- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2008

One of the most affordable midsize sedans on the market is priced under $19,000, is equipped with leather appointments and delivers 33 mpg on the highway.

It’s the Nissan Sentra. The Sentra was all-new in 2007. Its 2008 and 2009 revisions are very modest.

The sixth-generation Sentra was built longer — in both wheelbase and length — than the model it replaced. As a result, Sentra drivers get a smoother ride, while passengers get a roomier ride. This new-generation Nissan Sentra is 3 inches wider and 4 inches taller than previous versions.

Entering the 2009 model year, the Nissan Sentra offers just a few minor revisions. According to the automaker, its 2009 Sentra features a revised trunk lid design; new velour charcoal and beige seat cloth and door trims; revised driver-side and passenger-side seatbacks; additional 12-volt power points; MP3 playback capability; and new auto speed-sensing door locks. The base price on the 2009 models starts at $16,700.

The Sentra comes in three trims: base, S and SL. The one powerplant that drives the Sentra is the 16-valve dual overhead cam four-cylinder. It produces reasonable horsepower of 140 at 5,100 rpm and 147 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,800 rpm. The front-wheel drive midsize sedan features two transmissions. The base and the top-end SL are standard equipped with Nissan’s Xtronic continuously variable transmission.

The CVT transmission offers excellent fuel economy of 33 miles per gallon highway and 25 mpg city. The Environmental Protection Agency says drivers can expect combined city/highway fuel ratings of 28 mpg. The mid-level Sentra S is standard equipped with a six-speed manual transmission. Fuel economy drops slightly with the manual model at 24/31 mpg. The S model offers the CVT as an option.

The test car was a 2008 model. Priced at $18,680, the top-of-line SL has lots of convenience content and is well styled on the inside. The SL model is XM satellite radio-ready as a standard feature. The S offers this pre-wiring as an option. The test car’s sound system features a standard 160-watt AM/FM/CD six-speaker system. For buyers looking for more audio capability, a Rockford Fosgate 340-watt, eight-speaker system with MP3 player is optional.

The Sentra rides on 16-inch wheels and all-season tires and is built with an independent strut with coil springs and stabilizer bar. In the rear, the suspension system features a torsion beam with integral stabilizer bar. The ride is smooth and noise vibration is quite reasonably low.

The exterior styling of the Sentra is very contemporary. The short front and rear overhangs, as well and the curved - even bordering on muscular shoulders - give the affordable Sentra a more premium looking stature. I have to add the color choice on the test car added to its richness in appearance. The paint, “Sonoma Sunset” was a delicious hue against the charcoal leather interior.

With this Nissan sedan, buyers will get standard leather appointments in a five-passenger car at under $19,000. The SL test car was well appointed with leather seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel, which by the way, included steering wheel mounted redundant controls for ease of operation while driving. Standard equipment on the Sentra SL includes anti-lock brakes, roof-mounted curtain airbags, front-seat mounted side-impact airbags and dual front airbags. Sentra is rated five-stars in front crash tests.

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