2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO
2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO

Test Drive: 2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO

NNissan’s Sentra is a fine compact sedan, but not a vehicle to raise the pulse of motoring enthusiasts, unless of course, the NISMO badge is on the trunk. Even then, there’s little fear of tachycardia.

NISMO is the in-house motorsports and performance division of Nissan, and the Sentra is their latest makeover. Subjects of reform included horsepower, brakes, underpinnings, and structural rigidity.

And in case you missed it, an aggressive body kit with design details emblazed in red was added. Larger wheels, which now span 18-inches in diameter, were also acquired. The visual aggression found its way inside the cab too, where alcantara is found on the steering wheel and in swatches elsewhere.

Faux carbon fibre is in liberal use, and while it contributes little to the driving experience, the same can’t be said for the front seats.

These are serious perches that hug and hold in all the right places, though they are somewhat limited in their adjustability. Nonetheless, they are outstanding for the Sentra NISMO’s price, which was $25,998 as tested.

And that price is an important factor when reviewing the Sentra. It would be easy to say that the NISMO team failed to dial-in enough horsepower or amp-up the driving dynamics enough, or even tune the exhaust note to make it more menacing.

Yet, when the base MSRP of $25,698 is acknowledged, criticism of those factors becomes largely unjust. Let me explain.

One could successfully argue that power is core to any NISMO product, and fair enough. The Sentra’s NISMO core generates 188 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque generated by a 1.6L direct-injected turbocharged engine.

Will those ratings bring WRX STi owners to their knees? Definitely not, but they still deliver fun behind the wheel, provided that high RPM levels are maintained. There’s not enough down-low to make one kneel and give thanks to Nissan’s NISMO performance division.

In fact, I found the lack of grunt below 3,000 RPM to be disappointing, but here we go again admonishing a performance vehicle with a fully-kitted MSRP in the mid-20s. Gotta keep it in perspective I tell myself.

I do wish though that the Sentra’s manual gearbox came with an auto hill-hold feature. The lack of low-end grunt makes it tricky to pull-off a smooth start on a steep hill without either stalling the engine or over-revving it.

One last comment on the what resides, or doesn’t, beneath the right foot: Many have criticized the Sentra NISMO due to the absence of an aggressive exhaust note, but hey, I’d argue that Nissan got it right.

The Sentra NISMO is a sports sedan that’s easy to live with thanks in part to its relatively neutered exhaust signature. No headaches here from the incessant drone of an excessively loud setup.

Another aspect contributing to the Sentra’s livability is its solid rattle-free reinforced body structure. The inherent rigidity allows the re-tuned suspension to deliver impressive handling capabilities while also remaining civil enough to fulfill commuting needs without daily chiropractic sessions.

There’s a rewarding balance between opposing forces here, which elevates the raison d’etre of the Sentra NISMO beyond expectations.

Overall, I grew to appreciate and understand Nissan’s entry-level NISMO product more with each turn of the wheel or application of the brakes. It’s these dynamics that engage the driver more-so than flat-out acceleration.

While it may be considered NISMO-lite by the standards applied to more expensive NISMO offerings, the Sentra version transforms a worthy but ho-hum sedan into a more engaging, enjoyable, and rewarding ride.

For those who need the practicality of 4-doors and a generous trunk, but who also have a pulse and the desire to raise it occasionally, the Sentra NISMO may be the perfect budget-friendly solution.

Despite its relative affordability, there are a few shortcomings in need of attention, such as the low-rent 5.8-inch interface screen. I had tremendous difficulty reading the small font it displayed without taking my eyes off the road for more than a quick glance. This needs to be updated desperately.

Dialing a little more definition into the actuation of the 6-speed stick would also be appreciated. Not as rubbery as some other front-wheel-drive units out there, but not ideal either.

Somewhat incongruent with its NISMO character is the presence of an Eco setting, presumably to increase fuel-economy. Using this mode, I managed to drop the Sentra’s fuel consumption into the range of 8L/100km in town.

This I thought was good, and another plus in favour of “NISMO” for the frugal driving enthusiast. And in many ways, “NISMO for the frugal” tends to sums up the Sentra NISMO.

2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO
Price as tested (before taxes): $25,998
Configuration: front engine, front-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 1.6L turbocharged I-4 / 6-speed automatic
Power/torque: 188 hp / 177 lb-ft
Fuel-economy ratings (L/100km): city 9.1, highway 7.3
Observed fuel-economy (L/100km): 9.2L
Warranty (basic): 3 years / 60,000 km
Competitors: Ford Focus ST, Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Elantra Sport, Volkswagen Golf

Related links:
Nissan Canada
Motor Trend

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