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Style in the Compact Car Class

Designing a compact sedan is probably not the place a new automotive stylist wants to assert his or her freshly minted skill. It’s hardly a growing segment in the USA where SUVs and pickup trucks are by far the top sellers, so much so that our “Big Three” don’t even offer cars in that segment. But since that’s the vehicle category between $20 and $30-grand where young, new buyers arrive, it’s where brand relationships are established.

When I encountered Nissan’s new Sentra SR finished in Monarch Orange with a Super Black roof and trim accents, it sure didn’t look like an entrance-level compact. And that appearance was amplified with 18-inch black alloy wheels with polished spoke accents. It was a refreshing statement in a segment where the buyer often wonders why he has to take poverty so seriously. Even the subtle embellishment of chrome framing the grille and headlights were skillfully rendered.


The upscale treatment continues inside the SR model with Reddish Orange stitching throughout the black-trimmed interior including the steering wheel, center console and seat bolsters. The driver faces a hooded instrument display as well as cruise and entertainment switchgear on the steering wheel spokes. Above the traditional round center vents, an 8-inch multimedia screen features Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and surround camera views if the Premium package is ordered. That $2,490 option also includes a glass moonroof, Bose audio and other premium features that elevate the Sentra’s upscale deportment.


The Sentra SR comports itself quite reasonably on our roads and highways. Its 2.0-liter, direct-injected engine delivers a modest 149-horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels. While that’s not the potency you might wish for in a drag race, it only has to pull a bit over 3,000-pounds. And it’s connected to an improved Xtronic CVT transmission with a few shift algorithms that makes the most of what’s available while helping deliver a combined 33 MPG economy.


While we’ve established that our Sentra SR may not outrace its higher horsepower rivals from Honda, Hyundai, KIA, Mazda, and Toyota, it’s a pretty smooth cruiser on the road. Liquid engine mounts help isolate what is already a reasonably mellow engine and Nissan has done a good job of cabin isolation. The result feels like a larger and more substantial ride than I might expect in this class. If I was in charge of product planning, an accommodation Nissan hasn’t offered for some reason, I’d try for a plug-in hybrid version of the Sentra. That might deliver extra power along with amazing fuel economy and the benefit of EV earth saving stature without having to worry about where to plugin on a journey.


Even without my sage advice, Nissan is faring quite well with Sentra sales, surging to third place behind the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. I’m betting that’s because they’re delivering a car that looks and drives like a more expensive vehicle. Since this is the segment where new buyers discover the brand, that’s exactly the introduction an automaker should strive for. Our Sentra SR retails for $28,220 including freight, the base starts at $20,630.

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2024 Nissan Sentra SR

TYPE:  Front-engine, front-wheel-drive

ENGINE:  2.0-liter I-4

HORSEPOWER:  149 @ 6,400 RPM

TORQUE:  146 lb.ft. @ 4,400 RPM

BASE PRICE: $23,720

AS TESTED:  $28,220

FUEL CONSUMPTION:  30-city, 38-highway, 33-combined

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