2013 Nissan Sentra: Inexpensive, Inoffensive, and Comprehensive
Familiar and frugal
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Over the past year, I've driven a myriad of small cars that pack fun, style, and tech into surprisingly inexpensive packages. The 2013 Nissan Sentra may lack the looks and engaging drive of its competitors, but it did win me over with simplicity. From internet connectivity that doesn't require a smartphone to impressive fuel economy, what it lacks in flash it makes up for in familiarity.
Looks-wise it's certainly an improvement on its predecessor, but the design itself amounts to little more than a squashed Altima. Inside, the tester I drove had velour-like, speckled cloth upholstery reminiscent of '90s-era rental cars. Cloth is fine, but ugly cloth gets old fast. Those seats were comfy, however, with plenty of legroom in the backseat.
In spite of its tacky seat coverings, the rest of the interior proved conservative and efficient. Major functions were controlled by buttons and knobs, and each was well-labeled and within easy reach for the driver. The touchscreen infotainment system is a standard Nissan unit with nav, plenty of radio presets, and a map with decent resolution. A secondary screen in the gauge cluster only showed fuel economy and a trip computer, and didn't interface with the main touch screen at all.
The most useful and unique infotainment function proved to be Nissan Connect, which can perform Google searches for points of interest (POIs) using a Bluetooth phone even if it doesn't have a data connection. Instead, it uses your Bluetooth-enabled phone like an old-fashioned dialup modem. Pairing was simple and quick, but keep an eye on your minutes. Lots of modern plans lack voice minutes, and if you prefer talking to texting, you should know that the Nissan will use about a minute per call.
I'd already tried out Nissan Connect in the 2013 Altima and found it to be slower to connect than a phone with a dedicated data plan, but useful nonetheless. After all, you shouldn't be restricted to the POIs preprogrammed in your car's nav system if you already know the name of the place you want to go and Google already knows the address.
Nissan Connect is an option worth adding on, though I wish Nissan hadn't locked it out while the car is in motion. I usually find myself searching for a POI while I'm driving somewhere unfamiliar, like a long stretch of highway, and it's helpful to ask a passenger to search for destinations on the fly. But aside from that, it's a great choice for those who don't want to use a phone's data plan—or whose phones don't have data plans.
In fact, with supportive seats, straightforward tech, and good visibility, this would be an ideal car for older adults who want the latest tech and safety. It's maneuverable, simple, and inexpensive to buy, starting out at just $15,990. My almost-loaded tester was just $21,050, and the Navigation Package added only $650 of that.
Not only is the Sentra cheap to buy, it's also cheap to run. With Nissan's 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), fuel economy is paramount: EPA numbers are 30 mpg city/39 mpg highway. My heavy foot returned numbers in the high 20s in a mostly city commute. Pressing the Eco button supposedly improves those numbers, but I couldn't stand the way it sapped all spring from the Sentra's step. I did enjoy the Sport setting for its more power-focused approach to powertrain management
Of course, there are some drawbacks. Acceleration starts off brisk but peters out at highway speeds. If you're mostly driving around town, you'll appreciate the setup, but passing and lane-change maneuvers result in a noisy drone that only a CVT can deliver. The suspension was a source of constant chatter, with road feel buried amidst tiny bumps and vibrations. If you're expecting a ride as soft as some of the interior materials, you'll be disappointed.
The Sentra isn't a class leader by any means. But if you—or your grandmother—is looking for a compact sedan that does the basics well, I recommend taking a test drive.
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