio.  Sirius/XM satellite radio is available as an option.  For iPods and phones, there are USB and auxiliary ports inside the centre storage bin under the armrest.  A 12-volt charger is under the lid ahead of the shift lever.

Optional in the Sentra SV equipped with the optional CVT is a Luxury Package ($2,400) that includes a power glass moonroof with sliding sunshade, 8-speaker Bose system with 5.8-inch screen, voice-activation for audio and navigation, and a hands-free text messaging assistant.  This includes NissanConnect Apps that can be downloaded to your phone and used in the car with data charges based on your cellular usage.

Colour choices for the 2015 Sentra depend on which trim level you want.  The base Sentra S is only available in grey, black or white paint with a charcoal cloth interior.  The Sentra SV is available in silver, grey, black, red, white and blue colours with a charcoal premium cloth interior.  When equipped with the CVT, the Sentra SV is also available in a titanium exterior colour.  The sportier Sentra SR Premium is offered in a metallic blue, red, grey, black and white with a premium sport charcoal cloth interior.  The top Sentra SL is available in graphite blue, silver, titanium, grey, black, and red with a charcoal leather interior.

As one of the roomiest, easiest to drive and reasonably priced compact sedans on the market, I have no trouble recommending the Nissan Sentra.  It’s definitely not sexy, but your rational side will appreciate its practicality, economy and value for money.

The 2015 Nissan Sentra is assembled in Aguascalientes, Mexico.

3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/60,000 km roadside assistance

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Model Tested 2015 Nissan Sentra SV
Base Price $18,498
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,567
Price as Tested $20,200
Optional Equipment