Nissan has given the Sentra richer styling and several new features for 2016 while keeping the price of the fuel-efficient and popular compact sedan nearly the same.
The federal government rates the 2016 Sentra between 27 mpg and 30 mpg in city driving and up to 40 mpg on highways, depending on the model.
These numbers are attainable, based on real-world driving of a test Sentra.
The starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, with destination charge, is $17,615 for a 2016 Sentra S with a six-speed manual. This is a mere $265 above the base price of the previous Sentra.
The lowest starting retail price, including destination charge, for a 2016 Sentra with a continuously variable transmission that drivers operate as they would an automatic is $18,465. This is an increase of $260.
The base prices include standard equipment not necessarily expected in a lower-priced car, such as automatic on and off headlights and driver-select drive modes that emphasize eco, sport or normal driving.
Plus, the Sentra's options are reasonably priced. For example, adding a power moonroof to the Sentra SV mid-range model costs just $750 and the 16-inch tires get fancier wheels in the package.
New features available for the first time this year on the Sentra include blind spot monitoring, which alerts drivers to vehicles that are in adjacent lanes, and rear cross traffic alert, which tells drivers backing up whether other vehicles are approaching from either side.
Both safety features are part of a driver's assist package that's affordably priced at $1,020 and includes navigation system, too.
The federal government gives the 2016 Sentra only four out of five stars in overall crash protection for occupants, whereas many competing sedans, such as the 2016 Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Volkswagen Jetta, received the top rating of five stars. Furthermore, Consumer Reports magazine rates the Sentra as "poor" in reliability.
Those ratings haven't scared off buyers, who are attracted to the Sentra's affordability and styling that makes it look more expensive than it is. The Sentra's U.S. sales topped 203,000 in 2015 and are on track this year to approach 250,000.
The Sentra has an appealing compact size — the same length as today's Honda Civic — however its 15.1-cubic-foot trunk, is big enough to rival those in bigger cars.
The back-seat legroom in the Sentra measures a class-leading 37.4 inches. Front-seat occupants have 42.5 inches of legroom, which is equivalent to that offered in some SUVs.
There is only one Sentra engine — a sometimes anemic-feeling 130-horsepower four-cylinder that's neither turbocharged nor direct injected.
In the test-driven Sentra SL, this engine was mated to Nissan's Xtronic CVT and seemed strained during hard acceleration. Torque peaks at 128 foot-pounds at 3,600 rpm.
Fuel economy, though, was noteworthy. Without the driver striving to maximize fuel mileage, the test-driven Sentra matched the government's 32 mpg average for city/highway driving. This meant a travel range of nearly 425 miles on a single 13.2-gallon tank.
The Sentra's ride is better than before, thanks to retuned suspension settings that add a bit more stiffness. The electric power steering is more responsive than before and has a natural feel.
The ride can be a bit noisy, particularly as the engine gets buzzy when it is hard pressed to accelerate. And road noise came through to the passenger compartment.
The 2016 Sentra has been the subject of two safety recalls involving its front air bags.
A U.S. safety recall of 4,355 Nissan cars, including some 2016 Sentras this week, is because a wiring connector to the front passenger air bag may disconnect, meaning the air bag will not deploy during a crash.
An April recall of 3.2 million Nissans also included 2016 Sentras because electronic controls that trigger the front passenger air bag deployment might not work properly.