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First Drive: 2013 Nissan Sentra (Review)

Does the all-new 2013 Nissan Sentra have what its take to take on models like the Civic, Corolla and Elantra?

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For the 2013 model year Nissan is releasing an all-new 2013 Sentra, which Nissan hopes will put it back at the top of the class, a place where it hasn’t been for years. The all-new Sentra, which is now in its seventh-generation is bigger than the last Sentra, but is also lighter and adopts styling that is far more stylish than ever before. Does the new Sentra have what it takes to compete against heavyweights like the Civic, Elantra and Corolla?

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The compact segment is one of the biggest in the industry and is expected to reach 2.4 million annual sales by 2015. The segment is now more competitive than ever and Nissan knows this. The last Sentra was often forgotten compared to the Civic and Corolla, but Nissan hopes to change that with the all-new Sentra. The seventh-generation Sentra shares its platform with the smaller Versa, but gets styling that brings it closer to the larger Altima. The exterior styling is more modern and has a more premium feel than before. It also gets unique features like LED front and rear lights. The new Sentra is also a bit larger than the last model, but is also up to 150 pounds lighter thanks to more high strength steel.

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Inside the new Sentra feels more upscale than before and its interior is bigger than many of its competitors. Even though the Sentra competes in the compact segment, its interior volume classifies it as a midsize by the EPA. It’s total interior volume of 111 cubic feet tops models like the Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus and Honda Civic. With 37.4 inches of rear seat legroom, the Sentra easily tops the popular Civic and Corolla. On our drive the rear seat was definitely a comfortable spot to be. The interior also gets options like a navigation system, Pandora radio capability, dual zone climate control and a Bose audio system.

Even though the new Sentra may look better and be more spacious than the last Sentra, it wouldn’t be able to compete without a more fuel efficient power train. The 2013 Sentra gets a new 1.8L four-cylinder engine that generates 130 horsepower and 128 lb-ft. of torque. The 1.8L engine can be mated to either a six-speed manual or next-generation CVT transmission. Unfortunately the six-speed manual is only available on the base Sentra, while the CVT is standard on the rest of the trim levels. The Sentra is rated at 30 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway. The Sentra FE model gets 1 mpg better on the highway with a 40 mpg rating.

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How does it drive? The 2013 Sentra will probably satisfy most driver’s expectations. It’s handling is on par with other models in its class and even though the new engine puts out less power than before, the new lighter platform means that you probably won’t notice the difference. The Sentra with the CVT also features three drive modes (Normal, Eco and Sport), which changes the throttle response and transmission tuning. During regular city driving the Sentra’s acceleration was adequate, but definitely on the slow side. Its new CVT is an improvement over earlier systems, but still makes many of the typical CVT sounds that many of us hate. If you want a more sporty driving experience like the Mazda3, you won’t like the new Sentra. At higher speeds its electric power steering is far too light and feels disconnected from the road. The suspension also doesn’t like when the road gets twisty. You’ll also most likely find yourself driving around town in “sport” mode.

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does offer the Sentra in the sportier SR trim level, but its unique fascia, alloy wheels and rear spoiler only provide a sportier look. The SR also isn’t offered with a manual transmission, which is a disappointment, since the manual equipped Sentra is a bit more exciting to drive than the CVT equipped model.

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The all-new 2013 Sentra brings the Sentra back in line with the rest of the compact segment. It’s new exterior is much better to look at than the outgoing model and with an interior that is more spacious than its competitors, the Sentra represents a good value. The base Sentra starts at $15,990. Even the base model comes standard with power windows/ locks, LED lighting and 16-inch steel wheels. Add on extras like navigation, leather seats, a moonroof and alloy wheels and the Sentra will set you back around $23k. We all agreed that the new Sentra looks and feels better than the outgoing model, but it doesn’t really leap ahead of the segment. For those that want more power under the hood, Nissan wouldn’t confirm anything, but a sportier model is most likely in the pipeline. If you’re looking for a reliable, spacious compact sedan with great fuel economy then you won’t be disappointed with the new Sentra.