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2010 Nissan Sentra SL 4dr Sedan CVT 2.0SL

2010 Nissan Sentra
Trim Info:
Front Wheel Drive, 4 Door Sedan, Compact
26 mpg city / 34 mpg hwy
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Expert Reviews

November 19, 2009 by Brian Alexander, Road Test Editor

2010 Nissan Sentra 1
2010 Nissan Sentra

The Nissan Sentra has evolved quite a bit since the utilitarian commuter car days of yesteryear. Previously looked at as a fuel-conscious vehicle for everyday freeway duties, the interior has gotten some pretty major upgrades of late since the small car market has grown as the economy has contracted. Outside, it looks largely the same as last year’s model, with a revised fascia and headlights, but the same overall angular style that has become the Sentra’s profile. Packaging and options have been simplified to make the buying process easier, and the price of the 2.0 SL model has actually dropped by a useful $1,100. But the biggest news comes in the form of a new navigation system. It’s no $2,000 system like you might expect, despite including most of the features consumers are used to in a fully-fledged system; it’s actually just $400. The five-inch screen might seem diminutive, but prior to its introduction, the only nav options in this price range were wonky aftermarket systems packaged with the car. We like that Nissan is upping the ante for small cars by including affordable technology in the options list. Like we said, the Sentra is moving up.

What's to Like
Price reductions across almost the entire Sentra lineup for 2010 are a welcome sight. Nissan’s new 4.3-inch color audio display is a nice modern touch, and the optional $400 in-dash navigation system is a game changer if ever we’ve seen one. We like that Nissan has folded some of their options packages into standard trim level equipment to help simplify the buying process.

What's Not to Like
The Sentra isn’t, er, the prettiest compact car out there, and its angular styling may prove too polarizing for some to adapt. While continuously variable transmissions may be good for fuel economy, they still don’t quite do the job when it comes to drivability. Give a four-cylinder engine a foot-full of throttle and see how long you can stand the drone of the engine above 6,000 rpm. It won’t be long.

The Drive:
DriverSide Driving Impressions

The Sentra is an adept around-town tourer, feeling almost European in its ride quality, never feeling loose and squishy over bumps and imperfections in the road, but at the same time never feeling too harshly sprung. Nissan lineage is clear in the direct steering and the continuously variable transmission is pretty lag-free, another trait seen across the current Nissan lineup. Despite its low displacement and lack of a turbocharger, the engine has more than enough power to motivate the Sentra down the road, although when held at full throttle for extended periods it does sounds like it’s struggling to breathe. Still, we don’t know too many CVT users who leave the engine at redline for minutes on end, and the artificial gear ratios are convincingly accurate should you prefer manual gear selection.

Engine and Drivetrain
The Nissan Sentra SL is powered by a 2.0-liter DOHC inline four-cylinder engine, which produces 140 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission available is Nissan’s Xtronic CVT, which never shifts, but does offer a manual mode that replicates conventional gear ratios with surprising accuracy.

Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
A three-spoke leather steering wheel comes standard, as does an XM satellite radio-enabled and MP3-compatible AM/FM/USB 160-watt stereo with a 4.3-inch color screen. Remote keyless is standard, as is Nissan’s convenient Intelligent Key, which lets you start the car while the key is still in your pocket.

Key Technology Evaluation
We cannot say enough about Nissan’s new navigation system in the Sentra, although even if you aren’t willing to shell out the $400, it’s nice to know you’ll still get a 4.3-inch color screen for audio system management. The five-inch Bosch-supplied in-dash navigation unit is a fantastic value, however, and should not be overlooked as it’s arguably better performing and more affordable than any aftermarket system currently available.

Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
Just because the Sentra has moved up-market doesn’t mean it has ditched its economy car credentials. Thanks to the combined efficiency of the 2.0-liter engine and CVT transmission, the Sentra SL returns 26 mpg in city driving and 34 mpg on the highway.

A Closer Look:  Vehicle Details

Nissan has created an attractive and intuitive, if simple, interior that fits the Sentra well. All controls seem to be placed for ease of driver use, which is something we really like. Leather is optional, but adds greatly to the Sentra’s interior ambiance, and the new color screen for the stereo looks fantastic.

The Sentra’s angular exterior is most apparent from a front-on view, but we like a side-on silhouette, where the car appears less wedge-shaped. 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels come standard on the SL, but if it’s a more aggressive exterior you’re looking for, you would do well to check out the SE-R performance model.

Market Segment and Pricing
At just $18,560, the Sentra SL represents a $1,100 price decrease over last year’s model. If that’s out of your price range, however, the base model is available for just $15,420. Competition in this segment is stiff, pitting the Sentra against the Mazda3 Touring ($17,845), Toyota Corolla XRS ($18,860), Honda Civic LX ($18,405) and Ford Focus SEL ($18,485), just to name a few.

What We Think
We like the direction the Sentra is moving toward, one where it takes on the feel of a smaller Altima rather than a dedicated economy car. Ok, so the styling isn’t for everyone, but once inside it’s hard to argue against its civilized demeanor, and it drives remarkably well even if it does have a CVT. While we might prefer the manual-equipped SE-R Spec V, the SL won’t disappoint.

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