The compact car segment is experiencing its first real hard times since … since … always. It is not that the models offered in this category are not interesting, on the contrary. The reason, as you probably know, is that SUVs have become the vehicles of the hour, especially in the newest segment of subcompacts.
The phenomenon is so strong that since the beginning of the year, only two compact cars have seen their sales increase; the Volkswagen Jetta and the Kia Forte. That means that the Honda Civic, the Toyota Corolla, the Hyundai Elantra and the Mazda3, to name a few, are shrinking. Concretely, we are talking about 11.3% for the Civic, 8.7% for the Elantra and 19% for the Mazda3 which is new.
A major overhaul
Nissan knew it had to give a serious boost. It’s now done. The new Sentra benefits from a new platform and a completely redesigned interior. Even its engine is new to it, a loan from the Qashqai SUV. The mill in question is a 2-litre 4-cylinder good for 149 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque.
And as is customary at Nissan, there is a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with the vast majority of variants. The latter comes with advantages and disadvantages; we’re going to come back to it. If you like to shift your own gears, know that the Sentra can be delivered with a six-speed manual gearbox. However, there too, there is a catch. In fact, there are sacrifices to be made.
And that’s kind of what annoyed us about this new Sentra. It has everything to move to another level in its niche, but the offer includes some improbabilities likely to push back some buyers. When we fight against the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla, missteps can be fatal.
The Sentra’s manual transmission is exclusive to Canada, where it reaches 10% of buyers across the country, 15% in Quebec. On this point, we can only congratulate Nissan. However, the fact that the latter is only offered in the base version is sad. It could very well have served the SR variant which sits at the top of the range, in front of the S and SV versions. What is worse, is that the base Sentra with a manual transmission is sold without the heated seats.
When you consider that several entry-level models from similar categories offer them as standard, the strategy is difficult to understand here. In fact, do we want to sell versions with a mechanical gearbox? The question might be there.
Speaking of equipment, another tough decision is the fact that you have to upgrade to the SV version to find the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto apps. Considering their popularity with buyers, it is clear that some will look elsewhere, where it is offered at a lower price.
In short, some decisions are difficult to understand, but nothing irreversible; we can always adjust it along the way.
As for prices, we will have to wait for its launch to know them; the model is expected in dealerships in February 2020.
Despite these irritants that jumped out at us, the offer, overall, is very interesting. First of all, we welcome the integration, from the base version with the manual transmission, of the Safety Suite Safety Shield 360. The latter includes six characteristics: automatic low beam, intelligent emergency braking with detection of pedestrians, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking in reverse, as well as alerts for blind spots and rear cross-traffic.
This entry-level model also offers 10 airbags, a 7-inch screen for the audio system, as well as push-button start and rear seat alert, among others. With the S Plus version, the heated seats and mirrors are added, as is the CVT gearbox.
Switching to the SV model, we find Apple and Google applications, as well as an eight-inch touch screen, two zones for air conditioning, remote starter and adaptive cruise control, among others.
With the SR and SR Premium versions we add, first with 18-inch alloy wheels, a heated steering wheel and a sunroof, then a Bose audio system with eight speakers, leather with stitching, as well as an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
And through it all, we discover a quality cabin. Nissan put a lot of energy inside and it shows. It will, of course, be interesting to see what the signature will look like with the base versions, but with the SR, it is conclusive. Let’s note the quality of soundproofing, the comfort of the seats and the integration of the latest generation of Nissan’s multimedia system.
And the icing on the cake is that at the wheel, the experience is more than convincing. The chassis is solid, and the driving has become interesting. In fact, a Sentra has never given us such a level of feedback. We’re not in the range of the Honda Civic or the Mazda3 yet, but we’re not far away. In all truth, the CVT spoils the experience. Its performance is lazy, and its high-pitch notes are aggressive to the eardrums. Fortunately, it provides interesting fuel economy ratings. We’re talking about 9.4 litres per 100 kilometres in the city, 6.4 litres on the highway, and 8.0 litres combined with the manual transmission model. With the CVT gearbox, the economy is 8 and 6 litres per 100 kilometres, for city/highway driving. The general average is 7.1 litres per 100 kilometres. Add 0.2 litres for SR liveries fitted with 18-inch wheels.
The new Sentra is a success, there is no doubt about it. Its style is eye-catching, its interior exudes quality and its driving is more inspired than ever. The CVT remains an irritant, as do the shortcomings highlighted with the offer.
But the challenge is elsewhere for Nissan. We must first restore the Sentra name and put it in the spotlight. Worse, everything must be done at a time when the segment is experiencing a historic drop in sales.
The glimmer of hope is that other players have left the category, which leaves a hint of pie more important to the remaining models. Nissan bets on it, among other things.