New Car Review: 2013 Nissan Sentra

Front 3/4 view of 2013 Nissan Sentra

It doesn't get the kind of press that Hyundai and Kia have been getting, but Nissan has been taking some big leaps in terms of improved product lately.  Regular TireKicker readers know we love the new Altima enough to include in our Top Ten Cars (So Far)...and now, it's the 2013 Sentra that's knocking our hat in the creek, with one possible reservation (more about which as we go on).

Rear 3/4 view of 2013 Nissan Sentra

The last Sentra was no slouch.  The first one was, and that story is within our review from 2 years ago of the last-gen Sentra.  But the '13...Wow.

First of all, the shape is very attractive for a small sedan...enough so that if you're not careful, this can happen:

The price will bring admiring glances to the window sticker.  The base model starts at $15,990, and going all the way to the next-to-the-top-of-the-line SR only takes you to $18,690.  Your money gets you a 1.8 liter 4-cylinder engine, producing 130 horsepower, mated to a very good Continuously Variable Transmission, a pairing that results in an EPA estimated 30 miles per gallon city, 39 highway.

Air conditioning, 6-way adjustable driver's seat, premium sport cloth seats, sport silver interior trim, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system, cruise control, halogen headlamps with LED accents, LED taillights, sport front and rear fascias and grille, lower body side sill extension, a chrome exhaust tip finisher, fog lights and body color mirrors are all standard.

Interior view of 2013 Nissan Sentra

Ours folded in some options...the SR Driver Package (pushbutton ignition, smart auto headlights, Bluetooth, an upgraded audio system, a 4.3-inch color display, USB, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, tire pressure monitoring system and rear disc brakes to replace the standard drums at the back (front discs are standard) for $1,080...the Navigation Package (Nissan Connnect with Navigation, an upgrade to a 5.8-inch color touchscreen, voice recognition, NavTraffic and NavWeather, and hands-free text messaging assistant) for $850 and carpeted floor and trunk mats for $170.  With destination charges of $790, the as-tested price is $21,560.

No, it's not fast.  It's 130 horsepower and a CVT.  But for this class of car, it's not really slow, either.  It handles well, and is very comfortable...with tons of rear seat room.  I'm 6 feet even, and had almost as much legroom in the back seat of the Sentra as I had in the 2014 Chevy Impala.  Not as much rear shoulder or hip room, but still...this is some impressive space utilization.

Problems?  Two.  And they may be related.  There's a button for Eco mode...the idea is to use as little fuel as possible through adjusted throttle and gear management.  In most cars, if you turn the Eco switch on, it stays on until you turn it off.  In the Sentra, you have to engage Eco every time you start the car.  If you forget, you're not in Eco.

I forgot a few times, but not enough to have this effect...at least I don't think so.  That EPA estimated 30 city/39 highway?  The combined estimate is 34.  In a week of combined city street and urban freeway driving, which in most cars gets me within a couple of miles per gallon either side of the combined number...and in some cars gets me very pleasant surprises....the Sentra only got 24.

That's a huge difference, and if it's not just our tester needing some attention (everything seemed fine), then it takes an otherwise remarkable new compact out of contention in a tight field (Corolla, Civic, Cruze, Focus, Elantra, Rio) where mileage matters.

Have a '13 Sentra?  Use the comment feature and let us know what kind of mileage you're getting.