2011 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Published on December 14, 2010

It may be a sleeper, but it's hardly lethargic off the line or around corners. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on December 14, 2010

Nissan adds a little tuner style to the Sentra SE-R Spec V with unique taillights, a rear deck lid spoiler, ground effects and sporty wheel and tire package. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on December 14, 2010

Inside the Sentra is very nice for a compact, with the SE-R adding a nice, tasteful dose of sport. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on December 14, 2010

The Spec V seats are snug in all the right places. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on December 14, 2010

Z-style ancillary gauges are a nice touch. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on December 14, 2010

A sports car with rear seats... fabulous! (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on December 14, 2010

Cross brace in the trunk strengthens body structure but eliminates folding rear seatbacks for longer loads. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Published on December 14, 2010

Nissan's Sentra SE-R might not be the sportiest OEM compact tuner on today's market, even in top-tier Spec V trim, but for the price it delivers a decent dose of performance plus the option of an automatic transmission with paddle-shifters, something none of its competitors offer.

The latter car starts at only $21,998, and the only direct rival I can think of at around that price with similar performance specs is the Kia Forte SX. Move up to the SE-R Spec V and the price escalates to $23,398, which might seem like a fair chunk of change for a four-door compact until comparing it to the Honda Civic Si that starts another two and a half k higher.

That Si is probably the SE-R Spec V's arch nemesis, and Nissan should be glad the full-kit Civic moves into 2011 unchanged as the Sentra in all its trim levels does likewise. Unlike Civic, Sentra is only available as a four-door sedan, which limits sales opportunities as those opting for sporty compacts often go the coupe route, as they usually don't have much need for easy access to rear seats. Still, it would be a shame for someone interested in this segment to merely pass up the SE-R Spec V because of its four doors.

Like the Si, the SE-R Spec V sports a high revving four-cylinder rated at 200-horsepower. Ok, the Honda maxes out at 197-horsepower, but 3-horsepower is hardly worth mentioning. An additional 41 lb-ft of torque (totaling 5,200 lb-ft) that comes on 900 rpm sooner in the rev range can't be left unsaid, however, giving the SE-R Spec V a solid edge as far as straight-line performance goes, despite 50 kilos (110 lbs) of extra weight. The Nissan's 180 lb-ft of torque comes from an added 500 cubic centimeters of displacement at 2.5 litres compared to the Honda's 2.0.

All that horsepower and torque combines for spirited performance off the line, and the wonderfully flickable short-throw six-speed manual with triple-cone synchros and dual-mass flywheel-enhanced clutch combo is really nice to row through the gears on a winding road, where the car's speed-sensitive electric power steering, specially tweaked suspension and large (12.6 inches up front) ABS-enhanced four-wheel disc brakes come to play. The upgraded undercarriage starts off with a lowered ride height, and then adds sport-tuned shocks and struts, a larger 25-mm front stabilizer bar, a reinforced upper cowl, a trunk-mounted V-brace, plus special P225/45WR17 W-rated summer performance tires for its 17-inch alloy rims. A helical limited-slip diff is available for added traction. If you want to keep track of how quick you're driving, Nissan provides a G-meter alongside an oil-pressure gauge atop the centre stack; their design pays tribute the legendary Z.

And that's on top of the regular SE-R's unique front and rear fascias as well as its special body kit that includes a rear spoiler, fog lights, and a smoked headlight and taillight treatment. Inside, the SE-R is fitted with deeply bolstered black cloth sport seats highlighted by red stitching and a sharp SE-R logo on the seatback, plus aluminum pedals with grippy rubber pads.

Of course, SE-R and SE-R Spec V get all of the luxury and convenience features expected in a plus-$20k sport compact, such as power windows, power locks, heated power mirrors, air conditioning, cruise control, a tilt steering column, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls, variable intermittent wipers, a trip computer, outside temperature display, and map lights, plus one item you might not expect, a Rockford Fosgate 6-CD/MP3/WMA compatible audio system boasting eight speakers (including two subs), XM satellite radio, a USB port, an iPod interface, and Bluetooth connectivity. The sound is ultra-impressive no matter what you're listening to, although it's best for dance, pop and rock.

Compared to some of its sport-compact competitors the SE-R in base or Spec V trim is a practical player. Of course its four-door design is reason for that, with rear seats that are fairly roomy as far as small cars go. The trunk measures the same as the Civic Si's at 340 litres (12.0 cu ft), which is a bit smaller than its non-performance-oriented Sentra sibling that offers a 371-litre (13.1-cubic foot) cargo compartment. What's more, the SE-R's rear seatbacks don't flip forward like the regular model because of the V-brace reinforcement, which means you'll need a rooftop rack for skis.

The SE-R Spec V's fuel-economy is decent at an estimated 9.8 L/100 km in the city and 7.0 on the highway, while the less powerful CVT-equipped SE-R gets an estimated 8.7 / 6.5 L/100km city/highway rating. The latter model makes 177-horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 172 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 rpm, incidentally. Both use regular unleaded fuel, which can add up to big savings.

The practicality continues with standard dual front, front side-thorax and front and rear side-curtain airbags, while traction and stability control join the aforementioned four-wheel disc brakes.

In crash tests the 2010 Sentra fared well (no tests have been conducted for the identical 2011 model), with the NHTSA giving it a 5-star rating for frontal driver and passenger, 5 stars for side front impact, 4 stars for side rear impact and 4 stars for a rollover. The IIHS, on the other hand, gave the Sentra its highest rating of "Good" in both frontal offset and side-impact tests.

The Sentra has a reputation for reliability and the SE-R is no exception, garnering it a steady following of loyal buyers. Nissan backs up that reliability with a 3-year or 60,000 km basic warranty and 5-year, 100,000 km powertrain warranty. While this isn't the longest warranty around (about average), it's the same as the Si's.

One of the nice things about the Sentra SE-R, especially in Spec V trim, is its relative exclusivity. You won't see one coming around every corner, which is a positive thing for you albeit probably not for Nissan who I'm sure would love to sell more. That fact and the reality that the current Sentra is late in its model lifespan will probably result in a good deal at your local dealer, another checkmark in the SE-R Spec V's favour.

While the car's styling might not be for everyone, I find it a smart looking sedan when decked out in SE-R trim, and I'm guessing after adding up the car's numerous positives it'll grow on you too.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sport Sedan, Nissan, 2011, Sentra SE-R Spec V, $20,000 - $29,999,

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