- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2000

MODEL: Nissan Sentra

VEHICLE TYPE: Four-door sedan

PRICE-AS-TESTED: $14,500

MILEAGE: 26 city, 33 highway

Nissan Sentra has always enjoyed the reputation of being a nice little economical and reliable sedan. With the new 2000 model, however, its image should gain new momentum.

The Sentra is Nissan's entry-level car, a vehicle that buyers expect to provide good transportation, not much more. But the 2000 model is a new beginning for a few reasons. Its styling should attract favorable glances; it now has a quieter and more spacious interior; it has much better ride and handling qualities, and the new engine has more zip.

The designers gave the Sentra smooth sophisticated lines that suggest it is a more expensive car. But there is much more to the 2000 model than just reshaping the exterior. The car now has a stronger, more rigid platform, which makes a world of difference in handling and interior noise level.

Because of a rock-solid platform, each component of the suspension system shocks, struts, stabilizer bars, tires, etc. has been tuned to work in the best possible manner. This results in less road noise reverberating throughout the car. The slight noise that is heard has a more pleasant sound. This is the one factor that impressed me most during my test drive. Mentally, I was comparing the low-level interior noise of the Sentra to more luxurious cars such as the Maxima. This is something unexpected in a low-priced car.

Before getting into the price, let's look at the various models available: California buyers have a CA model, which stands for Clean Air. Incidentally, the Sentra is the first car to be certified as a "Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle" with zero evaporative emission standards. Amazingly, the air exhausted from this car is cleaner than the air it sucks into the engine.

There are XE, GXE and SE models. Since the GXE is Nissan's big seller, it is the focus of this report. Prices for these vehicles have yet to be announced, but a ballpark price for the GXE is $14,500 plus the usual $520 for shipping and handling.

The GXE is equipped with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 126 horsepower. It also produces its maximum torque (129 foot-pounds) at a very low 2,400 rpm, which results in quick acceleration at any time. When stomping on the gas pedal, a pleasant brumm-brumm sound is heard. Although I drove all the Sentra models with both manual and automatic transmissions, my preference was the five-speed manual. It seemed to allow me to accelerate faster when passing another vehicle. But when it came to real enjoyment, the top-of-the-line SE model with the performance package and 16-inch alloy wheels would be my choice.

But this is not to suggest that the GXE is below the poverty belt. The car has power windows and locks, tachometer, velour seat cloth, power side mirrors and variable intermittent wipers. Cars equipped with the option package have a 60-40 fold-down rear seat that includes a cargo net, plus a remote keyless entry with a trunk release.

The luxury package for this model includes 15-inch alloy wheels, an immobilizer/vehicle security system and an overhead storage console with map lamps. For those who really want a well-equipped car, an automatic transmission, sunroof, air bags and anti-lock brakes are available.

The standard equipped 100-watt with an integrated clock can be upgraded to a 180-watt AM-FM CD player with seven speakers. The sound quality is great, but the buttons and dials are too small. That being the Sentra's only shortcoming, there's no doubt this car has a bright future.

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