Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: August 3, 2017
I’m a little conflicted with the Nissan Sentra NISMO. You see, the right side of my brain tells me it’s not a bad car, and that this compact sedan is actually quite fun to drive. With a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine from the SR Turbo, a proper six-speed manual transmission, communicative steering, and a price tag of $25,698, it’s quite a steal. That’s cheaper than the NISMO’s competitors like the Volkswagen Golf GTI ($29,495), Subaru WRX ($29,995), and even the smaller Ford Fiesta ST ($25,948). Out on the open road, the Sentra NISMO is a fantastic zippy little sedan with enough verve and vigour to prompt a smile out of most drivers.
But the left side of my brain tells me that this car would be great if the year was still 1999 in the era of pre-Y2K. The interior is bare and spartan, and Nissan places less garnish than the seafood at Red Lobster. The sport seats are comfortable but overly soft, and feel like they’ve taken inspiration from an old living room sofa. The infotainment display is rather archaic as well, with dated graphics and an old interface. The absence of automatic air conditioning is especially concerning as you can’t even add that as an option in the NISMO.
Then again, you have to take a step back and realize that the standard Nissan Sentra hasn’t been fully updated in quite some time. In fact, NISMO engineers had quite a hard task ahead of them when designing this vehicle. How are they supposed to make this dated sedan with dated technology and a dated platform, perform as an equal amongst its competitors in this modern world?
Only when you come to grips with the Sentra’s humble roots, do you begin to develop an appreciation for the NISMO variant. That goes for the revised sport suspension with monotube rear shocks, new front struts and springs, Michelin Pilot Sport 18-inch tires, enhanced body stiffness and rigidity, revised steering, bigger brakes, a lower ride height, and aesthetic features like the red-accents on the front and side splitters, a chrome exhaust tip, an Alcantara wrapped steering wheel, and front sport seats.
These minor details actually transform this Sentra into a sporty looking compact sedan. It’s got emotional appeal with its signature V-motion grill, red accents, and aggressive rear end. Though, it’s hard to say the same about the interior which seems to clash with the exciting exterior. Even a base Volkswagen Golf that costs $10,000 less appears more expensive. The seating position is also a little awkward, with a steering wheel that cannot telescope very far, and an overstuffed headrest that cannot be adjusted fore and aft. Furthermore, if you push too hard on the steering wheel buttons dedicated for the audio or display, it will actually sound the horn as the plastic wheel cover is interconnected.
Hats off to the NISMO engineers for making the Sentra actually very fun to drive, though. The NISMO rides really well and the suspension has been tuned for an excellent balance between sport and comfort. You can feel the bumps reverberate through the chassis but it’s never jarring, and it takes the inertial energy and spreads it out evenly so ride quality is not disturbed.
The NISMO turns directions with haste, and feels darty and athletic on small twisty roads. The steering isn’t bad - on-center feel is vague but the steering’s low effort makes it easy to drive for beginners wanting more spice out of their compact sedan.
The standard six-speed manual transmission is a breeze to operate. I actually like it better than the one in the 370Z. The clutch is forgiving, the bite point is wide, and the gear slots are a cinch to find. There is an optional CVT (continuously variable transmission) that is available but from our experience with prior Sentra models, we would stay away from it. The manual really lets the driver explore and exploit the meatiest part of the powerband, which from a small engine like this, is rather handy.
Which leads us to the 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder under the hood. It delivers an underwhelming 188-hp and 177 lb-ft, the same output as the Sentra SR Turbo ($21,598). Some might ask why NISMO didn’t tune up the engine even more with stronger internals and a bigger turbo. Frankly, I don't think the chassis could handle any more power without leading to more torque steer and understeer. The NISMO already turns wide around the bends, has a high center of gravity, and needs more front end grip - I don’t believe adding more power would solve that issue.
Be that as it may, I did have a lot of fun with the NISMO. It’s a bargain when compared to its competitors that also offer a bit of spice on top of their most plebeian trims. The Sentra NISMO hits the bottom of this market and extends its reach to an audience looking for a fun entry-level performance sedan that offers sparks and flames at a gradual and forgiving pace. The NISMO requires quite a bit of build-up and foreplay when driving spiritedly on open roads, and it helps to know where the power lies in the rev range and the limits of grip and control. It’s quite rare to ever hit a driver climax with the NISMO, but then again no one would really know but you.
In fact, I believe the 2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO would have done well ten, maybe even five years ago. But in today’s market brimming with innovative technology like Apple CarPlay, digital instrument clusters, and blind spot monitoring that customers have now come to expect, the Sentra NISMO falls short. It’s not a bad car, it’s just playing a game that has expired long ago.
型号 Model: 2017 Nissan Sentra Nismo
顏色 Paint Type: Aspen White ($300)
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $25,698
試車售價 Price as Tested: $25,998
引擎 Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
最大馬力 Horsepower: 188 hp @ 5,600 rpm
最高扭力 Torque: 177 lb-ft @ 1,600 - 5,200 rpm
波箱 Transmission: 6-speed manual
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
油耗 Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway ) L/100km: 9.1 / 7.3
油耗 Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 8.7