- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2000

MODEL: Nissan Sentra SE

VEHICLE TYPE: Four-door sedan

PRICE-AS-TESTED: $17,685

MILEAGE: 24 city, 31 highway

Although you may not be able to tell with a cursory glance, the Nissan Sentra has been redesigned.
The new version arrived in showrooms this spring. If placed next to one another, the last generation and the new, the differences sharpen into focus; however, when standing alone, the new Sentra will probably only be identified as such by Sentra loyalists. There are improvements and differences, though, very definite ones. And, Sentra is a better car for them.
While the wheelbase is virtually unchanged (one-tenth of an inch shorter), the overall length of the new Sentra has been stretched about 6.5 inches. It is more than half an inch wider and a full inch taller than its predecessor as well. Nissan beefed things up structurally too. Rigidity has been improved, reducing vibration and noise. This extra sheet metal and steel has translated into some additional poundage. The amount of weight increase depends on the trim level, but it's in the neighborhood of 150 pounds.
Three trim levels are being offered: XE, GXE and SE. The base engine found in the XE and GXE is a new 16-valve 1.8-liter four-cylinder. It replaces the 1.6-liter four-banger used in the last Sentra. This boosts horsepower from 115 to 126. A more drastic increase is in peak torque. Where the 1.6 engine produced 108 foot-pounds of peak torque, the new 1.8 power plant churns out 129 foot-pounds and it arrives at 2,400 revs rather than the old engine's 4,000 rpms. Smoother and quieter, the new four-cylinder should do much to elevate Sentra's standing among its subcompact brethren. My test Sentra was the sportier SE. It uses Nissan's 2-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder. It has been massaged for minor output improvements. Delivering 145 horsepower and 136 foot-pounds of peak torque, the 2-liter engine makes for spirited driving. My test SE had the five-speed manual transmission. This combination urged the Sentra from a standstill to 60 miles per hour in less than eight seconds. Fuel economy is healthy 24 miles per gallon in the city and 31 on the highway.
Speed-sensitive, power-assisted steering provides decent feedback and quick response. Cornering is predictable. The SE suspension is a bit stiffer than that of the XE or GXE. Nissan calls it sport-tuned. While this firms up the ride a little, it does provide good control. Unlike the other two trim levels with disc brakes up front and drums in the rear, the SE has discs on all four corners. An anti-lock system is offered as an option on the GXE and SE, but isn't available at all on the XE.
Reworked as well, the cabin features a new instrument panel. Gauges are still an easy-to-read black on white. All of the switches have a quality feel. The seating will accommodate five, but four will be more comfortable. Much of the extra length translates into additional legroom. The trunk is also roomy for this class of car.
Nissan has done a fine job on the new Sentra. It's more car for about the same price as the last one. How can anyone complain about that? Most of us may not be able to pick it out of a police lineup of subcompact sedans, but it is a fun, efficient and affordable little car.
The base sticker for the Nissan Sentra SE is $14,899. Standard equipment not already described includes 15-inch alloy wheels, dual power outboard mirrors, fog lamps, air conditioning, power windows/door locks, four-speaker AM/FM stereo/CD player, remote keyless entry, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 60/40 split rear seat and dual air bags. My test SE also had the performance package ($899), power sunroof ($599), side-impact air bags ($699) and carpeted floor mats ($79). Adding the $520 delivery charge brought the price as tested to $17,685.

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