2002 Nissan Sentra
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Two new high-performance trims considerably pick up the action for the Nissan Sentra economy car line, which long has been solid, reliable—and generally dull.
The front-wheel-drive Sentra was considerably improved for 2000, but it has taken the addition of the new SE-R and SE-R Spec V trims to add excitement and driving kicks.
The 2002 SE-R replaces last year's top-line SE. The SE-R Spec V is a slightly higher-performance version of the SE-R.
The SE-R picks up where the highly regarded 1991-94 Sentra SE-R left off. That trim looked bland but was a genuine high-performance two-door trim.
For Young Drivers
Nissan has a good history with low-priced sports sedans. Many older car buffs still remember the sophisticated 510 sports sedan it offered from 1968 to 1973.
The entry Sentra XE and midrange GXE cost from $11,799 to $14,549, and there's a $14,899 CA trim nearly identical to the GXE but sold only in California to meet stricter exhaust emissions.
The regular Sentra trims are subcompact sedans, with smooth but innocuous styling. They have average steering, ride, handling and braking. Although not as refined as Toyotas or Hondas, they're decent economy cars.
Gauges can be quickly read and climate controls are large. However, radio controls are small and put beneath the climate controls, which aren't used as often.
The fairly large trunk has a low opening, but its lid has intrusive hinges.
The Sentra XE, GXE and CA have a 1.8-liter 126-horsepower 4-cylinder engine that provides adequate performance and can be hooked to a 4-speed automatic transmission or a 5-speed manual, which helps provide livelier acceleration.
Fuel economy is an estimated 27 mpg in the city and 33-35 on highways.
The $16,999 Spec V has a 175-horsepower version of the SE-R engine, with such things as a special free-flowing exhaust system. The Spec V is mostly for hard-core car buffs because it only comes with a 6-speed manual transmission, which shifts well but works with a long-throw clutch.
The two new trims provide an estimated 22-24 mpg in the city and 28-29 on highways.
Japan is full of hot autos most Americans never have heard about. The Spec V gets its name from one such car—Nissan's Skyline GTR V-Spec, which is a high performance sports car not sold in America.
Compared to regular Sentras, the SE-R has a firmer sport-tuned suspension, 16-inch wheels (versus 14- and 15-inch ones), unique gauges, leather-wrapped wheel and gearshift knob and 4-wheel disc brakes with an optional anti-lock brake system.
Besides extra power, the Spec V adds a sportier track-tuned suspension with such items as stiffer springs. There also are larger 17-inch wheels and wider 45-series tires, along with a helical limited-slip differential for better traction with the Sentra's front-wheel-drive setup.
The Spec V also adds a special leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob, besides colorful lava colored race-style front sports bucket seats from the Skyline 25GX-Turbo trim, also not available in the United States.
You can get front side-impact airbags and anti-lock brakes for the GXE for an extra $749.
The SE-R and Spec V have many standard items, including air conditioning, a tilt wheel, cruise control, remote keyless entry and power windows and door locks, However, the Spec V doesn't have a folding rear seat to increase cargo space.
Offered for both the SE-R and Spec V is a $549-speaker, 300-watt sound system with a $399 in-dash 6-disc CD changer. Also available are front-seat side-impact airbags, which come with the anti-lock system in a $749 package. A $699 power sliding sunroof is accompanied by illuminated sunvisor vanity mirrors.
Steering of the high-performance trims is quick and their handling is sharp. Big disc brakes allow quick stops, and the pedal has a nice feel. However, the Spec V's increased spring rates and lower-profile tires occasionally cause the ride to be jerky.
With the new high-performance trims, the Sentra line should appeal to a larger number of younger buyers. That group hasn't paid much attention to Nissan autos for years.