One of the biggest complaints with our long-term 2007 Nissan Sentra
SE-R, which we sent home about 18 months ago, was its fun-sucking CVT. The gearless gearbox did not endear itself to our staffers, who were perplexed by its inclusion in what was supposed to be a sporty sedan. This gearbox conundrum does not exist in the SE-R Spec V, however, as it gets a proper three-pedal six-speed manual. So, with the gearbox issue solved, does the NISSAN SENTRA
become a legitimate sport-compact player?
Mostly. Here's the breakdown:
On the powertrain front, the Spec V compares favorably to the competition. Its 2.5-liter I-4 makes 200 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. These figures handily beat the likes of the Mitsubishi Lancer
GTS and Subaru Impreza
. Plus, it's got more torque than the Civic Si. More important, it matches perennial segment leader (if you ignore body-style differences) Volkswagen
GTI on power, though it's short a considerable 27 pound-feet of torque. It's not the greatest-sounding four-cylinder around, but it's less harsh than the Lancer's and provides a broad torque curve with a linear powerband, which are agreeable traits to have in a performance-oriented motor. Unfortunately, it's compromised by overly aggressive throttle tip-in, which makes it difficult to modulate input until past the quarter-throttle mark. Torque steer is nearly absent, thanks in part to the optional limited-slip differential that's part of the $2200 Spec V Upgrade.
The aforementioned six-speed does the job well, but it's not buttery-smooth like the box that you'd find in the Honda. Shifts are short and precise, but the shifter feels notchy and disconnected. The clutch is neither too heavy nor too light, with a good NISSAN PICK UP
point, an important positive given the jumpy nature of the throttle.
Brakes are a similarly mixed experience. The 12.6-inch front rotors are more than capable of stopping the small sedan quickly, but like the shifter, the pedal feels disconnected and provides little feedback.
Things are better on the chassis side. The "sport-tuned" suspension is stiff, but not painfully so. Front and rear anti-roll bars do a good job negating body roll, and, despite a beam-axle rear, handling is surprisingly neutral for a front-drive car, with good turn-in and minimal understeer. Chassis rigidity is improved via a trunk-mounted V-brace. Unfortunately, the rear brace means the rear seats don't fold down to increase cargo space.