Can an Extremely Practical Nissan Sentra Stand Out In the Competitive Compact Class?

What changes will make it different?

Don’t look for many noticeable aesthetic changes, as this current seventh generation of the popular compact sedan was only introduced in the fall of 2012 as a ’13 model year. However, things are moving fast in the auto industry, and competition is extremely fierce, so we’re not going to rule out anything. The model-year 2015 version has quite a few interior comfort and convenience enhancements, but the automaker’s less-than stimulating styling approach is starting to put it behind the curve.

Why should I wait for the 2016?

Unless you know something that the rest of us don’t, there doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming case for waiting until model-year ’16. This car is what it is: a very good sedan that sells in pretty impressive numbers. The only thing that has tantalized us so far is the possibility of a NISMO version at some point, after the concept was shown at auto shows in 2013.

Should I buy a 2015 instead?

If you’re looking for a really good, capable, reliable, well-equipped, value in the compact sedan category, then the answer is yes. Of course, you’ll need to be able to look past the car’s shapeless and uninspired styling. The ’15 model has been greatly enhanced for a car so early in its current cycle, which hints at little more than a carryover in model-year 2016 unless sales plunge unexpectedly.

Will the styling be different?

Unless a NISMO version arrives for model-year ’16, there are likely to be only a few major cosmetic changes. Only a radical redesign could make the styling even remotely interesting. But to be fair, this is essentially a sensible family car, so how much does the styling really matter?

Any mechanical changes?

The vast majority of upgrades for model-year ’15 center on comfort, convenience and infotainment enhancements, so it’s possible that there will be more fundamental changes to the underpinnings of the car at the mid-cycle point. While the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, coupled with the Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission, delivers an acceptable 130 horsepower, the lack of choices for potential buyers can be disconcerting. Since many manufacturers with cars in this class are now offering smaller engines that deliver more power but with greater fuel efficiency, Nissan may have to come up with something more current for model-year 2016.

Will fuel economy improve?

This car is already plenty economical, with a highway-best economy figure of 40 mpg with the FE+ package. However, gas mileage is now a major area of concern for all automakers, so it would behoove Nissan to do even better in model-year ’16.

Will it have new features?

There aren’t really any new features in model-year ’15—just a redistribution of goodies further down the food chain—so Nissan needs to pull a rabbit or two out of its hat. It’s possible that safety upgrades, like a lane-departure warning system, that are the product of autonomous vehicle technology development will find their way into top-end Sentras for model-year 2016.

How will 2016 prices be different?

The segment of the market that Sentra calls home is all about value, which makes raising prices a no-no. While manufacturers of goods like candy bars boost revenue by reducing the size and keeping the same price, auto manufacturers have actually been increasing what they give us without raising prices. There would have to be major changes to prompt a rise in cost of such a competitively priced model. It’s more likely that the price will drop modestly to entice cost-conscious buyers, especially if the car carries over in its model-year 2015 form.

What Is the Expected Release Date?

The model-year ’16 version should be available by the summer of 2015, provided there aren’t too many major changes.

Best competitors

Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda 3, Kia Forte, Volkswagen Jetta, Toyota Corolla

What change would make it better?

For starters, a more exciting engine to get the blood flowing. Even though this seventh generation is a noticeable improvement on its predecessor in the styling department, it’s still a long way from being attractive. Nissan may argue that this segment is all about practicality, functionality and value, but a look at the comparatively stunning Ford Focus demonstrates what can be done with the right amount of effort. There are plenty of things to like about the Sentra—such as the generous equipment levels—but only a complete redesign will make it a significantly more desirable choice.

Quick hit

The Sentra is excellent at what it does: delivering a safe, reliable and well-equipped package at a reasonable price. Most people in this car’s target audience will love the better levels of standard equipment that entry-level models now offer, as well as the healthy resale values. Quite honestly, you won’t find a better overall offering for a starting MSRP of just $15,990, though some buyers would rather shell out a few extra dollars for something a bit more exciting.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]