Pros: Great power, Great handling, Great price.
Cons: Should get ABS standard on the SER
My review will be on the Sentra SE R model with Automatic transmission. The SER is equipped with the 2.5l, 4 cylinder, 16 valve, variable valve timing engine, getting the power to the ground via front wheel drive. We paid just over $20,000 (CAN) and I feel it was worth every penny.
MECHANICAL: The 2.5l puts out 165 horse power (175 in the spec V) which is 10 more ponies than the old 240 SX, which if memory serves; was no slouch. You would think that as big a 4 cylinder that it is, that it would cause a lot of vibration....you'd be wrong. The engine is very smooth, all through the RPM's and even has a little extra kick of power at about 5500 RPM (thanks to the variable valve timing.)
The SER comes standard with 4 wheel disk brakes; which respond very nicely, bringing you to a stop quite quickly. Now with that said; I truly think that the SER should come with ABS, you can buy it as an option, but you also have to buy the Rockford Fosgate stereo system to (which I'm sure is nice) and it is $2500 option.
EXTERIOR: While it dosn't break any molds with its simple and conservative styling, it also won't turn many people off either. The SER comes standard with 16" aluminum 6 spoke wheels, and bumper integrated fog lights. The only thing I intend to do; is add a rear spoiler for that extra appeal.
INTERIOR: Again nothing really new here, but everything done well. At 6'1" tall I have to have my seat adjusted all the way back...and surprising; there is still room in the back seat for someone....not bad for an "economy" car. While I'm talking about the seats, my one major grief is that they could be a bit more comfortable. The drivers seat is fine, but I find after a couple hours in the passenger seat, my right leg tends to go numb. Not a huge deal, because I rarely spend that much time in the passenger seat. The standard AM/FM/CD has great sound, and if wanted can be upgraded to a kick a** Rockford Fosgate system. All the controls are easy to reach, and easy to identify. Only down side is that the center dash console could be just a touch larger to accommodate CD's.
OVERALL: We drove the VW beetle, Honda civic, and Toyota corolla. The Beetle was nice, but not being used to a German car; I found the controls weird and some of the gauge's hard to understand. Also the price was way more than I think a car of that level should be...aprox 6,000 more than the Sentra. The Honda Civic, felt very cheap, and didn't offer the room that the Sentra did. The Toyota Corolla, was then best of the others, but didn't offer the performance of the Nissan.
***Update October 28/2004***
We've now had this car going on almost 3 years. I'm still very impressed by the power, handling, ergonomics, and reliability. However, there have been a few small bugs with the car over the years. Nothing to stop me from buying another Nissan, but those little things that tick you off from time to time. The first one is that the car is sometimes difficult to start, that is, that it dosn't start on the first attempt after the engine is warm. Say you pull into the store to do a little shopping, return in a hour and start the car. The engine just cranks, but won't fire. Stop cranking the engine and try again, and it fires right up like normal. The car has been into the dealership several times for this, and it seems that no problem can be found. My other pet peeve is the seal on the drivers door, maybe I've just got a slightly deformed door, but the seal has been replaced a few time to correct the less than occasional wind noise, however the problem is still there.
There you have it, 48,000 KM (about 30,000 miles) and I still love the car, its been cheap to operate, reliable, and its still a gas to drive.