2014 Nissan Sentra SL Road Test

Much improved from last year, now it's all about the details

What It Is
A redesigned compact sedan for 2013, refined for 2014.
Best Thing
Massive interior and high-quality materials.
Worst Thing
Odd transmission shutter at low speeds, fit and finish needs work.
Snap Judgment
A few under-appreciated updates make the 2014 Sentra a much better car than the 2013 model.


If you follow the breadth of the automotive industry with any sort of diligence, you'll note that the last years have drawn focus to something called an emergency refresh. As with cellphones or any other consumer good, cars go through planned lifecycles. But emergency refreshes have shown us that automakers are susceptible to blunders so great that they can't wait for the next few years before changing up their products.

Witness the 2013 Honda Civic. Or the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu. Or the 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid whose fuel economy wasn't much better than the four-cylinder non-hybrid on which it was based before its battery-pack upgrade. The list goes on and on.

But one you'll never see that should be added to it is the 2014 Nissan Sentra. New for 2013, the Sentra's sales have taken off, largely because it's a far better car than it used to be. But it was not without its problems, namely its meandering suspension and lack of sound deadening that made the car miserable to get up to highway speeds. For 2014, Nissan says it has employed a number of changes that ought to get the car up to snuff with the rest of the class. We picked one up for a week to see if Nissan's fixes did the trick.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

What We Drove

While looking exactly like the 2013 model, it's what's under the skin that counts. Starting at $16,800, including $810 for destination and handling, the 2014 Nissan Sentra undercuts most of the competition by hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Of course, packaging is how Nissan does it. Our top-trim Sentra SL comes in at $22,570, lacking only the leather seats option ($1,030) that includes front seat heaters and rear disc brakes as well. Other cars in this class can tap out just shy of $30,000 without much effort, but they sometimes have features unavailable to the Sentra like blind zone and collision warning systems.

Our Nissan Sentra included dual-zone automatic climate control, power windows and door locks, remote door locks, push-button starter, a continuously variable automatic transmission, cruise control, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Optionally available are carpeted floor mats ($170); the Premium package ($1,200) with a power moonroof, Bose premium audio system, auto-dimming mirrors, and illuminated vanity mirrors; and the hands-free navigation package ($800) on a small-for-this-class 5.8-inch monitor.

In crash safety testing, the 2014 Nissan Sentra scored four out of five stars from the NHTSA, and it earned good ratings in all safety tests from the IIHS except for the small front overlap test in which it earned a "Poor" rating—the lowest score a new vehicle can get. Other vehicles in its class have done much better in the newest test.

The Commute

Amicable. That's the best word I could come up with to describe the 2014 Nissan Sentra. Of course, the pre-refreshed 2013 car was, too. Well, mostly.

Thrashy under heavy acceleration, the 2013 Nissan Sentra shimmied all the way until it got up to speed. It was as if Nissan forgot to add any sort of insulation from the 130-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder. This year, it's a different story. While still buzzy because of how a continuously variable transmission shoots up engine RPM to accelerate, the Sentra feels much more at home than it did last year. Part of that can be attributed to the other work Nissan has put into the 2014 Sentra, like tightening up the Sentra's steering rack considerably to make it more fun with more responsive handling. Rounding out the list of drivability upgrades, the Sentra's entire suspension has been revised, made stiffer and sportier but more controlled over the road, too.

More supportive seats only add sprinkles on top of this sundae. But is it perfect? Nope.

With a torque converter like a conventional automatic transmission used at low speeds and a CVT for higher speeds, the transmission seamlessly shifts from one to the other from standstill. It isn't until slowing down that the car jitters to a stop. "This feels like a used car," my girlfriend said to me when she experienced it. Whatever the source of the problem, Nissan's transmission specialists at Jatco need to rectify it immediately.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

The Grocery Run

With an ample 15.1 cubic-foot trunk, the Nissan Sentra gives a good many midsize sedans a run for their money in terms of cargo capacity. When the rear seat is folded, the seatback doesn't sit flat with the trunk floor, which could be problematic for those looking to haul a large TV home. But there are worse problems to have.

Surprisingly narrow-feeling on the road, thanks in part to great all-around visibility, the Sentra is a breeze to drive around crowded parking lot. Inasmuch, the redesigned seat foam and spacious interior design make the car feel much more inviting than it was previously, with light colors giving an airy feeling instead of the stoic grays and blacks often seen in compact cars. In back, 37.4 inches of leg room was among the best in the segment, and it's really more than most people will need, but it's no longer class-leading in the wake of the 2014 Corolla debuting with a ridiculous 41 inches of leg room.

The Weekend Fun

There's but one area left to cover concerning the 2014 Nissan Sentra: Its interior. Finished in soft-touch interior materials, accented by the finest wood harvested by plastic trees, the Sentra's interior is remarkably conservative compared to many of the nouveau designs out there. Functional but bland, the 2014 Nissan Sentra neither feels upscale like a Kia Forte or as sophisticated a Honda Civic. However, compared to last year, the materials are all improved, and build quality has shown great strides.

Perhaps most disappointing is the 5.8-inch monitor, which works well but is too small to use easily while driving. With somewhat dated graphics and a pumpkin glow to the rest of the interior's nighttime lighting, it doesn't quite exude the sophistication of a Mazda3. Then again, it isn't quite as expensive as the Mazda3, either.

Functional, straightforward, comfortable, and lacking any character, the interior of the 2014 Nissan Sentra is the sort of place you go when you don't want to be bothered with having a slight learning curve to the substance for a little added style.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

Summary

This is not the same car as the 2013 Nissan Sentra. It looks much the same, and it shares a good many of its parts. But it's a markedly better vehicle in every way, save for that transmission shutter when moving into low speeds.

That's good, especially considering that so many people absorb the Toyota Corolla into their lives year after year. Like the Corolla, the Sentra is transportation you need not worry about. It'll start in the morning, ride comfortably, and get you where you want to go with some outstanding fuel economy numbers. The difference is, unlike the Corolla and even the '13 Sentra, it's actually somewhat fun to drive now.

Priced lower than much of the competition that's getting more expensive year after year, the Sentra isn't as exciting as a good number of competitors, and it'll never be on someone's wall—unless Nissan goes ahead and builds the Sentra Nismo that debuted at the 2013 L.A. Auto Show. But as compact cars go, it's a decent car. And if the 2014 Sentra is any indication, Nissan is going to keep making it even better throughout its model life. We just hope its improvements receive a bit more notice next time around.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $22,570
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 30 mpg
EPA Highway: 39 mpg
EPA Combined: 34 mpg
Cargo Space: 15.1 cubic feet Estimated Combined Range: 448.8 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Average

close