Pros: Excellent build quality, tight handling, sweet acceleration (5 speed), overall very impressed.
Cons: Some very minor interior touches
Being the car freak I am, I usually read opinions from several publications before I even look at a car. Motor Trend magazine, Road & Track as well as Consumer Reports and the always informative Lemon Guide by Phil Edmonston are some of those publications. Already owning a reliable Nissan product (2000 Pathfinder SE) I am impressed with the quality and engineering of Nissan cars compared to the problematic/unreliable Ford and Pontiac products I've owned in the past.
This is where the Sentra comes in. I showed up at the dealership not expecting to even look at Sentras but this cool looking red SE-R was parked out front. I've already driven the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Dodge Neon, Chrysler Sebring, 2002 Altima, 2002 Accord, Acura 1.7 EL, Volkswagon Jetta TDI & the regular Jetta, and the 99 Maxima. I liked all of them except the Civic was disappointing. It had a very 'tinny' cheap feeling with way too much road noise.
As you can see, I like to do my research before I fork over my hard earned cash. So, anyway I got the keys from the sales person and took a red Sentra SE-R 5 speed with the 'stone cloth' interior. I liked it. Alot. I currently drive a 2000 Pathfinder SE, so I'm used to a slower vehicle but this Sentra was impressive. When I pulled out of the dealership in first gear, I slid into second gear gave it a little gas. I was sucked into my seat with authority and within seconds was up to 90km/hr. The engine gave a reassuring throaty growl that kind of reminded me (a little) of my old 98 5.0 Mustang.
I smiled. Inside I already knew this was my next car. So I darted through the busy Saturday traffic testing the feel of changing lanes quickly as well as normally. Real nice.
For $20,000 (Canadian) and 268 a month with $2,000.00 down.
I was already working on the sales pitch in my mind of how I was going to sell my wife on this sweet ride.
Back to the test drive. I turned into a residential area purposely to feel this car on some tight turns and bumpy roads. Well it handled the tight turns quite fine, but the suspension is firm and some of the bumps were felt more that I normally would like. But keep in mind, the SE-R has sport suspension unlike the GXE which I have also driven.
This is a sacrifice I would be more than willing to make.
I was also testing the quality of the interior for any little squeaks or rattles, but head nothing. So, I zipped around through the back streets for a while longer and eventually exited to an 80km/hr zone. Finally.
Keeping my eyes peeled for cops I carefully avoided any areas near donut shops. Which is usually a good call. I dropped the pedal and to my surprise was pushing 140km/hr in no time. Wow. There was little road noise the body of the Sentra felt very stable unaffected by the heavy cross winds. Slowing down to more humane speeds I quickly took a corner accelerating hard out of the turn and felt very comfortable, the throaty growl of the engine swept me back up to 100km/hr quickly. Me likey. I was sold. All I have to do know is wait a couple of weeks to gather the money for a down payment and this little pocket rocket is all mine.
I have to admit, Nissan has never been known for their styling (interior or exterior) but the interior was designed in Germany while the rest of the car was designed and engineered in Japan and the U.S (for those who are unaware).
The interior seemed to make alot of sense. The cupholders are a little inadequate and located in a less than convenient position. But the storage compartment is in a handy location, the A/C and heating controls are easy to reach. The stereo is also just a fingers reach from the gear shift. I liked the chrome door handles also.
The fit and finish was well above average for this segment especially on the exterior. The new front fascia is a step up from the GXE and definitely gives the Sentra SE-R a sportier look. The spoiler is a 'must have' to maintain the sporty look, otherwise it would look more like the 'sporty' of past nissans. Not good. The red speedometer, gas and tachometer are a nice touch. I would have used different colours personally, but they will do.
After I wiped the drool from the side of my mouth I unwillingly made myself return the car to Nissan. Picked up my Pathfinder which felt pathetically slow and drove to my next stop. Volkswagon. To make a brief summary, I took out a Jetta with a 2.5 litre (135-45hp)engine. Nice car, felt pretty tight, beautiful interior handled well. But honestly,
for $150/month more, forget it. The Sentra felt tighter, handled better was faster and will only cost me $300.00/month to lease. I was actually expecting to be won over by the Jetta, but even if they were the same price, I'd still get the Sentra.
That's my two cents, I hope it was helpful assisting you in making a decision on your next vehicle purchase.